Essential Differences – Pig Spotting

East end of West Bound Gilt & Boar

A couple of years ago we had a visit from a government agricultural official who was “here to help us”. She was of the know it all type which made for some interesting bloopers on her part. I was showing her around the farm. We went over to the winter breeding corral for the pigs and she said “My, that is a very big sow!” She was looking at a side view of our boar Archimedes and all of his equipment was on display in all of its glory. Okay, I thought to myself, she’s a little sheltered… but I won’t embarrass her by correcting her… On we went. Later she said she had cattle and bragged about knowing all about breeding livestock. I bit my tongue.

So, in order to educate everyone so none of us make this same mistake I present you today with the essential difference between a boar and a sow. Consider it a bit of piggy porn. (Wow, that is going to mess up google.)

The photo above shows a nice young sow on the left and a handsom young boar on the right. Just below the gilt’s tail is her anus and just below that is her vulva with her “little pointy thing” as Archie calls it. Archie, the pig farmer from whom we got our boar Archimedes, says that when a sow gets pregnant the “pointy thing” points up and he is right. I suspect that this is caused by the uterus becoming heavy with the growing fetal piglets which then hangs lower pulling on the vagina and indirectly on the vulva. By the way, the difference between a gilt and a sow is the sow has farrowed (birthed) while the gilt may be pregnant or not but she has not yet had piglets.

On the boar, below his tail and anus, there is a large sack containing his testicles. This can be easily seen from the side or back. For those of you who have dealt with cattle and sheep you can see that banding boar balls is not a possible castration technique since they are held up close to the body and there is no slack. This means that castration requires cutting – hence the term “a cut piglet”. This is not a pleasant task for the young boar piglet who is soon to be a barrow, the person holding or the person cutting. I’ve written before about how castration may not be necessary and boar meat, at least with our pigs, seems fine with no traces of boar taint. By the way, the difference between a boar and a barrow is all in the balls – the latter lacks ’em.

Just to complete your pig spotting education here’s a side perspective view of a sow:
Sow Side

Our Matron Sow – Big Pig

and a side view of a boar:
Boar Side

Big Boar – look below belly and behind back legs.

and a side perspective view of a boar:
Boar Facing

Awe… who couldn’t love that cute face! He’s such a goof-ball!

For a photo of two little boars and a big boar see tomorrow’s post.

So remember, the government may claim to be here to help us but they don’t necessarily know all the answers…

77째F/69째F Sunny, Spot of Morning Rain.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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42 Responses to Essential Differences – Pig Spotting

  1. Anonymous says:

    Walter……Thanks for the refresher course on Pig anatomy 101…….Back in ’83 and ’84 i raised a few pigs and when the Sow had her piglets in the spring i was enlisted by my neighbor to be the “holder”. I wince at the sight of someone getting an injection and was not at all prepared for what transpired to those little piggys. No laughing gas or novacaine for those boys. The sight of them wobbling off after the “removal” was a humbling experience. Ouch!!!…..AnonyI

  2. Well, if ya’ wana’ farm – guess ya’ godda lern deese tings some where.

    Thanks for the lesson my friend, suppose I ought to know the full measure of what it is I aspire to!

  3. PV says:

    Walter you crack me up!!!!!! Piggy porn!!!!!!

  4. annie says:

    you need a big warning sign on your blog. you are too funny. now i have to clean my keyboard. again!

  5. Brandy says:

    This is what I love about your blog, you really give us a glimps into farm life and all it’s wonders.
    I cannot believe that the government lady couldn’t tell the difference between a gilt/sow and boar! Although since she worked for the government it hardly surprises me!

    I have been wondering Walter, I know you raise animals but what about veggies? I can only imagine the sort of garden you must have!


  6. B, we have a fair bit of gardens – maybe a third of an acre. Mostly for our own consumption although I have been experimenting with growing some animal feed too. We don’t sell veggies.

    Each year we expand our gardening spaces a bit more as I terrace new areas of the hill sides and the animals fertilize and till the soil. Low maintenance is key – no time for lots of weeding. :)

    This year we lost most of our corn crop and even the re-plantings. It was just too wet and cool this spring so the seed rotted in the soil. The small amount of pre-sprouted corn we replanted in one of those areas did survive although it is not doing well with the drowning it got later. We replanted to brassica and some other fast growing crops to try and salvage the short season. Cucumbers and melons also did poorly this year succumbing to damp off.

    On a positive note the potatoes, tomatoes, tomillos, lettuce, broccoli, sunflowers, pumpkins, squash, radishes, peas, beans, carrots, garlic and onions are all doing very nicely. Maybe we’ll get lucky and have a warm fall and other veggies will make up for it.

