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Do Pigs Eat Their Babies? (9 Reasons Why They Savage)

Do Pigs Eat Their Babies? The idea sounds repulsive, a sow eating its babies.

Although it may sound crazy, some nervous sows will “savage” piglets, that is, they attack, injure, or kill live and healthy piglets and sometimes eat them, this is referred to as cannibalism.

Let’s dive into it.

Do pigs eat their babies?

Savaging is most common in gilts (a pig who hasn’t given birth to a litter) with their first litter and is often associated with uneasiness or apprehension in gilts before farrowing.

This occurs in certain breeds and may be associated with the fear of a new farrowing environment, especially when the animal has been previously let loose before crating. The hormonal changes associated with farrowing may contribute to the behavior.

Savaging comes with lots of negative economic impacts as quite a several pigs are lost as a result. Some farms may face permanent problems that can add 1% to the mortality rate, which is equivalent to the loss of 120 piglets per year in a flock of 500 sows.

Right away we’ll look into the causes of savaging and how it can be prevented.

9 Reasons why Pigs eat their Babies

Here are some solid reasons why pigs eat their babies:

Hormonal Changes

Pig cannibalism is usually caused by changes in hormones before delivery. This condition appears mostly in mammals that give birth for the first time. When it comes to pigs, it is most common with gilts.

When a pig reaches 115 days after mating, these hormones are stimulated. The hormones produced are transferred through the bloodstream to the placenta.

The placenta proceeds into producing prostaglandins, which circulate in the sow’s ovaries. All of these hormones play a role in pigs’ behavior before and after farrowing.

So, if you sow or gilts start eating her piglets after birth, it could be due to hormonal changes that took place before delivery.

Removal of Sick or Dying Piglets

Pigs have proven to be smarter than most domestic animals. The pig’s ability to solve problems is well documented and reveals how intelligent pigs are.

Also, they are easier to train than cats and dogs. This is one reason they eat their sick or dying pigs.

Pigs can eat their sick or dying piglets, not because they want to but because they want to protect other pigs. If the pig has a contagious disease that can be transmitted to other pigs, the mother may eat it to prevent the spread.

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The Safety of Other Piglets

The desire to protect other piglets poses another reason why sows may feed on their young ones. Besides falling sick, piglets can die from trampling or an accident.

So, to prevent the pig from rotting and its carcasses from attracting predators, the sow may eat the dead pig. As a result, other piglets will be safe at the expense of the sow having to do the unthinkable.

Consequently, it is necessary to always check on your pigs to ensure that the sow is not eating its baby in the event of an incident like this. If left unchecked, the sow may develop an appetite for the piglets, which may cause it to feed on more pigs.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Pigs require an adequate supply of food and water. However, you should ensure that the feeds you supply your pigs are rich in vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Additionally, most of these nutrients are present in typical commercial pig feeds. However, you may need to add supplements to ensure that your pig is not deficient in nutrients.

If your pig is pregnant, you need to make sure that she is not suffering from any deficiencies, as this may cause her to eat her piglets to make up for the nutritional deficiencies.

Over-Stressed Sow

A sow that is under a lot of stress or just one that overreacts will end up hurting piglets. When the pig develops a lot of stress during or after pregnancy, it may become aggressive and resort to feeding on its piglets to lessen the stress. Stress in pigs can be caused by variables such as environment, metabolism, immunology, and biology.

Biological stress is normal in gilts because this is the first time, they are giving birth. If the stress is excessive and they cannot handle it, they may resort to overreacting and subsequently, eat their children.

Additionally, social stress such as grouping animals together at the wrong times can cause the pig to do the unthinkable. Therefore, ensure that your gilts and sows are not stressed by environmental, metabolic, and immunological factors.

However, you cannot prevent the stress associated with gilt delivery. Also, don’t rush changing them to a new home environment as this can cause even more stress.

