Updated June 16, 2020
When a new pig arrives at your sanctuary, there are a number of critical steps that must be taken to ensure safety for the incoming resident, the existing residents, and yourself!
Identify The Specific Needs Of Incoming Individuals
While pigs, in general, have certain diet, housing, and care needs, you must also consider if the new arrivals require any special accommodations based on their age, breed, health status, known history, or the circumstances of their recent living situation. Each new resident and situation will be different, but some things to consider include:
- If you’re taking in piglets or younger pigs, you will have to learn how to properly care for them in terms of heat, food, and shelter, and if you are taking in a pregnant pig, you will need to learn how to offer appropriate prenatal care.
- If you welcome a mother pig along with her nursing piglets, you will need to take care when working with the mother or her babies. Mother pigs tend to be very protective of their piglets which could manifest as more confrontational behaviors. Any situation that causes her piglets to scream (which they often do with any sort of restraint) could elicit a strong reaction from the mother. Those working with the pig family should be well versed in pig body language so that they can watch for signs that the mother or babies are becoming stressed. Though you may need to momentarily separate the mother if restraining, treating, or assessing a piglet, you should not separate the mother from her piglets for longer periods of time unless absolutely necessary for their health. If you separate them, allow them to be close enough to touch if they choose to!
- If the new pig is fearful or confrontational, be sure to keep human safety in mind when working with the new resident. Being in a confined space with a fearful or confrontational pig, especially a larger pig, has the potential to be quite dangerous. It’s important to train staff to read pig body language and watch for signs of agitation and fear.
- If you take in a light-skinned pig who has not had outdoor access for some time, you will need to take extra precautions to protect their sensitive skin from the sun. While some pigs may only need sunscreen on the backside of their ears, pigs who have not been outdoors may need their entire body covered in sunscreen at first.
- If taking in residents who are not spayed or neutered, make sure to pay extra attention to their reactions when you approach or enter their space. Not all intact males (boars) are confrontational, but they may behave differently than mature male pigs who are neutered. Additionally, intact females will go into heat every three weeks or so and can be quite confrontational during this time, so make sure everyone working with the pigs knows what cues to be on the lookout for when working with these individuals.
Adhere To A Quarantine Policy
The new pig must be housed in a strict quarantine area on your premises away from all other residents (not even nose-to-nose contact through a fence), even if you know exactly where the pig came from! At a minimum, new pigs must be kept away from other pig residents, but could potentially spread disease to other residents as well. Quarantine is absolutely crucial to protect everyone from possible infectious diseases that may not be producing visible symptoms in a healthy-looking arrival; an entire herd could be easily infected, and possibly killed, by certain diseases, and some diseases can contaminate pastures and live in the soil for quite some time. Even if the pig was previously healthy, a new environment can produce stress that might cause an illness flare-up. Reciprocally, existing residents might be carrying a disease that the new resident isn’t healthy enough to fight off yet!
If you’re taking in a whole herd that was living together previously, you can probably quarantine them together since it’s likely that any diseases they have will be already spread throughout the herd, and staying together may put the new residents more at ease. However, if the herd includes a mix of females and unneutered males who are sexually mature, you will need to take steps to prevent breeding. If an individual pig seems very ill or behaving oddly or has an open abscess, they should be isolated from the others until a veterinarian determines exactly what’s wrong. Monitor the herd to ensure that the current social situation is safe for everyone. Just because they came in together, doesn’t necessarily mean they get along well. If anyone appears to be getting picked on, find a way to split the group to reduce tensions while avoiding anyone having to live alone unless absolutely necessary.
Anyone coming into contact with the new pig should wear gloves and full body covering or immersion suits and should either wear boot covers or use foot baths. This is true even for healthy looking pigs, but is imperative if the pig is visibly ill, is producing undiagnosed discharge, or has diarrhea, sores, or abscesses. These protective coverings should not be used outside of this quarantine space or you will defeat the purpose of wearing them in the first place! The new pig should remain in quarantine for a minimum of 30 days, and until all blood work and fecal exams come back with a clean bill of health. Make sure any external parasites have been eradicated before discontinuing quarantine, taking into account the life cycle of the parasite to ensure enough time has passed since the last instances of live parasites being found.
