Easy Fella!
Practical Pigs|Spring 2017

Boars can be a touch pushy come the spring or, on very rare occasions, naturally aggressive. Michaela Giles provides some practical guidance on how best to deal with muscly males

I find young boars – whether for fattening or for future breeding stock – very amiable and interactive. Often they’re much more co-operative than females when you’re trying to do something with them, even when they’re not used to it.

This was made very obvious on one occasion last year, when I had to clean-off some muddy ear tags before showing a group of Japanese visitors our Middle White stock, which were for sale. Both the boars and the gilts had been out on the show circuit, and so were well used to being handled and bathed.

However, the young boars stood stock still while I scrubbed their ears, while the gilts fidgeted constantly; not wanting to comply without making their displeasure known. I’m convinced this obvious behavioural difference was a factor in them choosing to buy one of the boars for export.

Natural loners Non-domesticated boars live a solitary life once they’ve become sexually active, and only get the chance to interact with other pigs when the females come looking for them to mate. The boars have a defined area in which they roam, and the sows know where they are by the scent they exude; as do other boars when competing for the top boar slot in an area.

Working with nature, and to keep any domesticated boars as content as you can, it’s sensible to provide them with their own familiar pen, full of enrichment opportunities, and to bring the in-season sows to them. This is why most boars, when introduced to a sow, will always ‘have a go’. In nature, only receptive females will bother to find a boar but, as breeders, we often put them in a few days before we know a season is due.

Fortuitously, there’s rarely any aggression shown towards the non-receptive sows or gilts, and older boars that have been through this before, often just check by sniffing their nether regions, usually when they urinate, until she is compliant, before exerting themselves.

Young boars can be a pain, constantly trying to mount the gilt or sow, and you have to watch that they don’t exhaust themselves in the process. If they’re being a real nuisance – especially to first-time gilts who you want to have a pleasant, non-painful experience – then it’s wise to remove them until they’re exhibiting a reliable, standing response.

Sows usually put the young boars in their place, although you don’t want the young boars to experience anything scary that might put them off trying again in the future; some have very delicate egos!

Essential respect Breeding boars should always be given a higher level of respect when they’re being handled, even if they’re normally the soppiest, most docile animal on your farm. All form goes out of the window and you should never turn your back on them.

For this reason you should always carry a board and stick when entering their pen. It's very rare that you’ll need to use either in most cases – especially if the animals in question are used to kind, respectful handling – but why take an unnecessary risk?

The smart thing to do is to make use of feeding time, while they’re otherwise engaged and distracted, to fix that bit of fence or top-up an ark with straw. Another golden rule is always to wear robust clothing and boots when in with your boars. Never forget that these animals have two pairs of continually-growing and dangerously sharp tusks.

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