Have you ever caught a pig eating it’s babies? I was horrified when I visited a piggery a couple of weeks ago and caught a mamma sow eating one of her piglets. It’s a scene I’ll never forget.
A litter of newborn piglets is one of the greatest pleasures of raising pigs until you notice that the mother’s eating them!
After seeing that, I wanted to know-
Are pigs cannibals? Yes. Pigs have been known to practice cannibalism, eating their own young or other pigs if other food options are scarce, or due to the nature of their environment. This behavior of pigs eating their own species or young ones have been observed in domestic pigs, wild boar populations, and even in laboratory settings.
Do Pigs Eat Their Babies?
Pigs do eat their babies (especially sows). If a piglet is stillborn or crushed, a sow will clean up by eating the dead piglet. Some sows become aggressive and attack healthy piglets, sometimes killing them. Savaging and cannibalism aren’t common behaviors, but they do happen, causing distress and loss of income.
On occasions, a pig may become actively aggressive towards her own piglets. This behavior is known as savagery and is not normal behavior. A savage sow will attack its own piglets, biting them on the face, neck, and body so severely that they die. She may also eat their remains. But, eating babies can result in disease for the sow.
What does it mean when pigs eat their babies? Sows usually eat their babies as a result of illness, nervousness, or stress. Savaging may also occur because of a health issue with the piglet or a behavioral issue with the sow. The first litter is the most likely litter for savage to occur.
Additional reasons sows may eat their babies is due to genetic tendencies, a change in environment at farrowing time, and other situations which cause apprehension in the sow. Hormonal changes, sickness, and a poor relationship with the human caretaker can predispose a sow toward eating her babies.
Pig exhibit savaging by attacking living piglets, usually by biting them on the face or neck so severely that it kills the piglets. Highly agitated or stressed sows that are acting aggressively indicates a higher risk that the sow will kill her offspring. One major contributor of savaging is creating a sow that has never been created previously. The sudden crating can stress out the mama pig and induce savaging.
Sows May Eat Crushed Baby Piglets After They Die
While sows may not intend to kill a piglet that gets crushed, they do often eat the dead piglet. In fact, sows crushing their babies is common enough that most pig raisers have encountered this problem at some point. It’s estimated that between 8-10% of all piglets are killed by the sows, either by accidental crushing or intentional savaging.
Why do pigs crush their babies? Sometimes sows do step on or crush their piglets. Often this is accidental and can happen when piglets fail to stay away from the mama pig. Just like with savage behavior, sows often have a higher rate of crushing their piglets when they are newer mama or under increased stress that hampers the natural maternal instincts.
Sows crushing their babies is common enough that roughly 50% of piglet deaths are caused by the sow in the pen. This happens when piglets and sow have room to move around. Such mistakes are hardly surprising, given their size. Our sow weighs around 500 lb, whereas piglets weigh little more than 4 lb!
These accidents usually happen within the first 48 hours of the piglet’s life. If a sow accidentally kills one of her babies, she will often eat the dead piglet, presumably to keep her enclosure clean.
8 Reasons Pigs Eat Their Own Piglets
First-time young mothers, called gilts, are more likely to eat their piglets, especially if housed with other young mothers. Stressed sows, overcrowded, overweight sows, large litters, and a higher proportion of female piglets can also contribute to higher incidents of piglet savagery.
#1 First-Time Mothers Are More Likely To Savage Their Young
Studies show that young female pigs, known as gilts, are more likely to savage their piglets than sows. Gilts farrowing for the first time are more likely to cannibalize their piglets than sows. While 1.22% of sows “killed one or more of their piglets,” 3.4% of gilts demonstrated this behavior.
Amongst gilts, savaging contributed to 7.70% of total pre-weaning deaths. In sows, it dropped by more than half to just 3.13%. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that a gilt that savages her first litter is more likely to be aggressive towards future offspring.
Why do pigs eat their own placenta? Sows eat their own placenta to replenish nutrients lost during farrowing. The pig’s fresh placenta is usually expelled a few hours after the birth of the last piglet and the sow eats it. The placenta contains hormones, nutrients and other substances that doesn’t harm the piglets. It’s natures way of replenishing many of the nutrients that the sow has lost during the birthing process.
Sows eat their placenta from natural instincts and are not the only animal whose mothers eat their placenta after giving birth. Many mammals do this. A sow eating its own placenta is not an indicator of savage behavior.
#2 Gilts Housed Together May Suffer From Pig Cannibalism
Researchers have found a higher incidence of savagery in all-gilt environments than in those where younger and older animals live together. In all-gilt environments, the level of aggression appears higher, leading to the deaths of more piglets through cannibalism.
