The pig is probably one of the smartest farm animals you can raise. I had always been told that but never truly witnessed it firsthand – that is, until June of this year.
I came home from work one afternoon to discover our nine young piglets tearing up my recently planted garden. In horror I stared at them for a few minutes before leaping into action to get them back.
It turns out that getting stubborn pigs to return to their paddock isn’t quite as easy as it might sound! Pigs are not only intelligent, but they’re set in their ways. And once they’ve escaped, it can be super difficult to get them home.
Understanding the reasons why pigs escape – as well as how to prevent it and deal with it when they inevitably do get out – can help prevent major headaches and losses later on down the road.
Why Do Pigs Try To Escape?
Pigs escape for several reasons. Like all animals, they have their own specific reasons for getting out. Here are some of the most common reasons behind the jailbreaks.
1. They Like to Dig
Pigs are natural rooters. They like to nose through the dirt to find tasty grubs, to turn up soil, and generally, just to satisfy their natural urges. This makes it very easy for them to bust through fences, either deliberately or as the unintended result of their excavation.
Often, pigs dig under or around a fence and escape not because they want to leave their herd mates or their food source, but because they want to know what’s on the other side.
Because they are so smart, pigs are also very curious. Often, pigs will go through a fence just because they can. Plus, they want to see what kinds of tasty morsels await outside of their pen for them to explore.
If you raise pigs with other animals, they may breach their fences just because they want to know what’s going on on the other side of the farm. This is doubly true if you raise pigs for breeding purposes – a pig that is ready for breeding is going to have an insatiable curiosity and an urge to get through those fences.
Another thing to keep in mind is that once a pig realizes an electric fence is not working or is damaged in some way, they will go through it. Sometimes, pigs will remember that the fence shocked them in the past and this will be enough to keep them inside a faulty fence. However, I’ve also seen pigs return to the same spot, time and time again, to test a fence after they realized it was down.
Pigs are very strong animals, in addition to being intelligent, and if you spook one, you are going to have a hard time keeping it contained. Scare a pig and even an electric fence isn’t going to keep it contained – it will break right through it and deal with the jolt.
4. Hunger or Thirst
I’ve heard numerous stories about pig escapees who ran out of water and consequently broke out of their pens. If you are raising pigs and their basic needs are not met, you are going to have a hard time keeping them contained.
How to Prevent Pig Escapees
1. Make Sure You Have Enough Space
Before you decide to raise pigs, make sure you can sustainably raise a herd in the space you have. Usually, a pig needs about eight square feet of space per grower pig. But what you need to keep in mind is that this amount of space will work for a limited time only. Once pigs reach a certain age, they will be more active and more destructive as a result.
We err on the side of caution, preferring to raise our pigs on ample amounts of pasture not just for their own health but for our ease of management. We give our pigs about ⅔ of an acre on which to root and explore, which may not be possible for everyone – but for us, it helps cut down on the likelihood that they are going to get out.
2. Erect Strong Fences
Pigs are very smart and need extremely strong fences. Not only can pigs tell when a fence is no longer operative, but they are skilled excavators that will try to dig out of any pen in which they are contained. You may find it helpful to keep a strand of electric wire at ground level to prevent digging. In addition, though, you are going to need to provide additional wires to prevent them from stepping over them.
Other types of fencing you can use are wood or wire mesh. Pigs have a tendency to try to go through fence wire or they may pull or swing on fencing made out of these materials. These can easily be compromised when your pigs root around them and they can sometimes even chew through fencing.
Whatever kind of fence you choose, make sure it is about ten times stronger than you ever anticipate it needs to be. If you are raising breeding pigs, I can’t state the importance of this enough – an uncastrated boar or sow in heat will go to great lengths to get through a fence.
3. Be Careful Moving New Pigs
A pig who is used to you will usually be able to be enticed to do what you want it to do with a few treats and a bit of coaxing. However, a young pig or one who is being introduced to the farm will be very difficult to coerce.