    Each year’s a little different. The last two years were fantastic cucumber years.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I was just reading your blog and it reminded me that I’ve always
    wanted to do a luau pig. Have you done one? If so how big was the
    pig and how long did it take?


  8. Anonymous says:

    I was just reading your blog and it reminded me that I’ve always
    wanted to do a luau pig. Have you done one? If so how big was the
    pig and how long did it take?


  9. Emily says:

    My, my, what you can learn online these days. Now, I thought I knew everything there is to know about livestock, having read all of James Herriot’s books – twice, mind you. Never heard the terms gilt or barrow before. Thank you for the lesson, Walter!

  10. Art, I haven’t done it luau style. My father has done many pit roasts which are somewhat similar smoking of various meats and I have helped with that. I have read about luaus on some web sites – do a Google. Here is a search.

    I have done three pig roasts above a fire on a spit. Small pigs cook much faster than big pigs. There is a lot of meat on a small 50 lb pig. 50 lbs live weight yeilds about 35 lbs carcass weight for cooking which gives about 25 lbs of meat. Figure 1/3 lb of meat per person (I assume you are serving other food besides just pork) so that would do 75 people theoretically if you could carve it such as to get all the meat. Realistically that is about 50 people I think.

    Have fun and let me know how it goes if you do one!



  11. Mark V says:

    So this the reason the gov cant simply provide us with good information to make our own decisions??? They are incompitent?

  12. Andrew says:

    Walter… you simply must know that the government deals in generalities. A pig is a pig is a pig, one method of educating fits all, of course we will pay you for not planting those crops, etc. In the government’s mind we are all one and the same.

    You and I are simply delving too deep into the details (gilt/sow & boar/barrow) while the government math program sums it up with this (giltsowboarbarrow = pig).

    Just my 2 pennies worth :)

  13. nancy says:

    Speaking of government imcompetence…when I was in my teens, a person from the USDA Dept. came around with the “pretense” of HELPING the poor dumb farmers understand their animals and crops. So this woman proceeded to tell my mother all about goats and their milk. Well, we happened to have goats, and my mother knew full well what goats milk consisted of and how to harvest and can veggies and fruits. Anyway, this all-knowledgable USDA-ster explained to my mom, in very simple english in case she couldn’t understand, that goats milk NEVER had cream, because nature had naturally homoginized it. My mom listened patiently then walked into the house and brought out a small pkt. of butter. She told the woman that she was gifting her with a pkt. of homemade butter from the nonexistent cream on her goats milk. I do not think that woman ever really understood what my mom was telling her, but I could tell by my mom’s smug look that she was quite happy with the results. These people like this woman was sent out to teach the dumb and illiterate farmers how to survive, and they really made no bones about how dumb they thought the farmers really were. I guess they got a lot of flack, because that program didn’t seem to last very long!

  14. HomemakerAng says:

    we just butchered our 4 yesterday am. A little early but worked out best for us now. Looking forward to our great meat to eat! thanks for the pig info… but i knew this just by being alive, can’t understand why this inspector didnt?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ok, I have the basics down on anatomy and even tried my hand at artificial insemination on my show hog last month. Here is the question being a novice and not wanting to declare success to early. What are the sign of a pregnant gilt? I have not paid enough attention to which way it points and am relatively sure she missed this month because the last two months were very obvious. I am hoping for some way to comfirm because I don’t want a suprise and four months. Besides, I don’t want people to talk because I keep looking at her butt. Thanks for the help.

  16. The first thing I notice is either a rounding of the belly or her clitoral hood changing from pointing down to pointing up – probably due to the weight pulling on her uterus and then out to her genitals. Archie, who let us some boars when we were getting started, keyed me into that – he would say “her ‘pointy thing’ starts pointing up when she’s pregnant.”

    Next her nipples will enlarge a bit, not a lot and the curve between her hind leg and belly vanishes as her belly expands.

    Gestation is three months, three weeks, three days according to the old saying. Or about four months. Towards the end of the third month her nipples will get significantly larger and her belly should be hanging. You should be able to feel the growing fetus piglets insider her and maybe even see their kicking on the outside of her belly when she is laying down. Her breathing may be a bit labored and she may have a hard time sleeping on her belly.

    In the last three weeks or so she’ll typically get engorgement of the breasts as they prepare to produce food for her babies.

    In the last week or so the ligiments in her back loosen and she may look a bit sway backed. Her hood will point way up. Her vulva may start to puff and redden a little.