Ideally, you should have designated tools used only to clean the new pig’s space that are not used in other living areas. If this is not possible, all tools and cleaning supplies must be thoroughly disinfected before being used in other areas. It’s best to keep all bedding from quarantined areas away from other residents and their living spaces, especially if the arriving pig seems to be in poor health, has abscesses, unexplained discharge, sores, or diarrhea. If you typically spread old bedding on your sanctuary’s pastures, wait to do so with bedding from quarantined spaces until new residents have been evaluated by a veterinarian. Depending on their evaluation and any testing they recommend, they may advise you continue to keep bedding separate pending certain test results.
Evaluating A New Pig’s Health
When welcoming a new resident to your sanctuary, it is imperative that you assess their overall health to ensure you are addressing any issues as soon as possible. This is accomplished through initial observations, an intake examination, diagnostic testing, ongoing observation, and possibly a veterinarian’s assessment of the individual, especially if the new pig shows any signs of concerns.
Whenever you welcome a new resident to your sanctuary, it is crucial that you spend some time observing the individual upon arrival to determine any immediate needs they may have. If you or your staff picked up the individual and transported them back to the sanctuary, this observation process will actually begin before the new resident sets foot on sanctuary grounds. Through thoughtful observation, you may be able to identify signs of concern that warrant immediate veterinary care or further assessment on your part. This part of the intake process will also help determine if an intake examination must happen immediately or can wait for the new resident to settle in a little bit. In instances where you are taking in multiple new residents, this process will also help you prioritize individuals who appear to require more urgent assessment.
If you are taking in pigs who look very similar, you must have a system of identifying and documenting individuals while you are getting to know who is who. Every individual will have their own unique characteristics, so it may be helpful to take lots of pictures and write out thorough descriptions for staff and volunteers to refer to while learning everyone’s names. In some cases, additional, temporary identification may be needed. You may be able to use different colored animal-safe grease markers to help everyone learn who is who. By placing a small mark or possibly their first initial on their side, staff may be better able to learn each individual’s name. These marks will fade overtime. If a pig arrives with an ear tag, record their tag number if applicable (and consider taking a photo as well), and as long as it is not causing issues currently, we recommend you not remove it for at least 30 days and until you are sure you won’t be adopting the individual out of your region (to avoid having to ear tag them again in the future). Keep any removed tags with their records.
Prioritizing An Intake Examination
It’s important to perform an intake examination on all new residents, ideally within 24 hours of arrival, though some may need more immediate assessment. An intake exam includes conducting a full health examination to evaluate their overall health and to learn more about the individual, as well as gather important information for their permanent record. Be sure to follow quarantine procedures while conducting the intake exam. To learn more about the intake examination process, including how to prioritize assessing and addressing a new resident’s needs, check out our resource here! If, for whatever reason, you are unable to perform a full health examination shortly after their arrival, you will need to closely observe new residents for signs of concerns and take steps to address those concerns appropriately.
An intake examination is conducted in much the same way as a routine health examination- you should check every inch of the individual, looking for any signs of concerns, and providing any necessary treatments. While there are a variety of issues you may find during a new pig resident’s intake examination, there are some health challenges that are especially common in new pigs. These include:
- Foot Issues– Because sanctuaries often take in individuals who may have had their needs neglected, very often new pigs arrive with various foot issues such as hoof rot, foot infections, and hooves that are significantly overgrown or cracked. Any sign of a foot infection must be taken very seriously, and the pig should be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Foot infections, especially in large breed pigs, can be very difficult to treat, and by the time you see outward signs of concern (such as swelling at the coronary band or discharge) the infection may have already spread to the bone. Radiographs can help determine the extent of the issue. Any discharge should be cultured in order to ensure the appropriate antibiotic is used. If the pig has hoof rot, you can work with your veterinarian to trim out as much rot as possible and treat with an appropriate hoof rot treatment. Overgrown hooves should be trimmed and any cracks should be managed to prevent worsening and to protect from bacteria.
