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.