Socializing Piglets: A Breeder’s Guide
One of the most important parts of a breeder’s job is to ensure that each piglet leaves you happy, healthy and well socialized. A piglet that has not been properly socialized is more likely to become overly stressed, fearful and develop behavioral problems. We as breeders must set each pig up for success so that our pigs are prepared for everyday life once they leave our care. This process begins from Week 1, and continues until the piglet has been placed into its new family’s home.
During this week, the piglets need to spend as much time with their mother as possible to ensure they do not miss out on vital nutrients and antibodies. Since pigs are born walking and eyes open, it is important that they see you as much as mom will allow so that you may imprint on them. Begin this process by speaking to them, let them learn the sound of your voice. You may choose to stroke or pet them when they come up to explore you and their new found surroundings, this will ready them for human touch. Be slow moving and soft spoken so that you do not scare them. Spend some time each day in their stall or enclosure so that they are able to become familiar to your smell, touch, and over all presence. It is important they see you as part of the herd and do not learn to be fearful of human interaction, as this allows the bonding process to begin.
This week should be similar to week one. The piglets will be a little more active and exploring around further than their previous week of life. Be sure not to be forceful or demand interaction. Let them come to you. Sit or lay in their area so that you are not hovering and appearing large as a predator would appear. Continue to move slowly and speak to them softly. As the piglets approach you, reach out your hand and gently pick them up one at a time, gently place them in your lap cradling them so that they feel secure. Gently stroke and talk to each piglet for a few minutes, then gently place them back down. This will help the piglet learn that you are not a threat and become used to being picked up and handled. Be sure not to cause any stress to mom during this process, as well as piglets. If mom shows signs of stress or agitation, safely remove yourself and try again at another time. You can repeat this process multiple times during the day if necessary. If possible you can place a radio to the area so that the piglets will become accustomed to hearing other voices and noises. Typically piglets are born outdoors and are only accustomed to noises made by you and nature. This will help transition the piglets when they are brought into the home for the next socialization training.
During weeks three and four, the piglets will also be commonly starting the weaning stages. They will be experimenting with mom’s food as she eats and should also be drinking water on their own. During these weeks, you can safely remove the piglets from mom and bring them into your home or separate area for a few hours each day. Be sure to place food as well as water within reach so that they may have access while away from mom. When you move the piglets into your home have a small area designated just for them. The first few days of indoor activity the piglets need to be able to adjust to the new environment. There will be new noises, smells and surroundings they have not yet experienced.
This new environment could be stressful, so a calm place to adjust away from extremely heavy foot traffic the first few times they are indoors will help ease the transition. You may choose a room such as a laundry room, spare bedroom or other appropriate place. If this area has a functioning door, it is advised that you keep it open so that the piglets can start being accustomed to unfamiliar sounds and voices. If you are planning to litter train, you should add an appropriate size box and litter in their area to start the training process. If an owner has chosen a specific name, you will want to call that piglet by its new name so that it will recognize when he or she is being called and spoken to.
After the 2nd or 3rd day of coming into your home, you can move their space into a more trafficked area and allow the piglets to venture out of the area at their own pace. This process should not be rushed. The piglets will venture out to explore their new surroundings. To help entice them, you can sprinkle a few cheerios or yummy vegetables onto the floor. The area they explore should expand slowly each day until they are able to explore the main areas of the home.
During this time of indoor training, you should also be continuing to work with the piglets on being handled and picked up. This is a vital step that must be practiced daily so that they will not become fearful of being held. Remember not to put the piglet down while it is screaming, as this can easily become a habit the pig uses to be let down. Make sure to cradle the piglet so that it feels safe and secure in your arms. This is also the perfect time to start introducing rewards or treats for positive behaviors. A variety of treats and foods should be used to that the piglet is introduced to different tastes, smells, and textures.
Introductions to other family members and pets should be done slowly, not to add stress to the piglets. Every family dynamic is different, most people have other pets as well as children ranging in ages. If you have the opportunity to have both women and men interacting with the piglets, this would be the perfect time to implement that. When introducing other members of your family such as children and spouses, make sure that they move slowly and let the piglets come to them. They will need to follow the same process that you have done, so that the piglets know what to expect. If you have small children, be sure to have them act calmly and patiently. Have them spend time on the pigs level so that there are no risks for accidental drops.
Pets should be separated by a barrier such as a baby gate or crate so that both parties may smell and interact safely in case any issues arise. After a few days of being separated, the introduction should be made on neutral territory. Body language is key. Never leave piglets and other animals alone unattended. Allow both piglets and the other animal smell and get to know each other, stepping in or separating when necessary.
Depending on the age you choose to let your piglets go to their new home, this could be the last week you have to continue to socialize your piglet. The more experiences you introduce to the piglet, the easier the transition will be for the pig and new owner. Since most owners choose to have their pig live indoors, they will need to be familiar with as many house hold noises, smells, and activities as possible. Having a routine developed and used can help ease the transition into their new home when that time comes. Piglets should be away from their mother most of the day if not permanently during this time. They should have a designated area in your home for crating and using the potty. This week should be used to continue to work with them in every aspect. Your piglets should be eating solid foods, using the appreciate potty method implemented, as well as freely allowing you and your family member to handle and hold. If you feel that certain piglets are lacking in certain areas, it is perfectly fine to take a few steps backwards to start an area of training from step one until their confidence allows you to conquer the specific area. Each piglet will have it’s own unique personality, and some will progress faster and easier than others.
These weeks will be the remaining weeks that the piglets will be with you. During this time you should be continuing to introduce the piglets to new activities and experiences to prepare them to be the best pets possible. If a piglet has any bad habits developed, you should redirect them now. Be sure to reward positive and wanted behaviors. If you feel a piglet is not ready to make the next step or needs improvement in certain areas, do not feel afraid to tell their new owner that he or she needs more time with you. It is our responsibility as breeders to provide the piglet with the confidence and ability to tackle everyday life.