7 Rules of Conduct with Pigs

11 More Piglets in South Field

On a recent post about our big boar Spot LJB asked if I ever feel scared around such a big boar. Scared, no. Careful, wary, watchful – definitely yes. He’s big and I would rather not be stepped on, knocked down, etc. Likewise with the big sows and tractor, bulldozer, etc. Fortunately I’ve raised Spot, and others, since he was only 3 lbs so I’ve had time to get to know him and he knows me well. They kind of grow on you… :)

7 Golden Rules of Conduct:

  1. Don’t get between a big animal and a hard place.
  2. Watch your feet, beware of hooves, tusks and tails. Same holes for horns, fangs, etc with other species.
  3. Don’t try to break up a boar fight.
  4. Be wary around the boars when they’re after a lady in heat. It’s not polite, and rather dangerous, to interrupt sparking folk.
  5. Be very careful of a sow and her piglets. If piglets start screaming the sow, and other pigs, may rush to their defense. Even a sow that is normally very docile may get aggressive in this situation.
  6. Greet a pig fist out fingers curled down and in. This is like touching noses which is a proper, polite piggy hello.
  7. Most importantly, don’t mess around with pigs you don’t know. They can get aggressive, like any animal, if they feel threatened, especially by someone they don’t know.

These rules of conduct can be applied to many species.

As an interesting aside, the pigs perceive us as being far bigger than we actually are. They see us as a 2 dimensional silhouette and assume we have a proportional mass. To them height in particular, but also width, implies a corresponding length and thus total size. If you want to appear small to a pig, and many other animals, crouch down and you’re less threatening. Similarly, if you want to be very big and intimidating, stand up tall and spread your arms up and outward – this is called looming. It is very handy for moving animals around and backing them off if need be. I’m only 5’8″ but Spot thinks I’m about 4,000 lbs because he never realizes there’s not more of me behind the silhouette. He has a pig-centric mentality that says everybody is proportionally long as they are tall at the shoulder. Since I’m twice his ‘height’ he figures I’m far larger than I really am.

Outdoors: 67°F/50°F Sunny
Farm House: 78°F/66°F Excavation work completed yesterday
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/62°F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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16 Responses to 7 Rules of Conduct with Pigs

  1. Sailor says:

    Very interesting, both about the ‘piggy hello’ and about their perception of our size.

    I have found over the years that a polite ‘horsey hello’ is almost nose to nose and let them smell the air from your lungs as you exhale through your nose. This seems to be some kind of identifier to them.

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog, and very much enjoyed the article you had on the shock collar for your sheep and chicken killing dog. I was very afraid the story was going to end badly. I am glad that it ended the way it did.

  2. Joe Riederer says:


    Once again I’m coming to you with a rookie pig farmer question. The woods around Central Wisconsin as full of wild hazelnuts. Best crop in years! I’ve tossed a few handfuls to my pigs and they seem to love them. I’ve heard of pigs that are fed acorn or chestnuts. Do you know of any reason I shouldn’t feed them hazelnuts? I can pick 50 pound in an hour with out any problem. Cheap, sustainable, nutritious… I’m not seeing a down side.

    Joe Riederer
    Central Wisconsin

  3. wil says:

    Great insight. How are your fields so green and non muddy after all the rain?I also had a question about winter watering. Can pigs get thru winter by eating snow?Thanks for taking the time to do such a cool blog.

  4. Joe, I suspect the hazelnuts would be a great source of protein and probably similar to their wild diet. I would give them a try. If they can self harvest that’s ideal.

    Wil, in the winter the pigs do eat snow although I like to have water also available. We have warm (45°F) fresh water flowing from springs year round that supply both hour house and the livestock. See these posts for some of the fun we have with the winter spring’s excess.

    On keeping the pastures green, it is a matter of rotational grazing, moving the animals before an area gets too grazed down and muddy. There is a small sacrificial area that is muddy. We rotate those areas too – in fact we just rotated them out yesterday so that the last one can recover.

  5. Andy says:

    Another great post walter!
    I love your insights into life on the farm.

  6. Todd W says:

    Thanks for the reply on the baleage question I had for you. Our summer has been less than ideal for making dry hay, so I expect there will be an excess of baleage this year.

    Do you have any experience feeding goats milk and whey to pigs? We’ve got a goat dairy farm near us and they have excess whey. I assume goats milk and whey is ok for pigs, but I thought I’d see if you had any experience with it.