    A day or two before she is ready to farrow, give birth, her vulva will become very red and puffy. She’ll start gathering sticks and grasses from the field to build a nest, often off along a far edge of the pasture. If you have her in a stall or corral, give her plenty of hay or straw to use for bedding.

  17. Micheal says:

    hello folks.. i have a pig question.. i have dairy goats and that’s kind of a no-no.. but i’ve been told it’s ok with pigs.. the plan is to raise them through the winter .. allow him to breed her.. then butcher him.. i read your article on boar taint and thought i’d seperate him after the deed and then butcher him.. what do you think ??

    thanks so much.. great site.. very inspirational..

  18. Hi Michael,

    Yes, you can breed a sister and brother. Breeding and then butchering him is done by many people. Ideally they would be about 7 months old and in fine condition and she would have gone through a couple of heats before first breeding. That means keeping them separate from about 4 months to 7 months – or you can just not worry about it and she’ll get bred a little early. Theoretically that results in slightly smaller (~-1 piglets) litter sizes. I would probably do that if I were you as it is much easier to manage.

    I would not slaughter him until you are _sure_ she is pregnant just incase you want to rebreed on the next cycle. Leave them together at that point and he’ll take care of the job.

    Cull against defects and generally be careful not to continue this inbreeding for successive generations. E.g., don’t keep any from her litter for breeding that show any problems – safest is just to consider all the litter as for eating and not breeding. Studies on inbreeding do show a reduction in vigor and litter size in addition to the usual accumulation of undesirable traits that can occur with inbreeding.

    Lastly, note that not all gilts or boars are actually fertile. The industry average is only about 75% for the gilts (females). If you had two boars and several gilts your odds of success would be better – but you could well get lucky. We find the fertility rate in our gilts to be over 96% so it can be better than the industry average.

    On the issue of boar taint, we have not had any problem even leaving the boars with the herd. But people who have had and issue with that generally report that if they separate the boar from the females for a month the meat is fine. I hear that the darker breeds have more of an issue with boar taint than the lighter breeds. What breed are your pigs? We have Yorkshire with a bit of other mixed in.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Hi Walter, My name is Joshua from Nigeria. I was doing some research and updating my knowledge when I stumbled on your site. Going through you documents leaves me without any doubt that we’ve got somethings in common that we could share. I wanna hear from you so that we could communicate our ideas with each other and better our individual farms and profits. my mail address is

  20. Ryan says:


    Once a long time ago it was told to me “Those that can’t … teach.”

    Also thanks for answering the question are pigs tails straight or curly.

  21. Cara says:

    I used this picture for my facebook profile pic (and gave you credit). It is a great match for my sense of humor today. My mind has been on pigs as I research in preparation for having a few to till and enrich our clearcut land and seal our new ponds, so it is a good fit.

  22. deb says:

    can any body tell me when my gilt will farrow shes had milk in all her teats
    sence last nite at 9:30 no it is 8:00 the following nite she is not in any pain that i can see
    thank you deb

    • Usually they let down milk the day or so before farrowing but sometimes it can be a week. Is she doing nest building? Off her food? Puffy vulva? Sagging lower back? All additional signs of impending farrowing… Sounds like she’ll go any day.

  23. Brie says:

    I just wanted to thank you for the info on how to tell if the sow is pregnant! It was super helpful for us. I appericate all the info.

  24. Danny says:

    This really cracked me up!

  25. Mark says:

    Way too funny!

  26. Lisa says:

    Too funny! I think we’ve all run into our share of such know it all government officials! Sheltered indeed!

  27. snort 17 says:

    Well I have seen it all now my son looked at me and said they are kidding aren’t they Dad I said no son they are very serious, its like a precursor to an Irish joke but as part Irish myself I can only say that my countrymen in Ireland would without a shadow of doubt know the difference and certainly would not need coaching.

    The best thing would be to give each Fella who did not know the difference a swift kick in the jewels and say did that hurt and if he said yes say that’s because you are a fella !
    What to say I am flabbergasted honestly

    Good Evening

  28. Keri says:

    Hello! We are breeding 4-H pigs for the first time and we bred 2 days ago and I was wondering if the clitoral hood points up as soon as 2 days after breeding?

    • That would be quite early. The weight of the swelling uterus pulls on the vagina which pulls on the external genitalia resulting in the indicator swinging upward. Thus it takes some time, a few weeks. Also watch on heat as well, another sign – does she return to heat.

