Whether you are raising pigs in a farming context or as pets, if you own more than one pig, it’s essential to maintain an environment in which they will function well and peacefully together, but why would your pigs fight? Aggressive, fighting pigs can cause harm to each other, and even to humans.
Pigs fight when trying to establish dominance in a group. If a new pig is introduced to your family or group of other pigs, fights will likely break out. While some fighting is necessary before pigs can live peacefully together, there are several ways to divert and lessen danger and injury.
The best ways to prevent and divert fights between pigs depend on whether you’re dealing with sows (female pig) or boars (male pig). The reasons for aggression may differ depending on whether the sow or the boar is being aggressive.
Why Do Sows Fight?
When sows are housed with other sows, they will have an instinctual need to compete and establish dominance in the group, especially when they are first together. Sows will practice tactics of asserting dominance that cause fewer injuries than boars, but if there are significant size or weight differences between the animals, they may harm smaller sows.
Sows will often show aggression while avoiding direct physical fights by asserting their dominance and challenging other sows, then withdrawing. However, if you see this behavior in your animals, then a direct physical confrontation is often coming if the challenged sow does not immediately show submissive behavior to the others.
Suppose your smaller sows are showing significant fear or avoidance of areas of contact such as feeding areas; this is also concerning, as these animals may receive fewer nutrients and suffer from high levels of stress.
These struggles for dominance will often resolve themselves within one or two days of the animals first being housed together and will resolve without violence.
However, if either the aggression or the fear in your animals lasts beyond this period—or if a fight breaks out between animals—then introduce some of the following practices to reduce aggression in your sows.
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How to Stop Sows from Being Aggressive
There are several ways to avoid extended aggression or physical harm between sows.
Avoid introducing new animals to established groups.
This may be impossible, but one easy way to avoid aggression in groups of sows is to introduce new animals to established groups less frequently.
Every time a new animal is added to an existing group, there is a chance of struggles for dominance or outbreaks of violence.
Keeping separate groups of animals that do not have contact with each other, and purchasing one group at a time, is one way to solve this problem in a farming context, where you will be buying animals in bulk.
Provide a larger space for your animals.
If you keep your sows in a small, enclosed space and add one or more new sow to an established group, it is a good idea to give the animals a larger enclosure than usual.
Giving sows a larger space will enable them to escape from immediate aggression if they are threatened. It may also prevent attacks from happening in the first place, as the animals will spread out more, and conflict will be less likely to break out.
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Watch newly formed groups for aggression.
If you do purchase a second sow or add a sow to an existing group, you can expect a re-settling of the order within the group. These first couple of days are the highest risk for aggression breaking out between animals.
If you introduce a new sow to the group, make sure to carefully monitor your animals, watching for either signs of aggression or fear in your animals. A fight causing physical injury may be prevented by careful monitoring and separating a conflict before it breaks out.
Deal with conflict Between Animals as soon as, or before, it happens.
If you notice impending conflict or aggression between your animals as you observe them, there are several ways to prevent or lessen it.
If you have certain animals that seem afraid or are avoiding common areas such as feeding areas, it may be a good idea to feed these animals separately from the aggressive sow. This ensures they are well-fed and getting the nutrients they need until the power struggles settle in your group of sows.
Another way to lessen conflict, that can be implemented even before your new sow is introduced to the group, is to break up the enclosure with distracting objects such as hay bales or other barriers. This will help sows stay in separate spaces and will make the need to establish dominance less evident to them.
Eventually, these barriers can be slowly and gradually removed, once the animals are more used to each other. Be careful to monitor the new group as you remove the obstacles, however.
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Why Do Boars Fight?
Aggression between boars can be more direct, long-lasting, and dangerous to both animals and their human caretakers than attacks between sows.
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When boars are housed together, similar patterns of asserting dominance are exhibited to those experienced with sows. However, boars will be much more physically assertive and aggressive, rather than practicing the withdrawal techniques that sows will. And boars tend to be less conflict-averse and pain-averse, continuing fierce fights even after they are injured.
Thus, it is crucial to monitor boars when they are introduced to the same spaces, practice preventative measures to reduce aggression, and know what to do if aggressive behaviors do break out.
Avoiding aggression begins in the boar selection process. While choosing the largest and strongest boar in a litter may seem like the obvious choice, this option may lead to problems and injuries among your animals that will outweigh the benefits of the size of that one boar.
The “alpha male” in another group of pigs will be the most problematic to introduce to a new group, as he will immediately assert his own dominance in an order that already has its own balance and will likely not stop fighting until he has declared his authority over the former alpha male and all the others.
Identifying the alpha male in a group takes only a bit of observation: Typically, it will be the largest boar in the group, and the one that consumes the most food at feedings.
When purchasing a new boar or selecting one to introduce to another group, try to find a balance between looking for a large and healthy animal, and avoiding one that exhibits qualities of dominance or aggressive behavior.
Even among boars that are not alpha males, look for calm behavior and non-aggression when making your selection. These boars will much more easily fall into your group of animals’ existing order, rather than showing aggression.
How to Stop Boars from Being Aggressive
Aggression from boars cannot be as easily prevented as aggression between sows, once it begins. The only real way to avoid it is not introducing a dominant boar to a new animal group.
However, if a boar is exhibiting aggressive behavior, the risk is not just to other animals but also to human caretakers. If a boar is physically aggressive, here are ways to handle the situation while safely avoiding personal injury.
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Be Attentive To Aggressive Pig Behaviors As They Begin.
If a boar is exhibiting aggression, he should be removed from the space as soon as possible, before any violent behavior begins. To see the potential dangers of owning pigs and how to prevent negative big behaviors see my post.
