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    Hello Porcine Pal! The New Pig Arrival Guide

    Two younger pigs running out of a living space.
    Athena and Ophelia are happy to live in their new home at Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary!

    This resource has been partially reviewed and updated by a member of The Open Sanctuary Project’s staff as of September 21, 2023

    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!

    Take Notes!
    Remember to keep good track of all intake information and records of any new resident. Find our Resident Record Keeping guide here.

    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

    It is imperative that you implement quarantine protocols to prevent possible disease spread between the new resident and others. Quarantine is critical for all new residents of any species, even if they appear healthy and even if you know exactly where the individual came from! Quarantine procedures protect the rest of your residents (and the humans that care for them) from infectious diseases that may not be producing clinical signs in a healthy-looking arrival – an entire herd or flock could be easily infected, and possibly even killed, by certain infectious diseases. You can read more about quarantine protocols here.  

    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.

    Enrichment Can Help!
    While quarantine must be given priority for new residents, it’s important to also consider their mental well-being during this time. An enrichment plan can go a long way in reducing stress, boredom, and loneliness for a quarantined individual, and we’ve got multiple resources that can give you ideas for how to do this. We suggest starting with our resources on social enrichment and pig-safe enrichment.

    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 evaluation, diagnostic testing, ongoing observation, and possibly a veterinarian’s assessment of the individual, especially if the new pig shows any signs of concerns.

    Initial Observations

    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 evaluation 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.

    What About Ear Tags?
    Ear tags are not a form of identification we recommend for sanctuaries because they are an invasive form of identification that causes pain, and there are other pain-free ways for caregivers to reliably identify residents. Additionally, ear tags perpetuate the notion that farmed animals are numbers rather than individuals. But what if a new pig arrives with an ear tag? Should it be left in? Unfortunately, this is not an easy question for us to answer. We recommend familiarizing yourself with the regulations in your region and consulting with your veterinarian and legal counsel for guidance. In most cases, it is considered unlawful to remove official ear tags, though some sanctuaries understand this and choose to do so anyway. Non-official ear tags are typically fine to remove (though we do recommend saving these and keeping them with the individual’s record).

    It’s important to understand the possible ramifications of removing ear tags for the resident and your organization if it is discovered that official tags have been removed or if a resident escapes and is picked up by another individual, such as a farmer. Sometimes, an official ear tag is the only way to prove that the individual is free from certain diseases, and lacking this proof could put the individual (and those they have come into contact with) at risk of government control efforts. Additionally, if the individual is to be adopted out of your region, official identification will likely be necessary as part of transport across state lines, so removal may mean they need to be retagged later on (though an official microchip may be a suitable alternative). Ear tags are also one of the more broadly recognized and more obvious ways of showing “ownership” of farmed animal species such as pigs. While this is one of the reasons sanctuaries may be opposed to the practice of keeping ear tags in, there may also be a situation where the presence of an ear tag makes it easier to prove “ownership” of a resident who gets loose. While microchips can also be used as proof of “ownership,” not everyone who finds a stray pig is going to consider the possibility of them being microchipped, meaning a loose resident may be assumed to be “owner-less” if they do not have an ear tag.  

    If an individual with an official ear tag develops an infection in the area of the tag and your veterinarian deems the tag must be removed, they can advise you on how to best proceed (which may require the tag be replaced and that the appropriate agency be notified). Like many farmed animal sanctuaries, we are strongly against the practice of ear tagging and recognize the important symbolism of ear tag removal once the individual has found sanctuary, but we also believe it is important that sanctuaries fully understand the potential risks involved when it comes to removal of official identification. Seek legal counsel so that you fully understand the potential risks involved and have a plan in place should you find yourself in legal trouble.

    In instances where ear tags must be left in, it is important that sanctuaries continue to differentiate themselves from exploitative settings. All residents should be named, and their names should be the primary way in which they are referred to and communicated about. When talking with guests or sharing stories online, explaining why a certain resident has an ear tag and making a point of stressing that their ear tag is not who they are, can go a long way in both educating the public about how farmed animals are treated and how sanctuaries are different.

    Prioritizing An Intake Evaluation

    It’s important to perform an intake evaluation on all new residents, ideally within 24 hours of arrival, though some may need more immediate assessment. An intake evaluation includes conducting a full health check 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 evaluation. To learn more about the intake evaluation 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 evaluation 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 evaluation is conducted in much the same way as a routine health check – 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 evaluation, 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 evaluation 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 assess the individual’s spay/neuter/pregnancy status. New males should be evaluated to determine if they have been neutered, and intact males should be neutered 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. 

    Incoming Testing

    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.

    Ongoing Observation

    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 have their veterinarian vaccinate their pig residents 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 than mature residents. 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! 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. 

    Once you’ve ensured that the new pig is healthy enough to join the resident herd (and, if applicable, have decided which herd you think they will best fit into), 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. 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). 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.

    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.

    The New Gang In Town
    If you are introducing multiple new pig residents, this actually tends to improve the odds of an easy introduction to the herd.

    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 and should prevent instances where residents find themselves cornered without an escape route. Established residents may be 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.

    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 resident 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 pig residents 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 individual is an unacceptable living situation for the individual pig.

    It may seem like a lot of extra steps than just releasing a new pig resident into the herd, 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!

    What Does ‘Unacceptable’ Mean?
    At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.


    Pig Care Guide | Farm Sanctuary

    Introducing A New [mini]Pig To Your Family | Minipig Info

    Introducing A New Pig To Your Herd | Hog Haven Farm

    References To Outside Organizations?
    This resource contains links or photos provided by an outside animal-focused organization. You can learn about our organization’s position on endorsements here!

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