Not only will this pig be naturally (and rightfully) fearful of you, but it might not be trained to the fences you have in place. Therefore, you need to be extra careful when adding new pigs to the herd. Make sure you have plenty of treats on hand and don’t trust the fence to keep the pig contained – have a back-up plan in case things go awry, and move slowly and calmly to prevent startling the anxious new arrival.
4. Train Pigs to Their Fences
No matter what kind of fence you use with your pigs, it’s important that they understand exactly how it works. When we move piglets to their new pens, we always take the time to train them to the electric fence.
Although we give our pigs nearly a full acre on which to roam, we limit them during their first few weeks to a small corner of the paddock by sectioning it off with a makeshift interior pallet fence. This is done so that we can keep a close eye on the piglets while they are exploring their new territory.
It also makes it inevitable that they will come into direct contact with the electric fence at some point. This sounds inhumane, but it’s necessary – the piglets need to learn that the electric wiring is to be minded. Usually, all it takes is a slight bump for them to get the hint – other times, piglets have latched on to the fence with their mouths for a casual nibble.
To help teach the piglets the full boundaries of the fence, we tie orange flagging on to the wire at various locations. This makes it easier for them to acclimate to the fence and also makes it less likely that they will test the wire if the electricity goes down.
5. Check Fences Daily
Regardless of the material you use to build your fences, make sure you test it daily to ensure that it is working. You can do this in a variety of ways – if you have an electric fence, you can buy an inexpensive tester to check its voltage.
For any type of fence, make sure you walk it each day to ensure there are no sections that have been compromised. You may notice sections are at risk because of rooting behavior or because of environmental factors, like downed tree limbs. No matter what, make sure the fence is intact and functional at all times.
6. Socialize and Bond with Your Pigs
If your pigs like being with you, it is going to be easier to keep them contained. They are going to be less likely to spook if you come near them, and if they do get out, you’ll have a much easier time convincing them to come back. Take the time to interact with your pigs on a daily basis and to teach them that your presence is not something to be feared.
7. Provide Plenty of Food and Water
Making sure the basic needs of your pigs are met goes a long way in ensuring the safety of your herd. It will also prevent pig escapees! Provide a consistent supply of nutritious food and clean, fresh water to keep your pigs healthy – and contained.
How to Catch a Pig Once It’s Out
It happens to the best of us – sometimes, despite your best efforts, your pigs get out. Here’s how to catch them if they do.
1. Stay Calm
The cardinal rule in dealing with pig escapees is to remain calm at all times. Don’t panic, and whatever you do, don’t chase the pigs. This will cause them to panic and run further away – and despite their short legs, pigs run surprisingly fast.
2. Use Treats
The greatest motivator for a pig is food. Use favorite treats – preferably foods they don’t get to eat a lot – to lure them back in. When we have had pigs get out in the past, we have found that standard grain doesn’t do the trick. We usually need to use extra-tasty morsels like eggs, bread, or bits of cheese, or Doritos.
3. Be Patient
Don’t try to rush things. Although it seems as though pigs always get out at the worst possible time – like right before you need to leave for work – you can’t rush them back into the pen. Be patient, giving them small bits of food at a time to coax them back into the pen.
4. Be Prompt
While you don’t want to rush the process of getting a pig back into its pen, you also don’t want to take more time than is needed. An escaped pig can literally go hog wild, potentially injuring itself, other animals, and also property.
Plus, there are feral pig laws in most places that require you to get a pig back within a set amount of time or else you have to report it as a pig that has gone wild. This can result in some fines and other implications, as well as the ultimate loss of your pig.
Hopefully, you will never need to pursue an escaped pig – but if it happens, rest assured that these tips can help make it easier to get it back. No matter what happens, try not to get frustrated with your pigs for getting out – they’re just being pigs! However, you can mitigate losses and limit additional stress by preventing it from happening in the first place.