Lacking both opposable thumbs and a knack for the finer things in life, swine are not prone to a proper handshake and a gentle greeting when getting to know one another. Far more often they hurl themselves full tilt at one another, lower their heads, lock into a wrestling death match, and try to rip each others ears off. It’s not that they’re complete beasts, it’s just that need to work out a few details before settling into a friendly routine of cohabitation. You know, minor things like who gets to pick his spot at the feed trough first, who gets to sleep in the softest mound of straw, and who is entitled to riding whom when someone is in heat.
On large, conventional farms this issue is usually completely avoided by all-in-all-out rearing practices, where a group of pigs comes in together at a young age, is raised out together in the same group, and then sent to market all at once. Their pecking order is resolved at a young age when the wrestling is mostly play and it remains intact throughout their short lives. Meanwhile, older hogs — boars, gilts and sows for breeding — are often kept in quarters that reduce or eliminate the need for introductions as well either by being brought in and out in groups or because they’re housed in such a way that prevents them from picking on their neighbors such as with stalls and crates.
On a small farm however, those options are often not a feasible way of dealing with the livestock. We opt out of stalls and crates, are farrowing smaller groups all of the time making all-in-all-out difficult, and our facilities often have us moving pigs in and out of different group settings at different times for a myriad of reasons. As a result we’ve had to become proficient at the art of introducing pigs.
For those of you who may be bringing home a couple of batches of feeder pigs, adding to your existing breeding herd of hogs, or simply wondering how to re-introduce your boar to your sow after a long hiatus in their “relationship” here are a few tricks we’ve learned over the years to make introducing pigs a little easier:
- Intro pigs through a fence first, whenever possible. If you allow pigs a week or more to get to know each other through a fence it can sometimes reduce the amount of squabbling they do once they’re in the same living quarters together. This isn’t always the case, and it’s often just a reduction in the fights rather than an elimination of them, but it’s a start.
- Intro pigs in hog proof fencing. Livestock panels and board and wood post fences are the only two types of commonly used farm fencing that will stand up to the abuse of a down and dirty hog wrestling match. Though we love our electric and woven wire, any fence that depends on a psychological barrier to keep hogs in may fail during an introduction. This is because the pigs simply aren’t thinking clearly and often cannot be bothered to pay attention to their surroundings. It’s best to have sturdy fences in intro areas.
- Intro pigs early in the day, when there’s plenty of daylight left. First, pigs have poor eyesight and will be more defensive when they can’t clearly see and second, it gives you a buffer of time to deal with anything that goes haywire. In fact, this is just plain good practice no matter what you’re doing with pigs. Daylight is your friend, use it.
- Intro pigs when their bellies are full — right after feeding and not right before, for instance — and remove anything that will encourage competition for the first few hours. For the first few days following intro include extra eating and drinking spaces so that pigs low on the pecking order don’t get stressed and needlessly pushed around.
- Expect squabbles. They have to work out their pecking order, even if they know each other through a fence it’s not the same as knowing each other up close and personal and having to share their living space. Understand it often looks and sounds worse than it actually is, let them work it out unless there is some serious blood or it has gone on to the point of exhaustion without signs of slowing.
- Have a hog board handy. Know how to use it and how to leverage your brain against their braun. Pound for pound you are no match for a hog. They’re stronger and they sit lower to the ground which means out-muscling one is almost always a bad plan of action — yes, even if you’re a man. Luckily, we humans are armed with superior intelligence (most of the time) and can use that to our advantage. A hog board is a solid board that you can easily carry around and slide between two quarreling pigs. Pigs embody the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” If they cannot see one another, they won’t continue to fight. You can buy hog boards pre-made or make one yourself out of plywood. The pre-fab boards are more expensive, but lighter and easier to handle. Likewise, in using your brain you can find ways to out muscle a hog, much the same way a small woman can use pressure points to subdue a large, powerful attacker. If you don’t have a hog board and find yourself needing to control a frisky or furious pig remember that their snout is extremely sensitive. Cup your hand over the end of the snout, take firm hold and turn the pig’s head away from the pig it’s attacking. (The same tactic can be used should you ever find yourself on the wrong end of a hog’s bad mood and without other means of defending yourself.)
Above all, Happy Hogging! And be sure to check out the Hog Farming 101 Series for more posts about getting started with pigs.