  7. We feed goats milk, whey, butter and cheese to supplement pasture in the warm months and hay in the winter. It is an excellent food for pigs that’s been used for centuries (millenium?).

  8. Todd W says:

    What’s the shelf life of whey? Does it need to be kept cool?

    Your whey tanks must be pretty colorful on the inside!

  9. The insides of the tank are white as is the whey. The whey doesn’t spoil before we use it. It has a low pH and salt in it so that probably keeps it from spoiling. Since we get daily deliveries of the whey it is turned over quite quickly. On occasion I’ve had some around in a bucket or barrel for weeks and it didn’t spoil.

    We also live in a relatively cool climate – perhaps things would be different in a hot area such as Texas or Florida. Around here, the normal temperatures are in the 50’s to 70’s during the summer with brief spikes up into the 80’s on occasion.

  10. Hi,
    I happened upon your blog this evening. That was a very interesting post.

  11. Chris B says:

    I am raising a few heritage pigs on pasture and have a 1.5 year old boar that is just starting to get noticeable tusks. He has had foam around his mouth the last few days (plenty of fresh water). Is that related to the tusks? I read in another post about the foam being present when two boars were fighting. The only other boars on my farm are 4 weeks old!
    The boar has also started very closely following anyone in the pasture. He comes up close and will occasionally cut in front of me to face me directly. He hasn’t “bitten” or had his mouth open as he does when keeping the sows in line but he did rip my pants with his tusk (by accident?). Would you consider this aggressive behavior and if so would you cull his progeny as well?

    • The tusks don’t cause foaming. The foaming is probably simply his attempt to produce pheromones to sexually excite the females and bring them into heat so he can mate. You can cut the tusks with a dental wire if you feel it is a safety issue. They do get quite sharp. I don’t cut tusks. I also don’t tolerate bad behavior in livestock – I cull very hard for good temperament. Hard to say without seeing it if this as at that level or not.

      • Chris B says:

        To update. This morning I was walking behind him when he spun around to face me faster than I thought possible. I pushed him off and quickly jumped the nearest fence with him a half step behind. I immediately decided to cull him and then spent the rest of the day second-guessing myself. He’s 18 months and always been very docile before. Does this behavior usually exhibit “out of the blue?” Also what level of “attitude” do you tolerate out of a boar when the sows are close to mating? I have one sow in with the boar currently but there are several more that are in heat but unavailable to him.

        • True Aggression towards us = 0% tolerance – Archimedes once accidentally cut my leg with his tusk but that was a true accident with no maliciousness so I didn’t fault him on that.

          Aggression towards the dogs – low tolerance but the dogs correct a pig hard and fast. They work as a pack and any pig that aggresses them will get their immediate attention as a group and quickly learn not to do that again.

          Aggression towards other pigs – moderate. They shouldn’t actually hurt others but it is normal for them to establish dominance order within the herds. That keeps things in order. If a pig actively attacks and harms other pigs and keeps at it then they will get culled for aggression. They will bite each other as part of their order maintenance but they should not seriously harm, maim or pursue.

          When hormones are flying we are aware of that and cautious but realize that with 60 sows there is almost always someone in heat so that is just normal.

  12. Farmerbob1 says:

    Found a Chinese character mixed into one of your comments, Walter.

    Looming is a technique that I’ve used with dogs on occasion, in years when I did outdoor work around people’s houses, and aggressive dogs. I’ve seen other people try it and ended up having to help them drive the dogs off. I suspect that the dogs are very conscious of my lack of fear scent. I have zero fear of any single dog. I will stare them down while looming, and they will back off. I’m not foolish enough to be unafraid of multiple dogs though!

    I bring this up, because I wonder how much of your pigs’ docility is due to the fact that you trust them (with caution) as much as they trust you? Since you are breeding for temperament, you know that for the most part your pigs are not going to spontaneously attack. This probably means you are less likely to generate a fear scent even when a bigger pig starts to act up on you?

    Any pigs that are aggressive when they are very small won’t create fear in you because, well, size. Those animals get culled before they are big enough to be scared of, I imagine.

    So, I guess, after all that backstory, I’m going to ask you whether you think I might be right that part of the good behavior of your pigs is simply because you and your family respect them, and rarely ever have cause to generate fear scent when interacting with them? Or am I completely out in left field on this one?

    • Both factors may be at work. The selection factor is strong in the pigs as other people who buy both feeder piglets and adult breeders from us comment about it too with our genetics. As always, it is important to keep in mind that they are large animals and can accidentally hurt you even if they don’t do it on purpose. Never leave children alone with them.

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