Pigs are fun loving, sociable animals full of joie de vivre. They belong to the non-ruminant section of the Artiodactyls (along with hippopotamuses). The wild pig lives in the forest and eats a wide variety of plants and occasionally small animals and insects - and of course once lived wild in Britain’s woodlands until hunted to extinction in the seventeenth century.
Sus scrofa, the Eurasian wild pig, is the ancestor of most domesticated and feral pigs. It is found on all continents except Antarctica and on many islands.
Wild and feral (domestic pigs gone wild) pigs have a social structure comprising of a sow and her young. Wild pigs give birth (farrow) once a year and have a litter of about four piglets. At weaning, which naturally occurs at three months, two or three sows and their piglets will join together. There is often a matriarchal hierarchy which lasts until the breeding season. Old boars, who often live alone, then join the group, driving away the young boars and mating with the sows. Young boars live together during this time. Breeding females and adolescents usually reform a group after breeding.
Piglets are very fond of play. They chase one another, play-fight, play-love, tumble around and generally enjoy themselves. They do not grow into normal pigs when deprived of play.
In factory farms piglets cannot play - they live in crowded concrete or gridded pens with nothing to do.
Radio telemetry studies have shown that pigs can travel 2 to 15 km in a night and over six months cover 10,000 hectares. (68) In a major study pigs kept in a semi-natural environment spent over half their daylight time foraging for food and a quarter exploring. Stolba and Wood-Gush (4) state:
"Pigs are generally exploratory animals with an appreciable proportion of their time devoted to...examining the distant and immediate environment and in collecting, carrying, manipulating food items...They used their rooting pads to flatten and push items; the snout for grubbing out thick roots. Morsels on the bark and wood were licked, while old tussocks of grass were overturned so that their roots could be eaten. Young grass on the other hand was carefully grazed. In boggy areas they dug more deeply to get at the roots of sedge grasses and these together with the roots of trees appeared to be prized."
The adults pigs in this study had been kept in factory farms and still they displayed a wide repertoire of behaviour when given the opportunity. In fact, given half a chance pigs will live ferally as wild boar.
Pigs have poor eyesight but acute senses of touch, taste and smell - being able to smell a human up to a quarter of a mile away. Their snout is very sensitive and tactile and is vital for rooting. So strong is the need to root that intensively farmed pigs persist in nosing their concrete floors. Factory farmed pigs are given concentrated feed and spend a short time eating. They have no opportunity to root around and this is a serious cause of frustration and acute boredom in these intelligent animals.
Dr IJ Lean (Animal Production Dept, Wye College, University of London) acknowledges that:
"weaned, growing and finishing pigs live in a barren environment."
It is hard for us to imagine the effects of the imprisonment on young mammals who, in the wild, spend so much time playing, socialising, rooting, running, eating, investigating, wandering and engaging in the natural world.
Pigs avoid extreme temperatures. As they only have sweat glands on their noses, it is important they do not overheat. This is where mud comes in. Pigs, like elephants, roll in mud to keep cool - as mud provides evaporative cooling over a much longer time than water. Mud also stops sun burn, dangerous to a pig, and it protects from flies and parasites. Contrary to the popular myth, pigs do not like to roll in dung, or urine for that matter - something they are forced to do in Britain’s factory farms. Urine burns the skin and faeces attracts flies, both spread disease.
In the wild, piglets choose their playmates and friends, in an intensive unit pigs have no such normality. Instead humans choose their companions, stocking rate and feed. They are often put together in groups of the same age, gender and weight. Newly mixed pigs fight to establish a hierarchy which is based on weight - the heaviest being more dominant. Unfortunately Viva! has witnessed many pens where smaller piglets are being bullied by larger animals in overstocked conditions. The industry admits that this is 'bad management'.
For some, the factory farming of pigs is made even worse in the knowledge that pigs are very sensitive, emotional and bright creatures with long memories. Stanley Curtis, Professor of Animal Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, says:
"Pigs are amongst the most intelligent animals on Earth".
They can be taught to sit, pirouette, shake hands, complete complex obstacle courses, play bugle horns, sing Christmas carols and by gripping a joystick with their snouts are even capable of playing complex video games.
"Things we used to think were totally human, we find these animals are capable of doing as well." (51)
American scientists have proved that pigs can recall events that happened to them several years ago. Dr Sarah Boysden, a zoologist at Ohio Sate University says:
"Pigs have tremendous memory for training and events that they experience."
She taught a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig to differentiate between several objects such as balls and Frisbees and to obey commands such as fetch, jump and sit.
After a gap of four years, the pig remembered all the objects and commands.