Handling

  • Pigs should always be handled quietly to avoid stress.
  • Use backing boards/stock moving boards to move pigs. You can make one using a sheet of plywood with cutout handles, or purchase a lightweight plastic one from Shoof.
  • Plastic pipes and dogs must not be used on pigs. The Code of Welfare for Pigs (2018) and the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations (2018) do permit the use of electric prodders, but ONLY on pigs weighing over 150 kg and only for loading or unloading for transport. The best practice is to avoid using electric prodders altogether.
  • Don’t lift pigs by their ears, tails, or front legs. Small pigs (less than 10 kg) may be lifted by their back legs only, as long as their body is fully supported as they are lifted.

Restraint

  • Small pigs can be picked up by the back leg and held by supporting their body with the other hand.
  • Those over 10 kg can be restrained in a corner of a pen or shelter with the use of a backing board, or restrained behind a gate.
  • Mature pigs are best handled in a more secure area for human safety reasons, such as a small pen or yard, a cattle crush (for large pigs), and/or a head bail.
  • Pigs can also be restrained by a snare that loops over the upper jaw, into the mouth, and behind the upper canines. The snare may be made of soft rope, or it may be a purpose-made quick-release pig snare made of metal wire (available from Shoof).
  • Pigs hate being restrained by any method so it’s a good idea to wear ear protection to dampen noise and to restrain them for as short a period as is necessary. Never restrain or tie them up for an extended period of time, and do not leave them unsupervised while restrained.

Castration

  • It is ILLEGAL for anyone other than a vet to castrate a pig. Castration is an invasive surgical procedure that must be carried out by a veterinarian, and pain relief must be used during the procedure, as per the Code of Welfare for Pigs (2018) and the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations (2018).
  • Castration is not necessary if pigs are fed an adequate, balanced diet in proper amounts that enables them to grow quickly, meaning males are slaughtered before they start to mature. Once male pigs reach maturity, problems associated with fighting, aggression, and boar taint may develop.
  • Boar taint is an unpleasant flavor and odour that develops in the meat of entire male pigs. The only way to prevent this completely is to castrate, however sending them to slaughter before they reach puberty at ~7 to 9 months of age is an effective way to lessen the risk of boar taint.

Tusk trimming

  • Pigs attack by both biting and swiping upwards using their protruding tusks.
  • Tusks can be trimmed, especially on boars that are potentially aggressive.
  • Only a competent and skilled person may do this job. The correct restraint and the correct technique and equipment are critical. For this reason, it is best done by a veterinarian.
  • If not done properly, the animal will experience pain during and after the procedure. An incorrect technique may also leave the trimmed tusk very sharp and dangerous.

Nose ringing

  • This will stop the pig from rooting up pastures when grazing and can help prevent fence breaking. Overly pugged, muddy conditions contribute to environmental damage and are also an unpleasant environment for pigs to live in.
  • The nose is a very sensitive area and restraint is necessary for nose ringing, usually with a snare if placing rings in bigger pigs. The procedure causes some pain, and the restraint causes stress, which the pig will remember and associate with you (and the location in which nose ringing is carried out).
  • It must be done properly using nose clips in the cartilage on the top of the snout or a nose ring in the tissue separating the two nostrils. A combination of clips and rings can be effective especially if some fall out over time. It is important not to overdo it.
  • NZPork has some guidelines for inserting nose clips, rings, and wires in pigs and recommends no more than 3-4 clips on the top of the nose and one septum ring (through the centre separating the nostrils).
  • Purpose-made nose clips or rings are recommended rather than using fencing wire. Wire takes longer to insert (which causes more stress) and leaves a sharp protrusion from the snout once the two ends are twisted together. Wires are less robust if caught on branches or fences and tend to need replacing more frequently.
  • Nose ringing is not recommended in brachycephalic (snub-nosed) pig breeds such as Kunekunes.
  • If you are unsure, get a veterinarian to insert nose rings and/or clips to help to avoid stress and personal injury.

Clipping needle teeth in piglets

  • These small sharp canine teeth can cut the sow’s teats and damage littermates as they fight to establish teat order and ownership over the best teats.
  • If teeth clipping is performed, it is best to do so before piglets are 24 hours old and after 6-8 hours of age to allow prior colostrum absorption. The Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code of Welfare 2018 allows teeth clipping to be carried out in pigs up to the age of 5 days.
  • No more than one-third of the tooth should be removed.
  • Use sharp clippers (e.g. side cutters) and avoid shattering the tooth or damaging the gums or mouth. Disinfect the clippers between piglets.
  • Ideally seek veterinary assistance to avoid stressing the young piglets, and to be trained in the correct technique. Make sure the sow is restrained when doing it or she may attack you when the piglets squeal.

Tail docking

  • This should be a last resort if other methods of preventing tail biting are unsuccessful. Tail biting can be caused by any or all of the following factors: high stocking rate (pigs do not have enough space), barren environment (no bedding/ substrate/ objects to explore), an inadequate diet, sudden changes to the diet or the housing environment, poor ventilation, and genetics.
  • The Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations (2018) state that tail docking may be carried out by a non-veterinarian on pigs less than 7 days of age, and the docking procedure must create a clean cut without tearing the tissue.
  • Only an experienced, trained person should carry out tail docking, and only up to a third to a half of the tail may be removed.
  • If the pigs are over 7 days of age, tail docking can ONLY be carried out by a veterinarian, and pain relief must be given.
  • Ideally, seek veterinary help as bleeding and infection can occur if not performed correctly and hygienically.
  • If performed, it is best to do so before piglets are 24 hours old and after 6-8 hours of age to allow prior colostrum absorption.

Identification

  • Ear notching should be done before 3 days of age and preferably within 24 hours of birth. Disinfect equipment between piglets during use. 

Our thanks to Dr Kirsty Chidgey for her help in updating this article