- Mobility Issues– You should assess the pig’s mobility by watching them walk and looking for any abnormalities in their gait or shifting of weight when standing. Mobility issues can be caused by a variety of issues including arthritis, obesity, foot issues, illness, or injury. In some cases, a slight limp may be the only outward sign of a serious foot infection. Be sure to have pigs with mobility issues evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.
- Respiratory Illness– Watch closely, both during the intake examination and during the quarantine period, for any signs of respiratory illness such as nasal discharge, coughing, open mouth breathing, an elevated respiratory rate, fever, or breathing that sounds wet, raspy, or wheezy. Your veterinarian can evaluate the pig’s lungs, recommend diagnostic testing, and ultimately offer treatment options.
- Skin issues– There are a variety of skin issues you may see with newly rescued pigs depending on their previous living situation. Light-skinned pigs who have been without proper shelter and protection from the sun may arrive with severely sunburned skin. Mature pigs may show signs of skin cancer from prolonged sun exposure over the course of their lives. Pigs are also prone to fungal and bacterial skin infections, including MRSA infections, so adhering to quarantine procedures is imperative. Be sure to have your veterinarian evaluate any skin issues to determine the cause and proper treatment.
- Parasites– New pigs may arrive with internal or external parasitic infections. They can get pig lice as well as different types of mites, and are prone to roundworm infestations.
- Obesity– Depending on the individual’s previous living situation, they may arrive significantly overweight. Pigs who are overweight may be much less active than the rest of your residents and can develop secondary issues such as arthritis, foot issues, and pressure sores. Pigs can become so obese that folds of skin cover their eyes making them unable to see- this mechanical blindness is called “fat blindness” and is especially common in potbellied pigs. Overweight potbellied pigs may have bellies that are so large they drag on the ground when they walk, which can result in skin abrasions and sores. You will need to encourage weight loss slowly and carefully, which can be a long process. If the pig was previously free fed, or fed a diet that consisted of lots of treats or high calorie grains, you may find that the pig has no interest in the healthier diet you have to offer. You may need to offer a mix of your pig pellets and something similar to what they were eating previously, and slowly transition them to eating solely what your pig residents are fed. You also may need to get creative when finding ways to motivate pigs to get active- perhaps slowly moving the area in which they eat further away from where they spend most of their time, or using pig-safe enrichment to encourage exploration that requires a good amount of movement!
In addition to looking for signs of concern, you should determine the following information. In some cases this will require veterinary involvement:
- Watch for potential signs of Porcine Stress Syndrome (PSS): Some pig breeds are more likely to have PSS than others, with it being much less common in potbellied pigs, but when working with new individuals, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout to signs the pig may have PSS. Individuals with PSS can have adverse physical reactions to stress (such as from fighting, being restrained, or being overly excited), as well as to certain drugs such as anesthetics (especially halothane) and muscle relaxants. Once triggered, pigs will exhibit symptoms very quickly. Signs of PSS include muscle and tail tremors, labored and irregular breathing, whitening and reddening of their skin, very rapid rise in body temperature, collapse, and muscle rigidity. While not obvious while witnessing an episode, pigs can also develop blood pressure fluctuations, kidney failure, arrhythmia, and in severe cases, cardiac arrest and eventually, death. For more information about PSS, check out our resource here. If a new resident shows signs of PSS, avoid stressing them and talk to your veterinarian about possible testing and best practices to reduce exposure to events that may trigger an episode.
