Body Piercing for Science


Pigs with Earrings

I’ve resisted their cries for years to get body piercings, tattoos and the like. But, you know how young’uns are, going with the latest fad. So I finally broke down and let these weaners get the earrings they so desperately wanted.

Seriously though, I have previously always identified our animals by their markings rather than doing ear tags or tattoo identification. Some like the breeders get names since we need to talk about them but the vast majority I don’t even name. That works fine for me, I can remember who’s who by sight. However, for an experiment we’re running right now we wanted to have IDs that other people besides myself would be able to use, thus the ear tags.

I went with ear tags instead of tattoos because the tattoos are hard to read on hairy pigs and virtually impossible to read on dark colored pigs. These are the smallest ear tags I could find which makes them okay for these weaners. These tags would be a bit big on newborn piglets though. On large breeders these tags would just right.

Another option is ear notching using the number code. I don’t particularly like heavy duty ear notching, perhaps because I knew a boar long ago who had almost no ears left because someone had over enthusiastically identified him. A compromise of smaller notches would not be so bad and I do that a little. Still, some people have a hard time reading binary or trinary codes so I just went with simple base ten numerical ear tags for this project.

The pigs in the picture are the experimental group of six. These weaner piglets have the odd numbered tags in their left ear. There is a matching control group of six who have the even numbered tags in their right ears. Odds vs Evens makes it easy to spot who’s who at the morning feeding and dosing time so they can be set into the wooden box to get their herbal dose in their morning whey. Meanwhile the control group gets their equal amount of morning whey. After the morning variation the twelve, the control group and the experimental group, are rejoined and spend their days together to keep all the other variables the same.

The two groups were paired by matching roughly equal pigs in a pseudo-random arrangement from many different litters. Everybody got their weights checked at the beginning of the experiment. At the end we’ll compare the weights and condition. At six months we’ll get to taste test the two groups to compare them. When the data is all in we’ll get to do all sorts of fun statistical analysis. The sample set is not large enough for a great deal of statistical significance on small differences but I’m looking for larger significant differences, not little stuff.

Experiments like this are good science, good farming and good homeschooling. Plus they’re fun.

Update 20150704: Someone asked about earliest age for tagging. I would wait until the ears are structural. In our upright eared pigs this is when they stand up on their own. I have some hesitancy on tagging as it creates a wound, it’s awfully large for small piglets and it gives a point of pulling which can result in torn ears. I find the small button tags are best and that placing them low on the ear, just below the mid point of the curve of the back, and close to the skull at the base of the ear gives me the best results and retention. So far I’ve only been using them on a limited basis for research groups rather than for our general population. This has allowed for tracking of individual daily growth rates with various feeds. The Allflex tagger we have quick releases once applied – That helps.

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Daily Spark: Educate against ignorance.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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7 Responses to Body Piercing for Science

  1. It is fun to hear about your experiments, it seems like you are always trying new things and fine tuning your methods. What sort of herbs are you feeding these pigs, and what are you hoping they will achieve?

  2. (keep reading if you like math, stop otherwise)
    Hello Walter,
    You said ” do all sorts of fun statistical analysis ”
    I wish I had known of Exploratory Data Analysis earlier in my professional carreer (EDA=ways to do statistical checks in a purely graphical way). An intro/simple tutorial can be found at NIST http://www.itl.nist.gov/div898/handbook/eda/eda.htm . I routinely have far better understanding of the data-set since EDA and it also helps me to remain critical of my data (instead of trusting the algoritm will ‘do everything’ and I am only there to enter numbers). Sadly, most of my collegues decide that if EDA is needed then I should do it, meaning they can remain comforably oblivious of the how and why. Or should I say, they really avoid math like it is the plague. If they only knew.

  3. Dawn Carroll says:

    Walter,
    When I tag my piglets I tag the male pigs in the left ear and the females in the right ear…why…cause females are always…well…right…lol…
    Anyway this gives me an easy way of identifying between the sexes. I also tag the litters with the same color tag as the sow so I can keep track of whose piglets are whose.
    Love your blogs,
    Dawn

  4. Ash says:

    that’s awesome Science Connection

  5. Dawn Carroll says:

    I use the “sheep” two piece tags. They were numbered on both sides. Weaners I wanted to keep for breeding got yellow tags.
    I tag males in the left ear and females in the right ear. Being a female myself this system was easy for me to remember cause females are always “right”…
    Yes I do tell people when they ask why the males are tagged in the left ear and females in the right ear.
    Aside from that tagging them in different ears makes it easy to tell which were the males and which were females.
    Sometimes a buyer would talk me out of one of my yellow tagged females with the offer of more cash…and I would relent especially when someone would give me $200 for weaner. And yes she did win grand champion breeding gilt at the fair they took her too…

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