Curly’s Tale


This is Curly, the runt of the approximately 60 piglets that were born this winter. I say runt but realize that while he was the smallest piglet by far even he is likely to grow to full size. It will just take him a few extra weeks.

In a factory farm that delay is not acceptable. They need all their products to come to size at the same time. Consistency is important to get the premiums when the pigs go to sale at the big meat processors. On the wholesale level they get so little profit per pig that having one that eats a few extra weeks worth of food will quickly devour their razor thin margins. The big producers sell runts like Curly to small farms and as summer pigs to people raising them in their backyard.

Since we raise our pigs on pasture for almost all of the year it is not a big deal that Curly and the other four slightly larger small ones will take a few extra weeks to get to market weight. So I keep them rather than selling them as runts. He’ll graze and forage much of his own food out in our fields when he rejoins the herd in a couple of weeks.

Let me tell you about another runt. You’ve seen photos of Little Pig before. When we got her she was even smaller than Curly. In fact her sister Big Pig, named that for obvious reasons, was a solid 50% bigger than Little Pig. Big pig is now around 750 lbs. Little pig is about 700 to 725 lbs. In time the runts tend to catch up.

Runts also don’t necessarily breed true to size even if they do end up staying smaller themselves. If they did breed true it would be very easy to produce miniature pigs & dogs, something I get a lot of requests for. For example Kia, our smallest adult livestock guardian dog is only about 50 lbs. This makes her look tiny next to her sister Kita (87 lbs), brother Hagrid (120 lbs) and father Cinnamon (80 lbs). Her diminuative size is not genetic. More likely it has to do with birth position in the womb or something like that. Kia has produced sons and daughters far larger than her including Saturn (88 lbs), Napoleon (65 lbs and growing), Baloo (78 lbs and growing), Kahlil, PepĂŠ and others who are all much larger than her. I breed Kia not for her size but rather for her natural herding and guardian skills, high intelligence, temperament and perfect body form. She is a Ten. Her offspring end up being full size even though she herself is very small in comparison. People see her on the street with me and ask for one of her pups thinking it will be small like her but it is more likely to be more than 50% larger than her. Not lap dogs.

Getting back to Curly, one of the things you’ll notice about him in the photo above is that his hair is particularly curly. More so than any of the other piglets. I have heard that curled hair is a sign of a vitamin deficiency. Curly is getting the same exact feed as the other piglets so I don’t think that is the issue. I have seen this twice before and in time each piglet’s hair straightened as it grew older. My suspicion is that it relates more to his being small, such as perhaps a congenial abnormality that may make it difficult to properly digest or utilize some part of the food. That would fit with the deficiency theory. You’ll notice that his ears are also curled. This is common on the new born piglets but normally it straightens out very quickly. Curly’s ears have not straightened out yet and he is now about six weeks old. I doubt his ears will ever be upright. You’ll notice the ears on the other piglets in the photo look normal. In both cases, I’m not worrying about it. He’ll grow and do as well as he’ll do. I would not use him for breeding stock though.

Update: Later I came to the conclusion that Curly was exhibiting selenium deficiency. My suspicion holds with the above, that some pigs are more susceptible to this than others. Those who are born susceptible are not able to extract the selenium so when the levels are low they do poorly. Increasing the selenium in their diet helps them.

This brings us to the subject of Curly’s Tail. Or lack there of. I don’t dock our pig’s tails but sometimes they do dock each other’s tails. This happens during the first week when they don’t seem to differentiate between a teat and a tail. Occasionally a piglet will end up suckling on another piglet’s tail instead of the sow’s tit. At that point their tails are very thin. Piglets have sharp teeth so at times they end up nipping the tail off of another piglet.

Update: Later I observed that some piglets, isolated piglets, who had never had another piglet suck on their tail still lost their tails and became naturally short tailed pigs. Tracing the lineage I came to the realized that this is a recessive gene that came in through Big Pig and Archimedes. Piglets that get two copies of this gene end up short tailed no matter what. Having a long tail is nice because it means you can swat flies. In a hotter environment where there were more flies the long tail would be an evolutionary advantage.

The first time I saw the this I was very puzzled. I didn’t actually see the tail sucking going on, just the resulting amputated tail. Then several litters later I realized that it seemed to happen only when the sow is nursing a particularly large numbers of piglets. There were enough teats to go around, 14 piglets, 14 teats, but I suspect that when the numbers were matched up like that the piglets are more likely to end up on a tail than a teat. This winter we had more of this than before and I think it was caused by the particularly large litters. Then I finally saw it happen, a piglet sucking tail. One end going in the other and the result was a docked tail.

So that is why some of our pigs have docked tails although I do not dock their tails. The ones that get docked by their litter mates seem to do fine. I have three ‘docked’ ones who are big sows now. Whether the practice of factory farms docking tails is necessary in the crowded confinement operations I wouldn’t know. I don’t find it necessary here where we pasture our pigs along with the rest of the animals out on the fields. Tail biting doesn’t happen, aside from the occasional early on mistaking of a tail for a teat. Pigs do use their tails like horses to swat as well as communicate so I am incline to leave them on and not do unnecessary surgery. Like cutting their baby teeth and debeaking it is a questionable practice that I’m glad I don’t need to perform.

And that was Curly’s Tale.

