War Pigs

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Someone saw a picture of Archimedes opening his mouth and then on a discussion group about war theory asked why not war pigs? That generated some interesting comments which my spiders picked up and brought to me for breakfast. I replied on the forum addressing key points that had been raised in the argument of dogs vs pigs on war footing:


Perhaps I can shed some light on the darkness…

My qualifications: I own that pig in the photo posted to this forum. I have field experience with thousands of pigs. I also have field experience with dozens of dogs in a large pack situation. I have heavily trained both species. I have done decades of selective breeding on them. I deal with a war footing daily – see note at bottom.

First, the pig’s name in the photo is Archimedes. Or rather I should say his name was Archimedes. I ate him – delicious. He was eight years old and about 1,157 lbs at the time he died which was probably a few hundred pounds down from his peak. He was our main boar for years. He was also the buff photo model for my Pork Cut Chart.

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But, on to the real questions of the discussion:

1) Pigs are not as smart as smart dogs. Don’t think about that down bred pet fluffy dogs. I’m talking working dogs, more like their original wolf ancestors. We keep thousands of pigs out on pasture where they are in their natural environment. We also have a large pack of livestock guardian herding dogs. The dogs are clearly a lot more intelligent than the pigs. There is no contest. If you don’t believe me solely based on my decades of experience consider that the dogs have relatively large and complex brains while the brain of a 1,000 lb boar is only about the size of a chicken egg. The dog’s brain is about twice that size yet the dog is only about 100 lbs – 1/10th the size of the pig. See the article Of Pig Brains and Tea Cups.

Unfortunately Hollywood has tricked people into believing that pigs are a lot more intelligent than they really are. Don’t be fooled. This is just movie magic and special effects. They do this by using many similar looking pigs and training each one to do one or a few tricks. Then the editors string the cuts together to make a movie tricking the viewer into believing that all those pigs are one pig doing many intelligent looking things. Contrast this with real dogs working out in the real world every day to manage their livestock, communicate with us and deter predators, eating them if necessary.

2) Getting pigs to behave in a pack is an essential part of the War Pigs idea but pigs don’t pack. Pigs operate in herds which is very different social structure than packs. To an outsider unfamiliar with animal behavior a group of animals is a group of animals but to the keen eye there are different types of groups that behave and operate very differently. Pigs don’t do altruism – the herd is to protect the individual by distracting the predators. Dogs pack and do altruism – the pack is to empower the group and take down far larger prey while providing for the weak. These details are critically joined. This makes dogs far better team warriors. In fact, this little detail is why even small 50 lb dogs can work as a team to herd and manage hundreds of pigs weigh tens of thousands of pounds. It is the dogs that decide where the pigs go. The dogs actually understand and foresee how the pigs will behave. This is outside the pig’s ken.

3) Dogs have perhaps 35,000 to 140,000 years of cooperation with humans specifically hunting together. This shared history has bred both our species and their species to work together. Pigs were only domesticated relatively recently (6,000 years ago?) and the focus has been on making them efficient producers of food, not brains or warriors. It would take a long time to change the problems – see below.

4) Dogs are natural predators but pigs are scavengers. This once again makes the dogs far better warriors. There are a lot of little things here such as dogs’s jaws open to almost 90° so they can bite large objects. Pigs’s jaws only open a little – they have cheeks. Dogs’s teeth are designed for grabbing and chopping off limbs. Pigs’s teeth are designed for shoveling, rooting and the slow chew of tubers. The boar’s razor sharp lower tusks are used for fighting but are most effective against other boars and easily broken. Dogs’s necks let them get in for the kill. Pigs’s necks don’t. Dogs have claws that work not just for traction but also for tearing – not as good as a tiger’s but watch out. This leads to dogs using their feet differently as weapons in ways that pigs don’t even think about. When fighting dogs will actually reach out and grab and opponent with their claws so they can control it for the killing strike of their jaws.

