Why aren’t your pigs rooting?!

Last week, as I was cleaning out the chickens in the orchard, a car pulled up by the house and on seeing me wave, the driver walked determinedly over to me. He had a grim look on his face and my spider senses started to tingle.

“Are they your pigs?”, he barked?

I paused for half a second. What’s happened? Did someone from the livery stables up the road fall off because their horse spooked at one of the pigs grunting? Are they out on the road? Is the bloke from the council, here for an impromptu inspection?

“Yes,” I replied making a real effort to stop myself from asking why.

“Are they ringed?”, was his second question, which threw me completely. I stood there staring at him like a prat until I worked out what he meant.

“No,” I stammered.

“Then why aren’t they rooting?”

“Erm, they’re Kune Kune pigs, so they don’t tend to root the same way that traditional pigs do. Just peel back the turf.”

“That’s what I was told we got ours, but they’ve ruined a two acre paddock!”

Ah. I suddenly got what this was about. He’s got a couple of Kune Kunes and, no doubt being youngsters, probably out in a fairly wet grass field, have rooted the entire place up because the grass either has no nutritional value for them, or because there’s no grass left as they’ve poached it up thanks to the rain. Either way, they’re hungry and know that when in doubt, dig deep for roots, beetles, bugs and other assorted tasties.

He’s been feeling misled regarding the purchase but was no doubt keeping a stiff upper lip and all that and then, through the hedge, saw my lot who are on the bank, clearing the undergrowth and brambles to allow grass to grow come spring. They’re barely rooting because, well, there’s nothing too root – and what there is, is at the top so they don’t need to dig for it, just push back the top soil.

Here’s how, courtesy of Bailey!

Going in...

Going in...

Stand clear!

Stand clear!

I told you to stand clear!

I told you to stand clear!

Mmmm, tasty bramble roots! Yum Yum!

Mmmm, tasty bramble roots!

From a distance, it looks as though all four pigs are being perfect angels, but it’s only when you look closely (and know what you’re looking for) that you can see the tell-tale patches where they’ve been gnawing at roots. But, being brambles, the roots are at the surface, so very little damage is done!

To cheer him up, and to demonstrate that contrary to popular opinion, Kune Kunes do root, I showed him Tia and Scrumpy’s little project from December/January:

What do mean, there's no buried treasure?

What do mean, there's no buried treasure?

(Note: the brown patches used to be green and smooth, and the entire enclosure was level. Look closely and you’ll spot the new hillocks that, when you stand in the hole, tower above the top of my wellies!)

Either sow could have been a contender for Gold in the porcine Olympics, but there was a simple reason for the activity. There was nothing for them to eat, so they found their own. Pigs are grazers, it’s no good giving them lots of nuts a couple of times a day and expecting that to do the trick – they like to nibble away throughout the day. If there really is nothing, they’ll sleep instead, which is why so many people keep them in sheds with or without access to a concrete yard over winter.

Although I did my best to convince him otherwise, and spoke at great depth about rotating grazing areas and reseeding, I have a horrid feeling that he is going to ring his pigs’ noses 😦

So, here’s my top tip for anyone who is thinking about getting pigs, as pets or otherwise: Pigs root! Learn to live with it!

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by welshpurpletree on 28 January 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Will that hurt them?

  2. The pain of having it done will quickly diminish but every time they go to root, it will get caught and that pain will prevent them from doing so. This, of course, stops them carrying out their natural behaviour, which can lead to other problems, from boredom to frustration. But mainly, it’s just unfair and I especially dislike it when it’s done for aesthetic purposes (green fields being so much nicer to look at than post-pig paddocks!)

  3. Posted by welshpurpletree on 28 January 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t know if I’ve seen a pig in real life with a ring through its nose. Not that I’ve seen many pigs minds. Seen a bull with a ring though. Sounds mean to me. It’d be like trying to stop the chickens scratching up the grass

  4. Most interesting – isn’t odd the things you learn?

    I had no idea people would ring pigs to stop them rooting. Equally I had no idea there were pigs that weren’t supposed to root. I just always thought pigs liked ploughing, digging and generally getting quite muddy!

    One day I hope we have a few pigs and I’m planning on getting mildly annoyed at the mess they make but leaving them to their muddy ploughing so they’re happy!

  5. Thankfully, nose ringing is a practice that has decreased quite a lot, helped by official recommendations that you just let your pigs get on with it unless you’ve got a damn good reason, not to mention the fact that a lot of pig keepers have realised that happy pigs are more productive pigs, whether that’s in terms of the quality of the meat or the volume of milk for their litters, etc.

    It is annoying, especially when you fall in one of their holes, but c’est la vie!

  6. Posted by welshpurpletree on 28 January 2009 at 6:44 pm

    was reading my mum’s TV guide earlier, and noticed Jamie Oliver has a programme on this week revealing the goings on of the pork industry. Think it’s similar to the chicken one he did. Might try and remember to watch it.

  7. Posted by ryan baluch on 30 March 2009 at 3:36 am

    can someone tell me what my pigs are looking for. when they are rooting??????? what do they eat?

  8. Hi Ryan,

    They eat roots, worms, grubs, plant bulbs and seeds… whatever they find! They also get a lot of minerals and vitamins from the soil to keep them healthy, which is especially important for younger pigs.

    Mine are currently going mad on bramble roots and having dug long pieces of root out of the earth, carry them about the way a child carries a lollie, slowly munching their way through it, loathe to put it down in case someone else comes along and pinches it!

    Hope that answers your question 🙂

  9. Posted by jane on 31 March 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Oh Bliss…..just came across this site after days and days and days and days strimming a very steep patch of land (2 acres) which has been planted with broadleaf trees around five years ago and then very badly neglected due to been too steep to use a tractor on and as part of the countryside scheme (tir gofal).
    got my three Kune Kune pigs on site fenced off with electric fencing and they are clearing some of it, but will never cope with the bracken that is just about to start shooting up and also 20 year growth of brambles and gorse.
    so to read that they will eat the bramble roots and clear some of this themselves is fantastic, how many pigs do you think I will need for this area of land as i dont want to over stock it

  10. Hi Jane, your three should manage it quite nicely over time. Divide the area up so that (a) it gets to recover and (b) being on a smaller area, they’ll have to concentrate their efforts! They won’t do a perfect job (well, mine don’t) but they will make it soooo much easier for you once they’re done.

    However, you’ll have to do some prep work for them:

    When you put the pigs on each area, cut the tallest brambles as low to the ground as you can. The KKs will eat the bramble leaves while they’re fresh and will stand on and break the stems as they die. Then they’ll start digging up the roots.

    The gorse will be a bigger challenge and you might be better off cutting it yourself and burning the branches (check the timing for this as you can only burn gorse at certain times of the year). Leave the pigs to dig up the roots.

    Once they’re done on each patch, get it reseeded so that grass has a chance of growing in future years.

    I find it’s a lot more fun doing the cutting etc with the

    Enjoy! You really won’t believe the difference once they’re done!

    Depending on your eating habits, if you find that the KKs are not doing a good enough job, you could always get a couple of porker weaners this month and get them to help out. Feed them right and they’ll be ready for the freezer come September.

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