  29. nicholas says:

    Hi there. Im nicholas from south africa and i have 1 boar and 6 gilts (i’m new at this) so my question is that my pigs are 9 months old the grew up together along with a boar. Most of the time i’m with them but i saw them on heat only once it was like 3 weeks ago. Since i have never seen them on heat. So is it possible for all of them to be pregnant while they were on heat just once??

    • Yes, it is possible for them to get pregnant, to take, on the first heat although usually they heat a few times before taking. Most likely is that they have heated without your noticing. Most breeds are fertile by nine months. I find that ours start heating around six months and take for the first time at about eight months. Occasionally we’ll get a Lolita, an early breeding gilt, who takes as young as six months. That is rare. Keep observing them and watch for gestation development. I would keep the boar with them.

  30. nicholas says:

    Ok thanks very much for replying i’l keep on checking them. Last question.. Recently i heard that it is not good to keep the boar with this gilts 24/7 because the gilts get used to this boar and they don’t service anymore. Is that true? Because i was thinking to separate the boar from this gilts for a week or so.. So that when i return it to the gilts it can service again. I’m a bit worried because since past 3 weeks they just eat and do nothing while that costs me a lot of pig feed for them to just eat and rest. So should i let the boar stay with this gilts 24/7 or wat??and lastly is it a problem that this pigs are sibling(they from the same boar not sure with a sow).

    • That is a myth. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. It merely makes life more complicated, difficult and means you may miss heats. We keep our boars and gilts/sows together. Don’t worry about siblings, pigs have no taboo about incest. That is merely an issue if they have poor genes. Remember to cull hard – breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

      • nicholas says:

        Thank you man i understand and i will keep you updated if any changes occur. But as for now they still don’t go in heat not even once thats all am worried about. But i’l be patient and see what happens. Thanks again

  31. nicholas says:

    hi walter.. Its me again and am afraid to say there’s still no luck for me. My gilts are a year old now but no sign of heat of pregnancy… I rented a boar and my gilts kept avoiding and running aawy from it when he tried to service them. So i heard that when a gilt/sow is pregnant a boar will know and it won’t even try to service them is that true?? So does this mean my gilts are still not mated? And also heard that if a gilt/sow tries to avoid a boar then it means they are indeed pregnant, is that true? I kept a rented boar for a whole day and they kept running away from him. I’l realy be happy if you can explain thi to me. Thank you

  32. nicholas says:

    yes i could do that i gues.. But the thing is.. I have six gilts.. Could it be possible that they are all infertile? And as for a good boar. The boar never serviced them because they kept running away from him. So someone said running away of a gilt from a boar it means she is pregnant. So i wanted to know if you familiar with that saying. While someone said if a gilt is pregnant then a boar won’t even try to service. ”Am new at this” my problem is that this gilts don’t want to be serviced by this rented boar. The owner of the suggested that they may have already catched in. While the co-owner of the boar said its impossible because the boar would have noticed and not even try to service them. My problem is that i don’t know if they are pregnant or not. As for the infertile am pretty sure thats not it. Because the rented boar never got a chance to service them. My boar saw it once on heat. Thank you…

    • With any one gilt the odds are that she is the infertile one rather than the boar since a female’s reproductive process is so much more complex than a male’s. However, with a six to one vote he loses. Now the probability shifts to him. Is he a proven boar? If he is proven then the issue shifts away from him.

      There are a number of diseases that can cause this. Do you vaccinate against them? FarrowSure Gold B is a good start.

      Is it hot? Very hot weather can cause male infertility.

      Eating some plants can cause infertility – this is an example of something that could cause the whole herd to lose fertility.

      Mycotoxins in moldy grain can cause infertility and litter loss.

      If a gilt is in standing heat then she’ll want the boars attention. If she is not in heat then they’re just two pigs and have no sexual interest in each other.

      Waiting 21 days and watching while keeping them with the boar is what I would suggest if all the above is resolved.

  33. Sherry Lantrip says:

    Walter what if any would be the difference in quality of meat from any breed of gilt? Also read some place above about color of pig! Will that have an impact on meat taste? Is it ok to feed my pig any kind of meat it will eat? Will that have an impact on meat quality? A friend keeps telling me and I suspect it to be merely a myth, that once you feed a pig meat and you fall into their enclosed area they will eat you TRUE/FALSE? If I show no fear she won’t hurt me. Plus I have rubbed her belly where she leaned in falling over for more. Only got her for meat eating. She’s a bit of a big baby. None the less I hope I have not ruined the quality of meat she will provide for me, cause ya can’t really trust what ya are buying from stores anymore. Some meats have been found to contain horse meat and that sickens me cause I’m a true horse lover. Thank you for your time.

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