- Assess spay/ neuter/ pregnancy status: New males should be evaluated to determine their neuter status. Intact males should be scheduled for castration as soon as your veterinarian deems appropriate. They will need time to recover after the surgery, which could delay their introduction to other residents if done towards the end of their quarantine period. Females who are sexually mature should be evaluated for pregnancy. If an incoming resident is early on in their pregnancy, some sanctuaries choose to administer Lutalyse (or a similar product) to induce miscarriage. This decision ultimately depends on an individual sanctuary’s Philosophy of Care. Because of the high incidence of reproductive cancer in female pigs, all females who are healthy enough should eventually be spayed. Due to the risk of herniation and other complications for large breed pigs, we strongly recommend females undergo laparoscopic ovariectomies rather than full spays whenever possible. Not all veterinary hospitals perform this procedure, but some veterinarians may be willing to work with other veterinary experts and may agree to do it. If a full spay is your only option, we still recommend this over the female remaining intact, unless there is a medical reason that makes this procedure inadvisable. When working with a veterinary hospital to have your pig residents spayed or neutered (as well any other procedure that requires anesthesia) be sure to talk to them about PSS and how they are able to reduce the risk of triggering an episode and how they would be able to respond in the event that the individual develops malignant hyperthermia. In some instances, being anesthetized could be the first time an episode is triggered, so it’s good to be prepared in advance even if the individual has not shown any other signs of PSS.
If you have not already done so, work with your veterinarian to determine appropriate incoming testing protocols for new pigs you welcome to your sanctuary. While individuals showing signs of concern may require additional diagnostics, there may be certain tests your veterinarian recommends for all incoming pig residents. At a minimum, all new residents should have a fecal sample submitted to check for internal parasites. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend deworming treatments based on the fecal results. Be sure to submit another fecal sample 10-14 days after any deworming treatment to evaluate its effectiveness. In order to help prevent the ever-increasing resistance to available deworming medications, it’s important to only use dewormers when necessary and to work closely with your veterinarian if resistance to certain dewormers seems to be an issue.
Your veterinarian may recommend other testing based on the specifics of your region. Certain disease confirmations may require an official report to your local government- if testing for screening purposes only, you may want to have a conversation with your veterinarian about what a positive result would mean for the individual and the sanctuary.
Some health conditions may take time to show outward symptoms. While all residents should be observed closely each day, extra attention should be paid to new residents during their quarantine period to ensure any potential issues are caught and addressed as soon as possible.
Incoming Vaccines For Pigs
Work with your veterinarian to establish a vaccine protocol for your pig residents based on the specifics of your resident population and your region. When new pigs arrive, your veterinarian can help determine if they are healthy enough for vaccination, which will depend on the vaccine. It may be best to wait to administer certain vaccines if the pig is sick, but with others it may be recommended that even pigs who are ill receive the vaccine as soon as possible. Make sure you know about any age restrictions as well. Some vaccines are not meant for piglets under a certain age.
Always talk to your veterinarian about what vaccines they recommend, as the specifics of your region will influence what is best. Be sure your veterinarian fully understands your mission and how the sanctuary functions. There are certain vaccines that might be recommended to most of their clients, but are not necessary for pigs who will never breed or who spend most of their lives at the sanctuary rather than frequently going to exhibitions where they are exposed to many other animals with unknown backgrounds. Many sanctuaries we’ve talked to vaccinate their pigs for rabies.
Introducing The Newcomer To Other Pigs
If the new pig is much less mature than the existing herd, you may want to let them grow up a bit before introducing them to the rest of the herd to ensure their safety during the introduction and to give them time to build up enough immune system strength to handle any disease that might be lurking in the herd. However, in some instances, older piglets may have an easier time finding their place in the herd. Also, keep in mind that newly neutered male pigs are still fertile for weeks after the operation, so make sure to wait until they’re completely sterile before they’re around any impregnable herdmates!
