Pointed Remarks
Practical Pigs|Winter 2017

Tusks grow on both male and female pigs and, as Michaela Giles explains, need to be understood and managed by anyone keeping older pigs

Michaela Giles

While at a show earlier this year, a fellow exhibitor happened to mention that he thought that, despite his appropriate, age-related body size, a boar of mine appeared older than his stated age, due to the length of his tusks.

It was an interesting comment, and I was pleased that the exhibitor had been decent enough to air his thoughts directly to me, and in a friendly way. Of course, I knew exactly when the boar had been born so it wasn’t an issue, but the incident set me thinking about how much any of us actually knows about tusks and their development?

Most experienced pig breeders who show their animals, recognise the need to remove tusks from exhibition boars aged 12 months and over, for simple reasons of safety. The risk of scratches and skin punctures – both for handlers and other pigs in the show ring – is a very real one if tusks aren’t removed.

Aside from that, though, I have to admit that I knew little more about tusks, and could nd virtually no reference to them in any of the established, pig-related reference books. So this article represents the culmination of some serious digging in some very remote areas of the internet!

What are they?

The first thing to establish is that tusks – also known as ‘tushes’ – are a pig’s canine teeth and, as such, are found in both sows and boars. The lower tusks are sometimes called ‘cutters’ because they tend to have very sharp tips, while the upper ones get referred to as ‘whetters’; their primary function is to sharpen the lower ones. If you think of the way a whetstone is used for sharpening blades, you’ll understand the etymology of the name.

Both sexes are born with ‘deciduous’ upper and lower canine teeth, which are small, needle-sharp, conical structures. These temporary tusks are shed when the permanent tusks erupt beneath them, which can happen at any point between the ages of six and 13 months.

The two sets of permanent tusks appear at approximately the same time and, in both sexes, they project out of their sockets to form a curve as they grow. In both sexes, the lower tusks extend in a forward and somewhat lateral direction out of the socket, curving upwards and, in the case of some older males, backwards and toward the lower jaw.

In boars, the upper canines extend in a forward and lateral direction out of the socket, then curve upward and occasionally back toward the snout. In contrast, the upper canines of sows extend in a downward and lateral direction. In both sexes, the upper tusks are normally shorter than the lower ones.

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