5) Dogs have flexibility. Pigs bodies are rigid. Dogs can u-turn on themselves to change their attack fast. Pigs can’t even come close. Sure, you might think that pigs make good battering rams, at first glance, but that is one specialized tool in war. For good warrior troops you want generalists like humans and dogs.

6) Pigs have thick skulls but their noses are very sensitive. The thick part is up at the back of the skull designed to act as a lever for shoveling – rooting. The result is they aren’t any good as battering rams for this reason. Bop a pig in the nose and it backs off fast. Bop the guardian dog in the nose and it takes off your arm.

7) Attitude is another closely related issue. There are a lot of ways you can work with pigs and all they want to do is get way from you. If you try and handle a dog the same way it will be all over you with it’s fangs, cutting teeth, claws and voice calling in others to attack. Pigs just don’t operate that way. They don’t come to aid like dogs or primates. Pigs don’t attack en mass, unless you’re food and they feel safe. Dogs will do it to protect their pack mates. Dogs are the warriors you want on your side, your flank, covering your back and distracting your opponent.

8) Pigs lack stamina. It is very, very easy to run a pig to the ground and kill it, with your bare hands. Humans are designed through evolution for exactly this trick – so are wolves. We work as packs, coordinating our attacks with superior stamina. Pigs lack the cardio and lung capacity to be warriors, even pigs on pasture like ours that are in great shape have undersized hearts and lungs. Dogs can kill them even easier than we can. A force of dogs against a force of pigs, even if the pigs had the inclination to fight, would be terribly miss-matched – The dogs would easily win, and then, literally, eat their opposition.

9) Pigs are not very good jumpers. We had one boar Spot who could clear 4′ fences but realize he was 12′ long hanging, well over 3′ tall at the shoulder and over 1,700 lbs. Think of a short legged steer. He could clear a 4′ fence because he simply stood up and hopped over. He did that with raw power and no finesse. Battle is about finesse. Our 50 to 100 lb dogs can jump eight to nine feet into the air straight up. You have to teach them not to jump fences. Furthermore they can jump down off of 10 to 15′ cliffs that would kill a pig on impact. The dogs are far more gymnastic than pigs.

10) Pig’s teeth are designed for digging. They look great in that photo but they break off in hard use. Fortunately they re-grow. Dogs on the other hand have teeth designed for grabbing, ripping, slicing and maiming. Part of their hunting style is to rip holes in their opponent so it bleeds to death. Another dog trick is to rip out chunks where the severe the tendons or cut off a leg. Dogs jaws open incredibly wide so they can grab a huge hunk of their prey or enemy. Think land shark but with brains. A 50 lb dog can take the head of a 250 lb pig into it’s mouth and bite to kill the pig. A pig can’t do the reverse, not even close. Pigs mouths don’t open very wide because pigs have cheeks to hold in their food while they chew it – for them that works. Dog’s in contrast bite off a large hunk and swallow it whole – they’re interested in speed, in wolfing down as much as possible as fast as possible. Overall, dogs jaws and teeth are far better suited for warfare.

11) Pigs are fighters, but they are not very good at it. They are designed to fight other pigs to establish hierarchy within the ranks. They mostly push and shove. Think sumo wrestlers. Their teeth really aren’t well designed for attacking. Their mouths don’t open wide enough. They lack stamina. They basically put their shoulder up against their opponent and push. With both of them doing this it is, er, amusing. Almost. Except there may be a ton or more of spinning flesh. Don’t step into that whirling dervish or they’ll trample you without a thought. However, in their single minded pursuit they’re easily killed. No strategy. No stamina. No really good weapons other than their mass. Notice I say they push with their shoulder, not head or nose since the nose is sensitive to impact. They will lift with the top of their nose, the rooting motion, and try and flip an opponent. Our big boars could probably flip a car and that might be useful.

12) Pig’s have a great sense of smell but their eye sight is poor, worse than dogs, worse even than humans at night. Their hearing is only mediocre. They also lack whiskers and bumble in the dark. Dogs are valuable to us because they have superior hearing, sense of smell, whiskers and good eye sight.

