It’s all about trust

08 Oct 2010, by largebla in post

I sometimes hear comments from folks that generally go like this:

“You can’t trust a (boar, sow, hog); never turn your back on it!”

“You can’t tame a mean hog!”

“All of you ‘hobby farmers’ who play with your pigs are not real hog farmers.”

Today I added a post to my blog that explains why I treat my hogs as I do. Why I “play” with them and don’t have any fear being with them. I thought it might be interesting to this group so I’m reposting it here:

When I talk about some of the things I do, such as give belly rubs to my hogs, talk with them and look them in the eye, let them rub against me (not the most sanitary thing…), sit with sows while they are farrowing, check ears, feet and eyes without having to restrain the hog, some people doubt that I am being totally honest. This is because they think of hogs as aggressive man-eaters that can’t be tamed or trusted.

I’ve recently made a point of proving that my hogs are docile and easy to be around when people come to the farm. I bring the visitor to the fence and then I walk into the hog herd and start scratching them, rubbing their bellies, checking their ears for parasites, talking to them…

Silly, isn’t it?

The truth that I have learned is that if your hogs trust you, they will let you do your work. They will let you do all the things you must do, such as check them for parasites, examine and treat injuries, examine teats to ensure they work and know when they are about to farrow (even feel their babies move around inside them), check their piglets and treat those that need help. If your hogs trust you they will let you check their teeth, give them injections and oral medication, without having to restrain them. The truth is: my silly methods allow me to be a hog farmer without needing all of the expensive restraint hardware that modern farms require. My method, in my opinion, is better.

And it’s all about trust. Belly rubs, soft talk, ear scratching, just making sure to say “hi” to each hog every day, all of these techniques have a purpose. If my hogs know that I am not going to hurt them, that I pose no threat, then they trust me to touch them and check parts of their bodies as I need to. It makes my work easy.

I have taken in mature hogs that their owners described as “just mean”. Boars that would rip you to pieces if they could. Sows that fight every time they see each other. But within a couple of weeks after being on my farm they all have become very docile and content. This happens because they just did not trust their previous owners, due to the manner in which they were treated, but they learn to trust me because I don’t do the things that scare or hurt them.

So, how do I build this trust? It all starts with an understanding of hog behavior. Hogs may seem like predators with their large teeth, loud growls, and big size. But they are actually prey animals. Hogs are food for predators and their instinct naturally makes them distrust other animals like dogs, bears and people. The way to overcome their fear is to give them no reason to fear you.

It starts when they are born. I am there whenever I can to soothe the sow and let the piglets see that I am part of their new world. A couple of days after birth the piglets are walking around with mom, and I am there too. I don’t try to grab or hold the piglets (unless necessary for their health). I am just there. After a week or so they start walking over to me, sniff my boots, play around me, and then I know that I have not done anything to make them fear my presence.

The process continues as they grow (if we keep them). They become part of a herd that trusts me and the herd’s behavior reinforces their knowledge that I am not a threat. When the new pigs show me that I am accepted I then start touching them, scratches and belly rubs begin, and that becomes part of their daily routine. Then they start welcoming me when I visit and asking, through their grunts and behavior, that I provide attention to them. It is then that the process is complete. They don’t fear me, I don’t fear them, and I can do whatever is needed to assure their continued health.

When we talk to new pig owners my sweetie and I explain how they can achieve the same:

1. Take them home and put them into a healthy environment.

2. For the first week, don’t try to grab them or pick them up. Just go into their environment, provide clean water and good food, and sit with them for awhile. Talk to them, read a book, but don’t try to touch them. If they start coming to you, let them but don’t react other than to speak in soft tones.

3. After the pigs start welcoming you and touching you, then you can start touching them. Don’t grab them, don’t try and force them, just scratch their ears and necks if they let you.

4. Once the scratching becomes a welcome thing then start with the rubbing. Pet them as you would a dog or cat. Move your hands down their sides and rub their bellies. When they lay down for a belly rub, they have fully accepted you and trust you. And you can do what you need to.

We know this restraint (on your part) is hard. You want to pick up your new cute piglet, want to hug it, but doing so would make the piglet feel “captured”. For a prey animal this means danger! Don’t make it think you are a predator. The process is essential if you want to be able to easily check or treat the pig whenever it needs it.

Be the friend that your pig wants and it will trust you to do “weird” things.

It’s all about trust.

– by Brian Wright
Copyright © 2010 Homegrown Acres. Used with permission.