#3 Restless Pigs are More Likely to Savage Their Babies
Savage sows tend to be restless before and during farrowing. They change position frequently while giving birth, finding it difficult to lie down without endangering their piglets.
Therefore, scientists believe that savaging may be part of a more generalized behavioral pathology and not directed specifically at the piglets.
#4 Noise and Disturbances Increase Sow Savaergy
Pigs constantly exposed to noise and new stimuli before farrowing are more likely to become aggressive. The fewer humans interact with or disturb the sow, the less likely she is to savage her offspring.
#5 Limited Space Increases Piglet-Directed Aggression
A sow will create a nest in a natural environment before giving birth. Our sows have constructed grass nests that stand over a meter high and stretch over 2 meters wide in the past.
Studies show that allowing a sow to nest improves her maternal and nursing behavior.
A sow kept in a cramped enclosure with no access to straw is likelier to exhibit negative communicatory behaviors such as pushing, threatening barks, and biting.
#6 Hormonal Fluctuation can Increase Maternal Aggression
Gilts with high estradiol levels in their systems are more likely to show signs of maternal aggression. Estradiol is an estrogen steroid hormone that plays a critical role in pregnancy. If a sow has a high estradiol level of estradiol before and after farrowing, she’s more likely to show signs of aggression.
Stressed sows also show signs of abnormal levels of oxytocin, the hormone and neurotransmitter more commonly associated with childbirth and breastfeeding.
Both abnormally high and deficient oxytocin levels have been linked to increased aggression and savaging.
#7 Excessive Body Condition Increases Savaging
Researchers have identified a “strong association” between excess body condition (fat pigs) and savaging in gilts. They believe it could be due to a build-up of fat in the pelvis area. This build-up would restrict the birth canal, making farrowing more difficult and painful.
Excessive body condition may also cause excess piglet growth, impeding farrowing.
#8 Piglet Gender May Influence Sow Aggression
Studies indicate a notable lack of savagery in litters that contain more males than females. Similarly, larger litters seem to experience higher mortality than smaller litters.
Are Other Pigs Cannibals?
In addition to sows eating their own babies, all pigs will exhibit cannibalism when the situation is “right.” Swine that are fed pork products will eat it without being able to differentiate it from other meat products. You should not feed pigs pork as it can lead to other health problems.
Pigs Eat Other Dead Pigs when the bodies are not removed from the pen. In other instances, pigs have been found to attack each other and eat the flesh of living swine when they are housed in highly neglectful and stressful situations. Under normal circumstances, pigs don’t generally attack and eat other swine, but they will eat a dead pig if time permits befor the removal of the body.
Hogs, a fully grown swine, are not immune to cannibalism. Under similar circumstances, hogs will eat other hogs if they endur great neglect and are under high stress. In the UK at a facility closed by authorities, dead hogs were left in the pens. Hogs and sows endured highly neglectful environments, which caused many of the living swine to turn to cannibalism, even on each other.
Hogs don’t eat other living pigs in a healthy and nurturing environment.
Do Pigs Eat Their Babies FAQs
Will a Male Pig Kill The Babies? Male pigs generally do not generally kill their babies. In fact, male pigs (also known as boars) who do not run from their duties toward the “pig family”are known to be quite protective of their young. However, in rare cases, some male pigs may show a certain degree of aggression and kill the piglets.
Do Mini Pigs Eat Their Babies? Mini pigs can turn to savage and eat their babies. Mini pigs are usually pot-bellied pigs and have the same instincts as other pig breeds. Scientists believe that eating a dead piglet is a method mothers use to keep their areas clean. On occasion, about 5-10% of the time mini pigs may intentionally kill and eat a piglet due to stress factors.
Why do mother pigs eat their babies? Mother pigs, or sows, usually eat their babies due to a high level of stress in the mother. Stressors that cause savaging can include a change of environment during farrowing, illness, poor care of the mother, a sick piglet, noise, or a first farrowing. By reducing sows’ stress levels, the incidences of savaging decreases.
Sows will eat still-born piglets and even those they accidentally crush. Therefore, cannibalism is quite common amongst swine. Savagery is less common and considered an abnormal, negative maternal behavior.
Many factors influence a sow’s aggression towards her piglets, including environment, diet, and hormones. Creating a stress-free environment for your farrowing pig is essential in preventing piglet deaths.
Providing nesting materials will help your sow express her natural reproductive behaviors and encourage her to engage in positive maternal interactions with her piglets.
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