13) Pigs are not sociable in the sense you want in a warrior. They prefer being one or two big males with 10 to 30 females and maybe a few small males that they’ll drive those off soon. The females are going to be a drag on your supply chain – other than eating them and their offspring. Females only fight to protect their young and nest and almost only if the young are squealing. The males won’t want to be separate from the females. That is not what you’re looking for in a war force. Dogs on the other hand, both males and females, are fighters and they’ll work in packs with many of both sexes. The normal wolf social order is an alpha pair who are sexually bonded and produce the offspring supported by many other males and females who do not breed. This social order creates more economic power for wolves so they can survive in difficult climates.

14) Pigs aren’t territorial enough. Dogs are extremely territorial. They don’t like strangers coming into camp. When you’re on a war footing you want a dog to monitor and patrol. A pig just wants to sleep at night, and during the day. Maybe some eating and sex thrown in.

We have some huge, honking, big pigs, packed with muscle and very little fat since they’re big breeder animals on pasture. But they are not fighters. They rely on the dogs to do the fighting for them, to fend of predators. Even with breeding up they would never be the fighting force of a pack of dogs. Better to start with something closer to what you want – which we did tens of thousands of years ago when we teamed up with the wolves. Or did they domesticate us for our handy thumbs?

Of course, I’m talking dogs like livestock working dogs, not fluffy pets. There is a huge variety of breeds in dogs and amazingly they’re all the same species from Chihuahua to Great Dane to Wolf. Some make great pets. Others are warriors bred up for the task.

The pigs’s flexibility of feed is an interesting idea that someone suggested. But there is plenty of food for dogs. It’s war. They’ll kill and eat. You do want some of your enemies dead, right? Do you really care what happens to the corpse? Pigs or dogs they’ll both clean up. During lean times between battles the dogs are very good at hunting rodents, birds and other small animals. This is the majority of their diet under normal times. A bigger problem is pigs require a lot more food than dogs, more calories. Dogs are efficient. They are mostly teeth, brains, sensory organs, legs, lungs, heart and a sleek carriage to hang it all on. Pigs on the other hand have a huge body to support, the battering ram you were hopping for. That sausage shaped body takes a lot of calories to keep it in condition. Extra bulk burns extra energy.

Someone worried in the discussion that dogs are noisy? The dog’s vocals are an asset in war. Naturally they only talk when they need to. If your dog is talking too much it’s bored or poorly trained. Fix that. Additionally dogs have language. They talk, identify and communicate what they’re seeing to each other. If you learn to listen and watch (some of their language is visual) you can pickup this up and know what they’re noticing out on patrol. We have around 30 words that our dogs say to us and about 300 that we say to them. After years of studying them I think their language may be as large as 1,000 words, perhaps more as they think about somethings outside our ken and may have words for smells that we lack. Your dogs probably want to communicate with you but are frustrated that you’re not paying attention. Pigs on the other hand have a much simpler language and other than saying Hi, What or Move are not really all that interested in communicating other than asking for food or sex. In reality pigs are quite loud, especially when feeding.

If I have to go to war I want a pack of dogs at my side, on point, behind me with a pig in my belly. Perhaps bring some pigs for MRE’s – Mobile Ready to Eat rations.

Oh, wait, I go to war every day of the year. You see, I fight predators all the time. We have very intense predator pressures with two coyote packs adjoining our farm three bear territories corning here, ravens, crows, fisher and the cougar who passes through occasionally on it’s rounds. For that purpose I have a pack of dogs. They guard and herd our livestock 24/7. Our dogs negotiate the treaties with the local predators and set the boundaries. Trespassers literally get eaten.

Dogs rule.

