Pigs – introduction
Information about the physical and behavioural characteristics of pigs.
Varietal range differences
The most common breeds of pigs used in Australia include:
- Large White
- Large Black
- Wessex Saddleback.
Schools that wish to maintain a pig enterprise need to select a breed suitable for their local climatic conditions, facilities available and accessibility of markets for any outputs.
|Size||Medium sized farm animal – up to 180kg|
|Age at adult size||9-10 months (105-120kg)|
|Weight at birth||0.8-1.6kg|
|Gestation period||150 days|
|Number of offspring||Up to 20 piglets|
|Range of breeding ages||A gilt may be mated by about nine months if she is well developed. Breeding life: 8-9 years.|
|Weaning age||6-8 weeks|
Pigs do not have particularly good vision. Their sensitive hearing and good sense of smell makes up for their poor sight. Pigs have colour vision and a panoramic range of about 310 degrees and binocular vision of 35-50 degrees however it is thought that they have no accommodation, which means their ability to focus is limited.
Pigs have very sensitive hearing, making up for their poor eyesight. Loud or high pitched noises will startle pigs and they may become stressed with prolonged exposure to noise. It is important to try and stay quiet when entering piggeries without slamming doors or gates so that the pigs do not relate loud unpleasant noises with their handlers. When handling pigs it is also important to speak in a soft, calm voice and avoid any unnecessary noise so as not to stress the pigs.
Pigs are inquisitive animals and playful with other pigs. They should never be kept in isolation except for pregnant sows, adult boars and sick animals. Pigs, especially piglets, find comfort in being in groups and like to socialise and sleep next to one another. Animals should never be over crowded as this can induce stress. Pigs are curious, active animals and given the opportunity they will forage and root in the ground.
Pigs develop their own personal space referred to as their flight zone. A group of pigs have a collective flight zone depicted by their individual characteristics, breed, age, environment and previous handling experiences. If an animal’s flight zone is penetrated, the animals move away to regain a more comfortable distance from the intruder. Pigs raised in a pen with close contact to people will have a smaller flight zone and be calmer when being handled as opposed to pigs raised in a free ranging area.
Unlike other farm animals pigs are not usually herded in paddocks and are much slower moving, making their flight zone not as influential to handling. Only pigs in a free range system will need to be herded over a large area. However when moving pigs in a small area such as a yard it is still important to take into consideration that some pigs will be more acclimatised and comfortable with handling and others may become quite stressed. Pigs have a very inquisitive nature, which should be used to the advantage of the handler when moving them. If they are not hurried and can explore as they go, they can be driven and moved with minimal effort.
In general, pigs used in schools should be docile and familiar with being handled. Pigs are not usually aggressive however any pigs that show aggressive behaviour should be treated with extreme caution and removed from the school. Sows with piglets and mature males should always be treated with caution as it can be expected that they will be aggressive at times. A sow will be protective over her young and this should always be kept in mind when handling the sow and her piglets.