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The secret lives of pigs

The secret lives of pigs

Find out more about these intelligent, playful, social animals.

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"I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." - British politician and Nobel Prize Laureate Winston Churchill

Most people don't have the privilege of getting to know a pig. For many, the thought of pigs conjures up images of dirty or even greedy animals but this couldn't be more wrong! Pigs don't perspire, and so wallow in mud to keep themselves cool. They are naturally very clean animals and, if given the choice, they prefer to cool themselves down in fresh water. When in a natural environment, pigs build communal nests and toilet areas away from their sleeping area. And unlike many humans, pigs pace themselves at meal-times and don't over-eat!

Smarter than dogs?
Pigs are remarkably intelligent creatures thought by many to be smarter than dogs. They can be trained to respond to simple voice commands, and are easily toilet trained. Studies have revealed that pigs have a long memory and are able to focus on specific tasks even better than some primates. Research conducted at Bristol University found that pigs are cleverly competitive with other members of their herd, and to avoid confrontation will wait until nobody is looking to sneak away hidden food. "This sort of behaviour suggests that pigs can compete with each other in quite complex and 'cerebral' ways," says Dr Mendl of Bristol University.

"[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more
so than dogs and certainly three-year-olds."

Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School

Playful pigs
Pigs develop highly complex social structures and form strong bonds with other members of their group. At the age of around 3 weeks, piglets begin to play with other piglets, and for the majority of weeks thereafter will interact more with each other than with other members of their herd. It is during this time of play and interaction that strong bonds are formed, often lasting the duration of their lives.

Mother and child
About 24 hours before giving birth, pregnant mother pigs will temporarily leave the social group in order to collect branches and soft material to build a nest. Shortly after giving birth, piglets will often move to the head of the sow and touch noses, vocalise, and then begin suckling. The mother will stay isolated in her nest with her newborns for the first week, which allows her to develop a strong bond with her piglets. Mother pigs are known to 'sing' to their offspring, which is believed to inform them when her milk is flowing.

A healthy appetite
Most of a pig's day is spent foraging and eating. The end of their snout has as many tactile receptors as the human hand, and is a highly specialised and sensitive tool. This, along with their exceptional sense of smell, enables pigs to locate and uncover tasty treats such as seeds, roots, and truffles. Unlike dogs or humans, pigs never dangerously overeat — even when given access to unlimited food.

Pigs are affectionate, protective, playful, intelligent and social animals who suffer tremendously within factory farms.

Thinking differently about pigs? Enjoy the story of Hope, who escaped the cruel fate that factory farming had intended for her.


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