Should you put a ring on your pig?
Most of us have only ever seen pigs with nose rings, but is it the best option?
Words & images: Dr Sarah Clews, BVSc
Ringing the noses of backyard pigs is a common procedure asked of vets.
However, the Code of Welfare firmly states that nose rings and clips must not be used unless necessary for managing the animal. Ringing is recognised as a painful procedure that should be avoided if possible.
The code states that the owner must consider systems that reduce the need to use a ring.
WHY DO WE PUT A RING (OR RINGS) ON IT?
Pigs will demolish pasture – they just will. Some do it slowly. Kunekunes tend to graze more than other pig species, and many people find they’re gentler on paddocks.
But all pigs will root up pasture to some extent.
Putting a ring or rings through the nose of the pig deters them from using their nose by causing pain, which should diminish to discomfort over time.
For many people, preventing pigs from rooting allows them to live a free-range life that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
However, nose ringing comes with a lot of limitations, which can cause frustration and upset to an owner, and ongoing trauma to the pig.
7 REASONS WHY RINGING IS CONTROVERSIAL
• Ringing is a painful procedure and can cause ongoing pain to pigs. That can be shocking and surprising to owners. Ideally, the pain diminishes to discomfort only when the pig uses their nose to uproot soil, and that’s the case for most pigs around six months after ringing.
• The site can become infected.
• Healing may be difficult and prolonged.
• Rings can be torn out – you should consider this a given and know you’ll likely need to repeat ringing a pig at least once during their life.
• Young pigs may outgrow their rings and require new ones.
• Septal rings can make breathing difficult and should never be used in brachycephalic breeds (those with a ‘squished’ face, such as the kunekune).
• They don’t always work – many frustrated owners continue to insert more and more rings while the pig pushes through the discomfort and continues to root. Motivation varies between individuals, and there are no guarantees a nose ring will prevent rooting.
THE 2 TYPES OF RING
When a pig roots, the top of the disc on a septal ring acts like a shovel, while the septum (between the nostrils) remains relatively stationary.
While septal rings tend to look ‘cool’, they’re not very effective. The nose can also take a very long time to heal. If there’s an infection, it can take a long time to clear up.
In short-nosed breeds, they can block the nostrils, making it difficult to breathe.
The upside is they rarely fall out.
Disc rings, also known as ‘clips’, go through the top of the snout, usually in the 10, 12, and 2 o’clock positions. These clips should lie close to the nose to prevent tearing.
The downside is they pull out quite readily.
They may be a good option for young, free-range porkers (grown for slaughter) but for a pet destined to live a long life, they may need replacing.
WHAT IS THE BEST OPTION?
Whether you choose to put a ring in your pig’s nose should be based on what will give your pig the best life.
If you’re keeping free-range pigs short-term while they’re young for meat production, “disk rings” or disc clips may be the best option.
However, if you’re keeping pigs as pets – which can be up to 10 years or longer – you may not need them.
Encourage rooting in a single area, such as the corner of a paddock. Scatter pellets, scraps, and other goodies they desire onto the area. You could dig them into the topsoil and/or layer peat, hay, and branches over the top. Research tells us pigs prefer peat and branches, but hay will do if the others are difficult to source.
The grass will disappear, but you can bring in fresh supplies of hay, peat, and branches – which your pigs will love turning over – to help prevent the ground from bogging up too much.
Ideally, pigs prefer forest undergrowth and shrubs to pasture. If you have trees and bushland on your block, fence it off and make it the pig zone. No pasture lost.
You can use your pigs to clear and turn over garden beds, ready for planting. Pigs are worth their weight in gold as farmhands – all you need for adults is a single electric wire, 30cm off the ground, with a good zap going through it, and they’ll stay where you put them.
WHY DO PIGS ROOT UP SOIL?
Their sensitive nose is as important to pigs as hands are to people. The instinctual drive to use it to root the ground is a deeply ingrained behavior. Reasons include:
• to explore the environment
• to search for food;
• for comfort.
Pigs find food such as grubs, roots, and rich essential minerals below the soil surface. But even if you feed a pig a perfectly nutritional diet, they’ll still dig.
Rooting isn’t a learned behavior. Instead, it’s what scientists term a behavioral need, which is defined as: “A behavior governed by internal stimuli where, if prevented for a prolonged period, can affect the welfare of the animal.”
Stop a pig from rooting and foraging, and you may see OCD-type behaviors, such as vacuum chewing (chewing repeatedly with nothing in the mouth), and tail biting/mutilation, a common observation on commercial pig farms.
WHAT YOU MUST NEVER (& CAN’T LEGALLY) DO
Inserting a DIY wire nose ring is illegal, and you can be fined up to $5000 under the Animal Welfare Act.
By law, ringing must only be done by a trained person (in the case of block owners, that’s a vet) using pain relief options before and after the procedure.