Outdoors: 25°F/9°F Sunny, 1″ Snow
Tiny Cottage: 55°F/59°F

Daily Spark: The entire Universe is an 11 dimensional set equation. I’ve almost got it solved… Just one more twist right here and… Oops…

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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13 Responses to War Pigs

  1. David B. says:

    That’s a fun and well thought out discourse Walter. I do think if we started with wild boars as the breeding stock for war pigs instead of your pigs we would end up with something more fierce but still nowhere near a dog. Thinking back on some of the Lord of the Rings movies I think a pack of war elephants working together with dogs and humans would be pretty sweet.

    • Farmerbob1 says:

      Thing is, like Walter said, intelligence is pretty critical. Pigs aren’t very smart. Wild boar are smaller than domestic breeds, and arguably smarter, but they aren’t pack animals, and don’t really have the tools to be effective fighters like dogs and men.

      As for war elephants. It’s historical. Elephants have been used in war, but with mixed success. They are smart, they have a useful gripping appendage, and their trunk, tusks, and feet are certainly formidable weapons. But they also travel slowly and require a lot of food every day. They can be trained for war, and could be useful in many battle situations.

      Elephants of either sex can fight, but there’s a big problem with males. When males go into musth (the male elephant version of going into heat) they become hyper-irritable (Understandable. I probably would too, if I dragged that certain part of my anatomy on the ground for a few days.) You do NOT want a war-trained multi-ton berserker in your camp. So, you will probably limit yourself to female elephants, or castrated males. Those will not be the most effective fighting animals, though they would still be useful.

      Male elephants might be kept in static locations, for city defense. Nothing says “Oh, Hell.” better than bashing open a city gate, and finding a few war-trained bull elephants staring at your force trying to enter that gate. Sure, you broke down the gate, but all those men are now in close quarters with elephants. Carnage, and an opportunity for the defender to throw back an assault, re-establish a defensive position, or get reinforcements of men to the breach.

  2. Farmerbob1 says:

    Good stuff, Walter!

    Especially good for me, as I have a story that revolves around a young swineherd who takes a small sounder of pigs descended from European wild boar stock into a wartime scenario (as foragers.)

    I’d be interested in seeing the responses on that forum. Can you link it?

  3. rich says:

    There is evidence of pigs being used in war but in a defensive way and in one case more as Kamikazes than warriors. They were used as anti-elephant devices. The most brutal use, as if anything in war is civilized, was in a conflict where the pigs were covered a combustible material (pitch most likely), drove toward a line of war elephants then set on fire. The burning, squealing pigs terrorize the elephants causing them to panic and kill many of their own troops.

  4. I’m thinking you made your case rather well !

  5. Christina Saunders says:

    Nicely put! I currently have 8 large dogs (as pets), and walk them daily. They do communicate wry well with each other. I am also starting my first pasture raised pig operation ( 4 pigs this year:), and it’s very helpful to get any knowledge about their intelegence and habits. Thanks for posting.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Walter, Sorry for the random post but I have a question about weaning piglets. Our little fatties are a hefty 8 weeks and are more than ready to be weaned; mamma pig is ready too. But we are a bit limited in space. Actually, we have lots of space but not much infrastructure for separating the babies from the sow. So I was contemplating putting the big babies in the chicken coop while they are being weaned. This way they can root up the hard-pan left over from the winter chickens and still be separate from the sow.(I think I read somewhere that Joel Salatin thought this might work as a “layering” concept for housing animals kind of like chickens under floor-less rabbit cages.) They probably won’t be in the coop for longer than a week or so but I’m not sure about the piglets rooting around in all that poo/ straw/ old wood chip combo. What are your thoughts?

  7. Kristie Wehe says:

    I realize this is an old post, but I came across it while reading something else and had to follow the link. We were just having a humorous discussion here at Mockingbird Farm about annexing an unoccupied, unused neighboring property. We joked that we could “wage war” by riding in on our large boar. The neighbor, seeing one of us on the back of said boar, Sir Mix, would immediately give up. I would never have thought of trying to
    use pigs as warriors. All someone would have to do is throw out some food and your entire fighting force would be fighting over that. Thanks for a fun read, as always, Walter.

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