All pigs should be allowed to express natural behaviours. Behaviour refers to the way that an animal acts. An important type of behaviour that an animal expresses are those that are instinctive (what they would typically do in the wild). Enough space, proper shelter and housing, as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of natural behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your pigs receive the exercise and enrichment they need to express their natural behaviours.
Foraging is a natural behaviour that involves an animal searching for and eating food. In the wild, a large part of a pig’s day can be spent foraging for food.
So, how do we make sure your pig doesn’t get bored – and forage in your dad’s rose garden?! There are a number of things you can provide for your pig, which stimulates them to forage for their food and prevents boredom:
Rooting is one of those very important behaviours for pigs. In the wild, pigs can spend up to 40% of their day rooting around in the ground, foraging for food using their very strong noses.
For this very reason, your pig should be kept in a relatively spacious area where they can happily express this behaviour. Remember, your pig does not know the difference between where he/she can root around, or your special garden or flower bed.
Your pig should have an area of paddock available to them that they're allowed to dig up. If this can’t be provided, you can make your pig rooting boxes instead. Rooting boxes can be made out of old garden planter boxes, plastic tubs or constructed by an adult out of wood.
The box should be filled with pig safe treats and toys, and then covered with dirt or bark. This allows the pig to have a special area in which they are allowed to root and forage. You will also be meeting two of the pig’s most important behavioural needs – rooting and foraging.
Pigs are social animals, meaning they like to be in the company of other pigs. Pigs are happier in pairs or small groups, so if you are able, it is preferable to have another pig so that they keep each other company. Pigs have strong social needs and although they will bond with people, it doesn’t replace the fact that another pig usually makes the best companions.
If your pigs are not from the same litter, they should be introduced slowly and allowed to take their time to get used to each other. Make sure an adult is supervising when two new pigs first meet and allow each pig to have a separate area where they can go to until they are ready to be together. Once your pigs get along together, they will provide each other with companionship and can play, groom and communicate with one another.
Pigs have also been known to bond well with other companion animals such as cats, dogs, goats and sheep. Like with other pigs, ensure an adult supervises when your pig meets other animals and allow your pig to retreat to a safe area when they want too.
Pigs or sows (female pigs) have a natural instinct to make nests. This desire is particularly strong in pregnant sows prior to giving birth to their piglets. However, even pigs who are not pregnant feel the need to create a comfortable, nested sleeping area.
If your pig is housed outdoors, you need to provide lots of bedding material that your pig can make his or her bed with - hay is a good choice for this.
You can start by slightly breaking up hay bales, from which your pig will move around carry more hay to the bedding area and use her snout to perfect her bed. Ideally, the bedding should be quite deep, so it provides support for your pig, and because pigs love to burrow.
You should aim for bedding to be about 40-50cm deep. Remember to change out the hay regularly and replace it with new fresh hay – pigs don’t actually like being dirty and won’t want dirty bedding! If housed indoors, you should provide your pig with bedding material such as plain cotton blankets to make a nested bedding area.
Pigs enjoy burrowing and hiding under material while they sleep, so make sure you provide enough blankets to make your pigs bed deep enough. You may also notice from time to time that your indoor pig will sometimes retrieve household objects and take them back to their nest.
Some pigs have been known to take their owners clothing or newspapers to their beds to make a nest out of! Just make sure that you keep items out of reach that may not be safe for pigs to have access to.
Pigs have a range of different communication techniques that you can learn to identify. They are very vocal and communicate in grunts, squealing and snorting. Research has shown that pigs make at least 20 different sounds, which all mean different things.
As mentioned above, pigs are extremely smart animals. They love to learn new things and are very capable of learning a range of behaviours and understanding human words and sentences. By training your pig, not only are you stimulating your pig's mind and keeping him/her busy and entertained, you will also be bonding with your pig more closely and building a relationship built on trust.
You can house train your pig to respond to make life easier for both you and your pig. Your pig will learn their own name pretty quickly, and you can also toilet train him/her quite easily by using a litter area or a designated outdoor area. Pigs pick things up very quickly, so it won’t take long before your pig is house trained. You can also do more advanced training with your pig and show your friends that your pig can do some really cool tricks! Pigs have been shown to be capable of learning many things, such as: sitting, spinning, shaking hands, rolling balls, retrieving objects, stay, opening doors or pushing buttons. Some pigs even have been trained to use obstacle courses, just like dogs!
When training your pig, make sure you use reward-based training. This is where you reward the pig for the right behaviour, usually with a treat. Pigs have been shown to learn well with this type of training. There are lots of videos online that will teach you how to train a pig using positive reinforcement. If you train your pig properly, using positive reinforcement, you are likely to have a happy and busy pig.
Pigs are incredibly smart and sensitive animals. They love to be kept busy and challenged, so they require both physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy. Your pig will need enrichment items, activities, as well as lots of attention and affection. Keeping a pig without companionship or enrichment is likely to lead to a bored, agitated or destructive pig.
Providing your pig with fun things to do, activities, toys and actively playing with your pig will also help you bond better with your pig. There are specific behaviours which are really important for pigs to be able to perform normally. If pigs are not able to perform these behaviours, it can lead to a range of problems and to a sad, depressed or bored pig.
Such behaviours include foraging and rooting, being able to socialise, play and communicate with other pigs (or other animals) and nesting.
Pigs are very social, smart, and expressive animals. Pigs communicate through body language, vocal communication, and through scent (smell).
Humans cannot really pick up scent signals the way some animals do, which is why we mostly focus on body language and vocal communication.
Learning and understanding what a pig is telling you with their body can help you understand how they are feeling, so that you can respond in safe and positive ways.
If you're ever concerned about your pigs' behaviour, always talk to an adult and ask them to speak to your vet.
Click on the image to download the infographic!