Based on our conversations with experienced caregivers, it seems the ease at which new pig residents, and especially mature pigs, are able to be introduced to other pig residents is highly influenced by how much space, choice, and flexibility their living arrangements offer. At The Pig Preserve, for example, where anywhere from 150-170 pigs share about 100 acres of outdoor space and are able to form their own social groups and carve out their own territory (including choosing from about 20 separate structures on the property), pig introductions sound like they are much less eventful than they might be at a sanctuary with more fixed social groupings. Of course, this sort of setup comes with its own unique challenges; depending on your sanctuary’s Philosophy of Care, as well as the physical limitations of the space, these flexible living arrangements may not be an option. Pig introductions are not impossible at sanctuaries with fixed social groupings, they just may take a bit more patience and planning.
Mature pigs, like other large mammals (and most animals, actually), are capable of seriously injuring each other during confrontations. Because tusks can cause deep lacerations (even inadvertently), we recommend you check all your male residents’ tusks prior to an introduction and remove or dull any sharp tips. Because pigs are vulnerable to overheating, it’s best to avoid conducting an introduction during very hot weather if at all possible.
Regardless of your setup, once you’ve ensured that the new pig is healthy enough to join the resident herd, it can be a good idea to give the pig residents time to get used to each other by living in separate, but adjacent, spaces. This might be accomplished by letting the new resident live in a separate pen within the other residents’ barn or by offering an outdoor space that borders the resident herd’s outdoor space. It can be a good idea to cover any gaps in the shared fence lines and gates with 2×4” woven wire fencing in order to prevent any contact between individuals if they try to fight through the fence. This will give them an opportunity to meet and become familiar with each other without having to worry about anyone being injured. If your sanctuary’s living arrangements are fixed, consider giving the pigs at least two weeks of this transition period before moving to the next phase of the introduction process (paying close attention to how residents interact with each other through the physical barrier). At The Pig Preserve, they have found that in some cases just a few days is enough time to let everyone meet while still separated. Keep in mind, every introduction is different, so how long you decide a new resident should be kept separated after their quarantine period is complete may vary.
Introductions At Sanctuaries With Flexible Living Arrangements
At The Pig Preserve, though residents are able to form their own smaller social groupings within the larger herd and choose who they spend most of their time with, staff typically make a guess about which group might be a good match for a new resident and begin by introducing the new resident in, or near, that particular group’s territory. They report that any confrontations are short-lived (typically ranging from 10 seconds to 2 minutes) and mostly involve chomping and pushing rather than outright biting. While the new resident is often the one to back down, this is not always the case. However, regardless of who submits, the interaction is typically settled- the resident who submits flees (and has lots of room to do so) and the dominant resident does not follow. Because anyone who submits is easily able to stay away from more dominant residents, if needed, and interactions do not result in behaviors that can cause serious injury, there is rarely a need for human intervention, and in the past when they did intervene during minor scuffles, they found it only prolonged the introduction process.
The most assertive residents tend to be the first to come over and meet the new resident, with the most passive individuals being the last. Groups consisting of more passive or subdued personalities often become temporary landing pads for new residents while they figure out where they best fit in. As long as they respect the group’s hierarchy, the other residents are typically pretty tolerant of newer residents sleeping in their barn and living in their territory, but over time the new resident might carve out their own space with another group.
Because of their setup, The Pig Preserve waits for piglets to mature quite a bit before introducing them to the larger herd. This is to ensure they are physically and emotionally mature enough to thrive in the larger herd and also to make sure they are not vulnerable to predators. In some cases, younger pigs who have been introduced to the herd have made it clear that they are not ready, in which case they are moved back to the “baby pasture” and given more time to mature. The staff avoids introductions during the winter so that new residents are never stuck out in the cold while trying to figure out their place. In the spring, summer, and fall, staff are able to put up temporary structures, if needed, to make sure the new resident has shelter from the elements, but these structures would not be possible (or appropriate) in the winter. The Pig Preserve has conducted close to 1000 pig introductions over the years and have found that every new pig eventually finds their place.