Harsh Environment

Besides the hormonal changes that occur before or after birth, protection, and illness or stress, Pigs may also eat their piglets because of how harsh their environment appears to be. Therefore, you must ensure that the pig is well fed, cared for, and kept in a friendly and favorable environment before farrowing.

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Most farmers isolate the pigs and keep them in an area they are not accustomed to. If the area is favorable, the pig is unlikely to eat its young as it will not cause stress. Environmental stress can also impair a pig’s disease resistance.

Being Kept in Confinement

Another reason sows may eat their young is because they do not like the personal confinement to which they are taken to after farrowing. Due to the stress and pressure they feel, these sows may eat their young. It is therefore necessary if you find out that your farrowed sow is badly disturbed due to its new confinement, to change it immediately.

In addition, since farrowed sows are usually hungry, the pigs should be separated for a while as they may be turned into food. This mainly applies to the first piglet. But piglets can be returned to their mother after about 20 minutes after giving birth.

Breed of Pig

Although pigs that eat their young are usually gilts, this does not apply to all breeds of pigs. That’s why it’s important to know whether your pig breed likes to eat its young.

Popular pig breeds known for eating their young are mainly domestic pigs such as the pure-bred white gilt. Additionally, cases are also common in new gilt herds where several pregnant gilts are been raised in large straw yards.

However, it is quite rear finding a wild pig that eats its young. Since a few breeds of domestic pigs eat their young, scientists have linked this to the stress and confinement these pigs experience while being watched by humans.

Clumsy Gilts and Sows

Some pigs eat their young because they are clumsy. Chances are that a clumsy sow may accidentally step on her newborn and kill it.

If such cases occur, the pig is more likely to eat the dead or injured piglet. Although this is not common, a clumsy gilt should not be left with piglets for a few hours after parturition.

How to stop pigs from eating their own babies

  1. Assess the gilts when they come into farrow
  2. Regularly treat pregnant gilts with kindness.
  3. Adopt a quiet attitude to the management and maintenance of farrowing houses.
  4. Make sure the gilt is crated a few days before farrowing. This should be balanced against the need to observe the overall flow from the farrowing houses and to avoid lying down for long periods pre farrowing which can trigger pressure sores on the shoulders.
  5. Provide bran as an alternative to high-grade compound feed before farrowing.
  6. Motivate and supervise the farrowing piglets during the farrowing process.
  7. Cull any sow that savages more than one litter.
  8. Avoid cross-fostering litter.
  9. Ensure that the farrowing houses are warm and comfortable with no draughts.
  10. Reducing lighting levels or even farrowing in total darkness has little to no beneficial effect in reducing savaging and may contravene welfare legislation or quality assurance standards.
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Treatment

  • Observe all the gilts for the first 2 or 3 piglets and if there is a sign of savaging, inject with azaperone at a dose of 1 ml/12 kg of body weight.
  • All piglets should be confined to the creep area away from the sow for at least 20 minutes after injection until she’s settled and rolls over on her side. Then the piglets should be reintroduced. After that, most farrowing will continue as normal.
  • Provide pain killers (analgesics) during the farrowing process for gilts showing signs of aggression (eg Metacam, Boehringer Ingelheim)
  • Discuss the possibility of treatment with Mysoline with your veterinarian. This medicine is available in tablets containing 250mg of medicine called Primidone which is an anticonvulsant medicine but has the effect of reducing hysteria and nervousness. 3 to 4 tablets twice a day can be administered 24 to 48 hours before farrowing.

Conclusion

If you have been wondering why some pigs eat their babies, now you know. The main reasons are due to hormonal changes before giving birth, excessive stress, nutritional deficiencies, etc.

Discovering why your sow or gilt is feeding on its young is very important to tame it. This will also help you to prevent it from eating more piglets and incurring more economic losses.

If you are not able to tell why your pig is eating its babies, get in touch with a professional veterinarian to help you out.

Mark Lockett

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