Are pigs smart?

Everyone seems to tell us how pigs are supposed to be smart, so before we bought our two we believed this. Unfortunately, I’m really starting to think our pigs aren’t very bright. I’m not sure if its their breeding or just their individual personalities.

Everything seemed to be going along fine until we let them out of the small square cattle panel pen. We thought they would love to roam and root around and explore their new expanded digs. Along with expanding their pen we also installed a gravity feeder. Their little feeder was getting annoying to fill multiple times a day.

Well, the pigs didn’t like their new feeder. It made noise when they bumped it. They wouldn’t eat out of it unless we were standing in the pen right next to it. Finally we resorted to taking off the lid of the feeder so they would be less skittish. It seemed to work a little.

Then the pigs seemed hungry and we weren’t seeing them using their feeder much at all. They are basically afraid to venture out of the little square cattle panel pen. The feeder station was set up outside of this comfort zone. When they don’t eat very much, it’s bad for us because they aren’t gaining weight (making them even less cost effective on butcher day).

Finally Lee decided to move their feeder into the enclosure of the cattle panel pen. He chose a spot right next to their bed and the waterer. It is installed on the cattle panel with a piece of scrap board between them.

Suddenly we have happy pigs and the next few days after that we start hearing the clanging of the lid signaling to us that the feeder is in use. The pigs seem to be back on track for gaining weight and are tearing through their food again.

They still won’t explore their pen. About as far as they will come is up to the gate. If I walk into their pen they will follow me around and start rooting. As soon as I leave they run back to the safety of their cattle panel pen.

Another thing people like to tell us is how clean pigs will be if they have room. Well…they seem to like to pee and poop right next to their feeder and waterer. Yeah, it’s all basically in one spot, but that “spot” is about half of their original pen. I thought they would pick a place further from food and shelter, especially when they have so much room.

I guess I am wondering what people mean when they say pigs are smart. Are those smart pigs heritage breeds? Are there certain pig traits that make them smart that I am missing? Or is this just a myth that seems to get passed from person to person without anyone knowing what they are talking about? Regardless of whether they are smart, I have really been enjoying having them around. They are always excited to see you, just the aspect of having a pig suddenly makes your place seem cool, they aren’t much work, the smell isn’t that bad (for our two), and they are interesting to watch.

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8 Responses to Are pigs smart?

  1. We’ve had lots of different breeds of pigs and they all seem to act the same. If they are too crowded (from the pigs point of view or stressed) they will poop next to their feed and water. We try make sure that doesn’t happen. We raised only two this summer in our cow feeding shed, the area I cordoned off for them was approximately 20′ x 32′ they worked most of the deep bedding into compost and only had one toilet area that they used continuously from June thru September. It’s nice in one spot, so we can avoid it in the compost for the garden – I don’t care about the pasture, but on my carrots, no thanks.

    Could they have been shocked accidentally (stray voltage perhaps if not electric fence) on the feeder or had a bad experience? We tie the doors up for a day or so, and then put them down after they have learned to eat at the self feeders. Once they start using the feeders, make sure to keep them full, and empty feeder to a hungry pig is about like an aluminum pop can. Towards the end they may eat a bag a day, especially if they are cold! Make your slaughter appointment well in advance so you don’t get stuck feeding a bag a day for too long 🙂

    They look like they’re growing!

  2. Tracy says:

    They are very smart little piggies. They are prey and they are acting like prey. They are also young. They will get more brave the older they get. They know in their hearts of hearts that something out there is going to eat them….and they are right!

  3. lee says:

    Throwback – Thanks for the comments. The pigs definitely aren’t crowded, but stressed is possible. They really don’t like the electric fence we are using to protect the pen boundaries, and I think they are refusing to leave their original pen because at least it doesn’t have any electric around it. They were shocked a number of times when exploring the larger pen, once when trampling through the tall grass and running into the boundary fence, and now they act like the grass might be a threat to them.

    They definitely weren’t shocked by the feeder though. I think it was just the location that frightened them. Thanks for the warning on the empty feeder. It’s bolted in place, but it wobbles pretty bad when the feed level gets down.

    I’m thinking about moving their hoop house shelter back into the larger pen, to separate it from the original 16′ pen. It would be a fair bit of work to move it all, but it might force them to explore the larger pen. At the least, it would get them away from their selected poo area. On the one hand, I don’t want to scare them and cause another drop in food consumption, but I’d also prefer that they have dirt and grass to explore instead of a poo pit as their “front yard”.

    Tracy – Good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way. When I see a 100+ lb pig, I don’t exactly think prey (I think, “please stop trying to eat my boot!”), but we certainly have larger predators that could harm them. (There are cougars within a few miles of here.) I believe that electric fences pose a similar psychological threat / fear-response as predators, so that would explain the hiding-out behavior.

  4. Leigh says:

    How funny. I suppose they’re smart for pigs; they’d just not make very smart humans.

  5. Lynn says:

    Hmmm, interesting. I know nothing about pigs, so I can’t say much here. Hopefully moving the shelter back into the larger pen works. They are cute, I would have a tough time not getting attached.

  6. lee says:

    Leigh – Well, I guess I was expecting dog-smart, given how people talk about them. Just as well .. I have no intention of eating my dog. 🙂

    Lynn – We are going to put off moving the shelter for a while. I’ve been adding straw to the muck-pit trying to break it up a bit. I was working near the barn this evening, and the pigs spent almost the whole time exploring, so perhaps we are making progress!

  7. Richard says:

    Hi everyone, I just found your blog. interesting. I started raising pigs a couple years ago. This year I raised 7 of them. I started them in a pen that’s about 20’x20′. We got them at 2 months old and kept them penned up for about three weeks. When I opened them up to roam, 55 acres, it takes them about two weeks before they venture out. They seem to be more comfortable when there are 2 exits. Pigs love routine and if you move things around you mess them up. Once they set there designated areas it is almost impossible to get them to change. Don’t move their stuff around after they have established their routine.

    Is it possible that they’re feeder is close to an area they were previously using as a bathroom area?

    I also use an electric fence when they are first in the pen. Make sure your fence is low impedance, they are very sensitive to electricity. Also they will be slow to go near the boundary after it’s moved. I set out a couple of special trays of slop as treats for them. These I move around and use as lures to get them to expand their boundaries.

    Just a few thoughts. Nice to find your blog. I look forward to reading it.

  8. Jacqueline says:

    Hm, well they seemed to be smart enough to get you to move their feeder to where THEY wanted it…


    I also suspect the breed has something to do with it, in all seriousness. Don’t forget that pigs bred for factories were bred for characteristics like docility and weight gain on grain. I’ve seen very smart heritage breeds – and a one or two whose intelligence was questioned.

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