Introductions At Sanctuaries With Fixed Living Arrangements
Pig introductions are quite possible at sanctuaries with more traditional set-ups, but may take a little bit more planning and patience. If you care for multiple pig herds at your sanctuary, be sure to consider herd dynamics and individual personalities when deciding which herd may be the best fit for a new resident. Established residents may be more territorial, and intervention may be needed, so be sure to have multiple experienced caregivers on hand to assist if needed. We recommend having pig boards (also called sorting panels) on-hand, just in case you need to move individuals away from each other.
It’s best to conduct introductions outdoors, and the larger and more varied the space, the better. This will give individuals more room to steer clear of each other if needed (much like with introductions at The Pig Preserve) and should prevent instances where residents find themselves cornered without an escape route. In smaller, more confined spaces, confrontations may be prolonged simply because the individuals are forced to remain in close quarters, and injuries are much more likely if residents do not have the space necessary to keep their distance. In some instances, but especially if the living area is on the smaller side, it can be a good idea to conduct the introduction in a larger, neutral outdoor space. Moving both the established residents and the new resident to a neutral space at the same time can offer both a distraction (because residents may be interested in exploring the new space) and can reduce territorial tendencies. If you opt for this method, we suggest letting the residents remain in the new space for at least a few days, if not longer, until the new resident seems pretty well established.
There may be minor fighting at first, as everyone figures out their place in the social hierarchy, but as long as no one is getting injured or overdoing it, it’s generally best to let them sort things out for themselves. However, if things get out of hand, you’ll need to break up conflicts quickly. Some sanctuaries recommend using anti-bite pig sprays (such as Pig Pax, which is currently discontinued) to help prevent more serious injuries during introductions. Bitter apple-based sprays do not appear to be effective for most pigs. Watch closely to make sure no one is causing injury and that no one is exhausting themselves or showing signs of overheating. If things escalate and you are worried a pig resident is going to be injured or overdo it, you will need to intervene, but this must be done extremely carefully. Depending on the size of the residents and how they are behaving, it may not be safe for a human to try to physically intervene. You may be able to use a large pig board to separate the individuals, but in other instances you may need to create a diversion to distract the pigs first. This may be done by making loud noises or creating another type of distraction. When the altercation is interrupted, you can encourage them to move away from one another using pig boards. Always be very careful when working around pigs who are agitated. Typically, negative interactions start out with chomping, circling, and shoving, but can escalate to biting, head swinging, rearing up, and chasing. If you have to separate the pigs due to dangerously confrontational behaviors, don’t try to introduce them again that day. It can take a little bit of time for them to become comfortable with each other and figure out the social order. If you care for more than one herd of pigs, consider if another herd may be good to try out instead. While some residents may not be a good fit due to certain health challenges or their breed or size, it can sometimes be surprising to see who ends up getting along and who does not, so keep an open mind!
With all introductions, monitoring their first few days together is especially critical to make sure everyone is getting along. You may need to offer additional food and water sources away from where the herd typically eats and drinks if the new pig is getting pushed away or seems wary of the others, and you may need to offer a temporary shelter or move them to their own space at night and during inclement weather to make sure they have proper shelter. If the herd needs to be closed in a small space for any reason while everyone is still figuring out their place in the social order, you may need to offer the new pig their own space during these times since conflicts may be more likely to arise in confined spaces.
Other good techniques to help the pigs get along include changing out bedding material with each other’s scents in order to familiarize pigs with one another (after the new resident has completed quarantine), ensuring plenty of open space where the pigs socialize, eat, and drink (especially ensuring equal food and water access), and providing lots of space for newly introduced pigs to avoid each other (including space for the new pig to comfortably cool off during warmer weather). If the pigs are having constant trouble with each other, don’t give up hope yet! It may take a few introductions before they all get along. However, if it seems like the individual will never be fully accepted into the herd or if they are too rough for some of their herdmates, it would be better to create a second herd with a few individuals who get along well with each other, being careful not to separate bonded companions. A herd with a constantly bullied pig is an unacceptable living situation for the individual pig.
It may seem like a lot of extra steps than just releasing a new pig into the pen, but if you follow the above guidelines, your new friend will have a much greater chance at a happy, healthy life with you and the herd!