Become familiar with the boar as early as possible.
Avoiding injury from a boar, resolving an aggressive conflict between animals begins by creating a positive relationship between caretaker and animal as soon as possible.
This includes interacting personally with the animal as much as possible, such as hand-feeding it to establish a positive relationship between human and animal and using your voice to establish familiarity and help the boar recognize you.
It may sound strange, but this connection between the caretaker and the boar will not only keep the animal from showing aggression towards the caretaker even if it does become violent. It will also enable the caretaker to handle and diffuse situations between animals when they arise more easily.
Allow adult boars to mate sometimes.
Much aggression from adult boars is sexual in nature, and so keeping boars without allowing them to mate at any time will only further their instinctual aggression. Even if this particular boar is not kept for breeding, allowing it to mate occasionally will reduce its aggressive behavior.
How would you like it if you were prevented from doing something so natural? It’s no wonder some boars become aggressive.
How To Know When A Boar Is Aggressive
Boars show clear signals when they become aggressive, and a physical attack is likely about to occur. As they prepare to attack another pig, they will likely manifest one or more of these physical signals:
- Foaming at the mouth
- Repeated chomping motions with their jaw
- Bristling hairs on the back of their necks
While separating animals at this point may be possible, be very quick about it and be careful not to signal to the pig that you are attempting to show aggression towards it.
Include safety measures in case aggression breaks out.
Ensure that the enclosure has accessible exits if you need to escape it quickly, in case a fight does break out.
Never separate an active fight between animals yourself. To break up a fight between boars, have a sorting board like this one from Amazon or some other large separator (like a large trash can lid or a big piece of wood) that you can insert between the fighting animals to break up the confrontation.
Never use your hands, arms, or body to separate fighting boars, are you TRYING to get hurt?
Should You Allow Pigs to Fight?
It is vital to allow your pigs, especially your boars, to fight a little bit when a new animal is introduced.
After all these methods to avoid confrontation between pigs (both sows and boars), and to break up or divert fights that do happen, this may seem counterintuitive.
But while it’s essential to take measures to prevent too serious of an injury or confrontation (such as not introducing a second alpha to an “established” group of pigs), and to break up a fight that is becoming too injurious or life-threatening to the animals, it is actually a vital part of establishing a new peaceful group of pigs to allow for some fighting.
While you can separate or divert fights between your animals, you will only be temporarily delaying a confrontation that will need to happen at some point, before a new, peaceful order can be established, and the group of pigs can become a unified and consolidated “pack” once more.
Pigs are resilient and tough, and the fights that will break out between them when they are introduced to new groups will, more often than not, not cause serious or lasting harm to them. Allow pigs to fight, but do not let these fights continue to a point where the animals will require medical attention.
There are a few things to keep in mind when allowing your pigs to fight when they are first introduced to each other:
Introduce the pigs in small groups.
To keep fights under control and make it easier and safer for you to break them up, try to have them break out in smaller, separate enclosures.
You can do this by introducing a new sow or boar to small groups of pigs at a time, in a separate enclosure, and letting controlled fights break out if they are going to. Or you can carefully observe your group of animals once the new pig has been introduced to the whole group and separate animals between which a fight seem imminent before it happens.
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Make it a fair fight.
The inevitable and necessary conflicts between pigs will occur between pigs competing for dominance, that is, pigs that are close in size. Once these fights arise and the new “order” is established, pigs will become far more peaceful and less aggressive. However, this does not mean that a fight will not occur between a new pig and a much smaller pig if put in the same enclosure.
Do not put a new pig in an enclosure alone with a much smaller pig. A fight between these two pigs is not necessary to establish a new order among your animals, and it will be much more likely to result in serious injury for the smaller pig.
Break up a fight that becomes too serious.
Minor cuts and scrapes will not harm your pigs seriously. However, if large wounds are happening that may require sutures or significant bloodshed that may require medical attention, it is time to separate the pigs.
While the struggle for dominance between these two animals may not be resolved right then and there, this fight can be saved for another time, when it may be less dangerous.
Have someone else there with you to help break up fights.
Especially if you are new to dealing with aggression between pigs, or nervous about breaking up fights, have someone there with you in the enclosure to help you break up the dispute between the animals with a sorting board or other dividers (again, never your own body or hands).
With someone else to assist you, you can each focus on one of the animals, helping to “herd” them away from one another with the sorting boards.
Tend to any cuts and scrapes your pigs get while fighting.
Minor cuts and scrapes won’t seriously or permanently harm a pig, but they might become more injurious if infected. Make sure to keep any cuts that the pigs get clean for the next week or so, and they should heal up in no time, and leave your pig unscathed.
Keep pigs separated for the rest of the day after they have fought, if possible.
Once a fight between two pigs is finished and resolved, it is best to keep those animals separate for the rest of the day to keep a second fight from breaking out on the same day, which is unnecessary and will likely lead to escalated violence.
Again, if you allow for safe fighting between your pigs at controlled times when a new pig is introduced to the group, it should not take more than a month before a new, peaceful order has been established in the group, and your pigs are a consolidated pack again.
Fighting between pigs is inevitable when there is any struggle for dominance in a pack. There are many ways to divert fights or make them less intense, but some scuffling will be necessary before a peaceful group can be established.
Provide a safe environment for pigs to fight and tend to any wounds they encounter. Break up fights that will cause lasting severe or life-threatening injury to any of your animals, or that will require medical attention.
If you follow these guidelines and allow for controlled and safe fighting, you should have nothing to worry about within a month.
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