They don’t dig like dogs, with their front feet, but with their noses. It is unbelievable how strong their nose muscles are. They can even lift fence posts out of the ground with enough time and effort. So one of the first things needed for keeping pigs is a strong fence.
When we first started raising pigs, we used a page-wire fence nailed onto posts. But I have actually seen pigs work away at the staples holding the fence to the post, until the staples fell out.
We now use old pallets. Nailed together, with bracing to keep them upright, they will fall into any hole that a pig digs.
And they dig … constantly.
Usually they are looking for any missed grain from their last meal or for roots or even bugs. But sometimes pigs dig just for the fun of it.
Last year, with all the rain we had, it seemed they were digging swimming pools all over their yard. They even started to dig a “basement” inside one of their houses.
Pigs can even be used to till up soil in preparation for planting. It is something they do naturally.
As they till, they eat seeds and roots from weeds. They have even been used to help clean up orchards in the fall. By eating the dropped fruit under the trees, they are removing overwintering spots for parasites and disease.
In the Yukon, there really aren’t many orchards, but pigs can be beneficial by consuming weeds from the garden or food scraps from the kitchen. They will eat just about anything.
The only items I have seen that they don’t eat are orange peels and onion skins. Our pigs even went so far as to eat the door to their shed one year. (They don’t get a door anymore.)
With pigs, everything is a competition.
At feeding time, I generally put food in several different spots so they all get an equal share. But a pig will move around, from spot to spot, trying to get more than the others, pushing the others aside and standing in the feed trough to prevent others from eating there. They will actually eat more food if there is someone to compete with for it rather than if they are in a pen all alone.
After all of the food has been eaten and there are no more holes to dig, pigs like to nap (generally, lined up like sausages).
Pigs need other pigs.
They seem to feel more secure when they are not alone. This is especially evident when they are young. When we first get our piglets, they seem to be joined at the shoulders, walking so closely, side by side.
And they are easily scared, as well.
Last year, we weren’t able to put our piglets into the barn for the first few weeks like we normally do. Instead, they went into the outside pen right away. This pen is built stronger for older pigs, and the spacing on the slats will keep a bigger pig in.
But we neglected to take this into consideration at the time.
The first time my husband stepped into their pen to feed them, they scattered. And they could fit through the pallet slats, too. There is just an empty field around our barnyard – nothing that could contain an animal. So when the piglets went through the fence, they had no boundaries.
Now, pigs aren’t all that easy to “herd” and they can also be “pigheaded” about the direction they are going. It can be a real challenge to get them back into their pen, especially when they are scared and running at top speed away from it.
So there we were … trying to round up piglets before they got too far from the barn and, boy, can they run. We managed to, though, with a lot of help from our dog, Jersey. She can run faster than we can.
Nothing like a bit of adventure and some impromptu exercise to get the heart beating.