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.” -Occam’s Razor

34°F/22°F, 1/10″ Snow, Flurries, Partly Sunny.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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16 Responses to Curly’s Tale

  1. Urban Agrarian says:

    I heard of labradoodles and golden doodles. Are you crossing pigs with poodles to pro ;)

  2. The picture made it! I thought it was lost! There was a long post that I had written late at night to go along with that photo and then my browser crashed taking the post with it when I went to do a save. I will write “Curley’s Tail” today.

  3. Urban Agrarian says:

    Walter, Oops, my comment last night got sent before I finished it. It should have read

    I’ve heard of labradoodles and golden doodles. Are you crossing pigs with poodles to produce oink-a-doodles? ;)

  4. I want to see Curly in a poodle cut, lol.
    Do you have a scale to weigh your animals? I remember that you had a post about estimating weight by measuring size.
    How did you get your second dog? What do you look for when adding a new dog, or what did you look for?
    Do you have any other livestock?
    Where do you get all the milk you feed the piggies?
    Paige

  5. Paige,

    Our second dog was a rescue. She herself was not a herder but was half German Shepherd and half Black Lab. She looked like a black German Shepherd. She became Coy’s mate.

    We look at physical characteristics, temperment, eye, attention and similarity to the form of our existing dogs.

    Other livestock beyond dogs and pigs include sheep, chickens, guineas, ducks and a goose. We also have kids, the human kind. :) Someday we hope to add cattle and I would like to start doing bees again which I had for about 20 years.

    Milk is the excess from a local dairy. Check around and you may be able to find a supply in your area.

    Cheers,

    -Walter

  6. dragonfly183 says:

    Awe i think he’s perty with his curly ears and curly haur. ofcourse i am a little biased when it comes to curly hair.

    Maybe you have a new kind of big there Walter. There is a breed of horse that showed up a while back. and when i say “showed up” i mean it kinda magically appeared. Its called a Bakshir Curly and its a horse thats covered in curly hair just like your pig.

  7. shannon says:

    Hey Walter, could you e-mail me your advice on training pigs to electro-net. The girls seem fine now, but one of them panicked this am,and got herself caught up in it. She’s fine, but they’re both scared to death to venture out into the electro-netted area at all! They’re old and set in their ways, but they’ll eventually figure it out, yeah? :) -Shannon, zoooteacher@yahoo.com

  8. Ada says:

    I like traditional farming in general. Factory farms just make me sick. What you said about the factory farms caring more about their profit margins than their pigs just make me even sicker.

    I love what you’re doing and I hope you’ll spawn a new generation of traditional farmers.

  9. Shannon, She’ll get over it in time. Patience.

    Couple of tricks, first train them to electricity in a securely physically fenced space using poly-wire inside the physical barrier fence. This makes them more likely to respect the electronet when they meet it.

    Clip the lead for electricity at the end posts to the bottom wire of the electronet. This helps keep it from grounding out.

    Keep it charged all the time. The only time it should be off is if you’re working on it. You don’t want them to have a positive escape experience.

    We find electronet (we have Kencove.com Poultry Netting) works great with pigs from little piglets up to the big sows and boar.

  10. Leslie says:

    Another informative and entertaining post, Walter. I didn’t realize Kia was Kahlil’s mother. Whaddya know. Small world.

  11. Leslie, Someday I’ll do a geneology of our dogs. Several people have asked about it before.

  12. heather says:

    hi walter, et al.!

    this is waaaay after your initial post…

    my husband and i spent today at the LA county fair, and as is our wont, we enjoyed wandering around the animal barn.

    last year, we got to watch a mama sheep have three gorgeous, perfect wee baby sheep, and see the babies wobble, stumble, and stand for the first time.

    this year’s baby sheep was a batch of wee piglets, born about two weeks ago. they were about the size of guinea pigs, and if the 100# mama pig wasn’t there as a “this is what these babies will turn into!” example, i swear i would have scooped up the wee-est, runty one and run for the car. (alas, our one-bedroom hollywood apartment isn’t very…pig conducive.)

    anyway, i spent the evening thinking/worrying about the little runty one, that it wouldn’t thrive and would eventually, um, not make it, but between my husband reassuring me that OF COURSE no one would let a baby pig DIE at the COUNTY FAIR, and your sweet, sweet curly post (okay, mostly curly…my husband has no background in piggery whatsoever), i feel MUCH better about the fate of my wee, piggy friend.

    thanks! :)

  13. Stonehead says:

    The curly hair could be a throwback to older pigs breeds. There used to be one called a Lincolnshire Curly Coat, extinct in Britain since 1972, that may well have found its way to the US. The Lincolnshire Curly Coat was extremely hardy, had lop ears and was a baconer.

    Some found their way to Hungary and Austria, where they were crossed with another curly coated pig, the Mangalitza. It has a longer snout and prick ears.

    I’ve enjoyed browsing your blog BTW. We breed pedigree Berkshires on a small-scale in Scotland and it’s always interesting to find out how other people make do and mend!

  14. Cool, Stonehead! Thanks for the info. I had heard there were some curly pigs but didn’t know of the Lincolnshire Curly Coat and the Mangalitzas. Interesting to read about. In time our piglet’s hair has always straightened out as they grow older. Any idea on the significance of that?

  15. Farmerbob1 says:

    Do selenium deficiencies express differently in pigs than in dogs? If I remember right, you have a dog that had skeleton deformities because of a selenium deficiency, but this pig appears to be normally shaped?

    Also, there are no Chinese characters in this post, but I did find two ‘Â’ symbols in the temperature line.

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