Pigs – handling
Information about handling, training and showing pigs.
Schools that keep pigs must have the use of suitably constructed pens that would allow the restraint of an animal, if required. These pens may be portable but must be solid in construction and erected in a way to be safe for both humans and pigs. Fences, gateways, gates and all facilities used to handle pigs must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury.
Electric goads must not be used to move pigs, unless in an extreme emergency.
Getting familiar with pigs
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Pigs should always be handled calmly and with care to prevent the animal becoming stressed and causing injury to itself, other animals and the handler. Pigs cannot be lead by the head, they must be driven from behind by using an open hand to tap on the rump or flank region to encourage them forward. A straw broom or flapper can be used to tap the side of the neck to assist with directional change.
Pigs have quite poor vision, made worse in breeds with long floppy ears. They have a blind spot directly behind them and may become stressed if a handler suddenly appears out of the blind spot. They will not be able to see a handler if they are approaching from directly behind them. Pigs do not like to be moved individually and will become distressed and unpredictable when left alone or isolated. For this reason it is best to move pigs in groups of 5 or 6. Large groups can also be difficult to move as the leading pigs may try to turn around and come back. Pigs have good hearing and will be able to hear a handler approaching. This also means that when entering a building housing pigs, you should do so quietly and slowly so as not to startle the pigs with a loud noise. When moving pigs try to minimise noise, as their hearing is quite sensitive.
The most important thing when handling pigs is to stay patient. Pigs should never be rushed as they will become stressed and panic, form a scrum, try to turn around and become very unpredictable. However with gentle encouragement, pigs will be happy to move forward, exploring new areas as they go. Their inquisitive nature should be used to aid in handling, allowing their curiosity of a new area to attract them forward.
As with all animals, pigs have a flight zone that will influence how they can be handled depending on whether they have a large or small flight zone. Pigs will have a decreased flight zone after extensive handling when they feel comfortable around the handler and in handling facilities. It is important to consider what a pig’s flight zone will be before handling it as this will dictate how close you should go to the pig to encourage it forward. It is always best to approach them slowly so that you can get an idea of how sensitive the individual animals will be to being handled.
Before moving and handling pigs, it is best to be prepared and have your facilities well set up to suit pigs. Give pigs only one way to go to reduce them trying to turn around or having to try and turn them. Install solid walls on aisles and races so that they do not get distracted and focus on walking forward. Try to avoid having to walk pigs up and down ramps as they do not like them and will try to avoid them.
Lighting should always be uniform, minimising bright spots and shadows that may cause them to baulk and stop. Walls should also be painted a uniform colour to prevent pigs shying at sudden changes in colour.
Non-slip flooring will improve pig movement, as they will feel more comfortable walking and reduce injuries from falls. Pigs will shy at a change in floor type so try to reduce moving them across changing surfaces.
Useful aids to improve pig handling include:
- Paddles: to tap pigs on the rump, flank or side to encourage them forward and change direction
- Pig boards: to place behind pigs when moving through a race to encourage them forward and prevent them turning around
- Construction flags: to wave at pigs to encourage forward and aid in changing direction.
Electric prods should NEVER be used on pigs. Use of electric prods causes extreme stress and panic and will not positively aid handling.
Mustering, drafting, capture and handling of pigs
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Extra care should be taken when handling pregnant sows/gilts, piglets and boars.
Avoid isolating pigs as they will become stressed and unpredictable. Sows with piglets can become aggressive as they have strong maternal instincts and are protective of their piglets.
The position of the handler in yards is extremely important if moving pigs into a race or small pen is to be achieved with minimal stress. Pigs do not have very good eyesight and have a blind spot directly behind them. They are easily startled if a handler appears out of their blind spot and into their vision. Pig boards can be used to push pigs along a race and prevent them turning around. Paddles can also be used to tap them on the flank and sides to encourage them forward and to turn.
Pigs of different ages require different handling methods. Capture should be done quickly and firmly. Piglets can be caught from behind and lifted by one or both hind legs. A wall or corner can be used when handling middleweight animals. Older, full sized pigs are much harder to restrain and may require the use of a pig catcher.
Pigs will naturally head for an opening or gap when approached. This can be used to move the pig by setting up and holding 2 pig boards either side of the pigs head and guiding it where you want it to go. This method can be used to train pigs to be moved by one handler using a pig board and a wooden bat about 1 metre long to manoeuvre the pig. The handler should always keep the pig board between himself and the pig. If several people try to drive a pig it can turn around and charge back between them.
Pigs can be restrained by holding it with ropes against a wall or fence. Larger pigs can be restrained using a loop of rope around the snout.
Pigs should be acclimatised to handling or trained to help make working with them more efficient and safer for them and the handlers. Training/gentling pigs is typically used for better outcomes in a variety of situations and for different purposes. These include:
- For pen cleaning and daily management
- For showing and preparation
- Movement between pens and facilities
- Routine husbandry procedures.
Routines are extremely important when training animals. Older, well trained animals can be used to guide younger or newly acquired animals into good habits and help reduce the time taken in training.
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Time and effort needs to be put into training animals for the show ring. Training is best done slowly from a young age. There are two phases involved in showing pigs, preparation and show day.
Preparation of the animal
Preparation of pigs for a show involves getting the animals used to being in a pen in a busy show atmosphere as well as being in close proximity to handlers, being groomed and transported to the show. It is important to start getting pigs acclimatised to being handled when leading up to a show. This can be done by penning the pigs and feeding them, familiarising them with the handler. When the pigs are more comfortable with the handler they can begin to be groomed. Brushing the pigs will not only improve their coat but will gentle the pigs, making them more docile and used to being handled. The more settled a pig becomes at being in a pen and being handled, the better it will cope with the atmosphere of the show. Prior to the show, pigs will need to be washed a few times. This should be done by first wetting them with warm water to loosen mud and faeces, then scrub the pig with a mild shampoo and finally rinse the pig thoroughly, making sure there is no shampoo left on the animal. It is then recommended to keep the pig in a pen with clean bedding. To further improve the pigs’ appearance and skin condition you can rub a mild oil into the coat.
By the time pigs are going to show they should be well acclimatised to being extensively handled and penned for extended periods of time in a busy environment. It is important to allow plenty of time for transport, grooming and settling in on the day of the show so that you are not rushed. Make sure all relevant paper work including registration and breeding paper are taken to the show as well as a well-prepared grooming kit. When transporting the animals to the show take care not to over crowd the vehicle. Also avoid transporting pigs in hot weather. If high temperatures are forecast, transport the pigs early in the morning rather than in the middle of the day. Also avoid feeding the pigs large amounts of feed before transporting. Keep in mind that the pigs will usually get very dirty while being transported, so allow time to wash and groom them before the judging.