All pigs should be allowed to express their normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in their natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing, good food and water, as well as company of the animal’s own kind, encourages the expression of normal behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your pigs receive the exercise and enrichment they need to be free to express their normal behaviour.
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. Pet 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.
Pet 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 pet 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 pet 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 positive reinforcement 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 pet 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.