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The secret lives of pigs

Written by: Compassion in World Farming   Filed under: Issue 11, Ethical Consumerism.

US President Harry Truman stated, “No man should be allowed to be President who does not understand hogs.” Most people know very little about these fascinating animals. In fact, pigs are curious and insightful animals thought to have intelligence beyond that of an average 3-year-old human child.


They are smarter than dogs and every bit as friendly, loyal, and affectionate. When in their natural surroundings, not on factory farms, they are social, playful, protective animals who bond with each other, make beds, relax in the sun, and cool off in the mud. Since most people are not that familiar with pigs, you may be surprised to learn that they dream, recognize their names, play video games more effectively than some primates, and lead social lives of a complexity previously observed only in primates.

People who run animal sanctuaries often describe pigs with human characteristics, because they’ve learned that, like humans, pigs enjoy listening to music, playing with soccer balls, and getting massages.

What the experts say
Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University found that pigs play and excel at joystick-controlled video games. He observed that they are “capable of abstract representation” and “are able to hold an icon in the mind and remember it at a later date.”

Professor Curtis says that “there is much more going on in terms of thinking and observing by these pigs than we would ever have guessed. ” Pigs are much smarter than dogs, according to the research, and even did better at video games than some primates. Says Dr. Sarah Boysen, Curtis’ colleague, “[Pigs] are able to focus with an intensity I have never seen in a chimp. ”
Pigs form complex social units and learn from one another in ways previously observed exclusively among primates.

For example, pigs use clever ploys to try to outsmart each other. Pigs often learn how to follow others to food before snatching it away. Those who are tricked learn to change their behavior in order to reduce the number of times they are deceived.

And Dr. Mike Mendyl notes that pigs can signal their competitive strength and “use this information to minimize overt aggression during disputes about social ranks,” just like many primates (including humans). He explains that “pigs can develop quite sophisticated social competitive behavior, similar to that seen in some primate species.”

Pigs communicate constantly with one another
More than 20 of their oinks, grunts, and squeals have been identified for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing, “I’m hungry!”

Pigs have a very long memory
Dr. Curtis put a ball, a Frisbee, and a dumbbell in front of several pigs and was able to teach them to jump over, sit next to, or fetch any of the objects when asked to and they could distinguish between the objects three years later.

Scientists at the University of Illinois have learned that not only do pigs have temperature preferences, they also will learn through trial and error how to turn on the heat in a cold barn if given the chance and turn it off again when they are too warm.

Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School says, “[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly three-year-olds.”

Suzanne Held, who studies the cognitive abilities of farm animals at the University of Bristol’s Centre of Behavioural Biology, says that pigs are “really good at remembering where food is located, because in their natural environment food is patchily distributed and it pays to revisit profitable food patches.”


Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, and mother pigs sing to their young while nursing.

Pigs are actually very clean animals
If given sufficient space, pigs will be careful not to excrete near where they sleep or eat. Pigs don’t “sweat like pigs”; they are actually unable to sweat. Pigs like to bathe in water or mud to keep cool.

Pig prowess
Like dogs, piglets learn their names by two to three weeks of age and respond when called. Pigs prefer water to mud. One woman developed a shower for her pigs, and these astute animals learned to turn it on and off.

Pigs appear to have a good sense of direction and have found their way home over great distances. Adults can run at speeds of up to 20 km an hour.

Pigs have shown gentleness and forgiveness
Norwegian author Bergljot Borresen writes about a mountain farmer who mistreated his pig. The pig locked her jaws into his thigh but didn’t bite down. The farmer believed it was a warning not to treat her unkindly again. In her own way, she gave him another chance.

Author John Robbins notes that “unlike dogs, horses and humans, they will never dangerously overeat even when given access to unlimited food. ” The pork industry, however, has wreaked havoc on this healthful habit with a drug called Hog-Crave, which causes pigs to overeat so that they will grow faster and will thus be more profitable to those who kill them.

Pigs have been known to save the lives of others, including their human friends.

According to The Daily Telegraph, “a pet piglet called Pru was praised by her owner … after dragging her free from a muddy bog. ” The owner said, “I was panicking when I was stuck in the bog. I did not know what to do and I think Pru sensed that. … I had a rope with me that I use as a dog lead and I put it around her. I was shouting ‘Go home, go home’ and she walked forward, slowly pulling me out of the mud. ”

Like dogs, pigs have done many heroic deeds
Babe’s real-life counterparts have rescued human and nonhuman companions, stopped intruders in their tracks, and even saved themselves from slaughterhouses. In addition to the previously mentioned piglet Pru, who dragged her human companion from a muddy bog, there is also Priscilla, who saved a young boy from drowning; Spammy, who led firefighters to a burning shed to save her calf friend Spot; and Lulu, who found help for her human companion who had collapsed from a heart attack.

A pig named Tunia chased away an intruder, and another named Mona held a fleeing suspect’s leg until the police arrived.
A pig in New Jersey jumped off a truck en route to the slaughterhouse, while in England, a stone carving of a pig named Butch was placed upon a historic cathedral after Butch and his friend Sundance escaped from a slaughterhouse and roamed the country for several days before being captured. Fortunately, a national outcry against slaughter allowed Butch and Sundance to go to a sanctuary.

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