Pigs originally resided in parts of Europe and Asia, and were domesticated as early as 9000 years ago. Since then, humans have kept pigs as livestock and companion animals and wherever people have moved to, they have taken pigs along. Today, wild and feral pigs live all around the world, and can even be found on many remote Pacific islands. Their resourcefulness and adaptability means they thrive in a range of habitats, including:
Pigs thrive in a wide range of habitats
The size and weight of wild pigs varies greatly depending on breed, diet and habitat, and pigs in the wild can weigh anywhere between 130 and 300kg. Domestic pigs are bred to be larger, and are often considerably heavier than their wild counterparts.
Despite their large size, pigs are surprisingly fast, enabling them to successfully outrun predators and avoid danger. When their pace is not enough to keep them safe, many breeds have tusks which come in handy. Tusks can grow longer than 7cm and are sharp weapons, as well as intimidating deterrents to any potential rivals. In the wild, their excellent survival skills and willingness to eat just about anything means pigs can live up to 20 years, and in some cases longer.
Pigs famously love to forage for food, and will turn over any ground their snouts can tackle in an endless quest for something tasty. This rooting is an important natural behaviour, and is very beneficial to their ecosystem. Pigs use their strong snouts to disturb soil in search of roots and bulbs, which in turn provides freshly softened ground for new plants to grow. As they eat and pass plant material, seeds are dispersed which helps to maintain biodiversity and support plant populations.
Pigs in the wild spend time wallowing in mud, which not only provides important enrichment and socialisation, but also serves to keep pigs cool in warm weather. Pigs do not have functioning sweat glands, hence wallowing is essential to regulate body temperature. As it dries, mud cools the surface of the pig’s skin and helps to prevent heat exhaustion and other issues. Mud also forms a protective barrier which stops flies and other parasites biting the pig, which not only prevents discomfort but could help to protect against the diseases many flying insects carry
Despite their love of a good mud bath, pigs are extremely clean animals, and are very particular about maintaining their homes. They are careful to keep their toilet area far from their living and eating spaces, and even newborn piglets can be seen to respect the system and leave the nest to go to the toilet. Both in the wild and in captivity, we often see pigs rearranging and tidying their nest areas to make sure their sleeping spaces are suitably clean and comfortable. This is worth bearing in mind next time you hear anyone say an untidy room ‘looks like a pig sty’!
Pigs naturally live in small social groups, similar to our immediate families. These groups usually comprise 3 or 4 sows and their young, as male offspring leave when they reach maturity to go and find their own mates.
Wild sows tend to give birth once a year, in the spring when food is plentiful, and can have a litter of anywhere between 5 and 14 piglets. Most hoofed animals will only ever give birth to one or two young at once, and pigs are the only animal in this group which can have litters so large. Before giving birth, a sow displays her natural instincts by going through the process of nesting. She will collect materials such as leaves, hay and grass to build a comfortable and safe nest for her piglets. Newborn piglets stay in the warmth and security of the nest for around 10 days, and continue to drink their mother’s milk for around 3 months before weaning.
Pigs are highly intelligent animals, and studies have shown that many are even as intelligent as the average 3-year-old child. Their intelligence and self-awareness makes pigs very sociable animals, and they enjoy close contact with their herd, forming strong familial bonds. Pigs communicate with a complex system of grunts and squeaks, using pitch and duration to signify different meanings, from warning about danger, to expressing affection and, of course, communicating the availability of food.
Pigs have their fair share of issues and conflicts with one another, and these usually arise either when males are competing for a mate or when a sow with piglets feels her young are being threatened. Outside of these situations, however, pigs are very calm and peaceful creatures which rarely show aggression, making them popular with animal lovers.