Pigs are mammals. In biology, they form a genus with about 15 species. Only the wild boar lives in Europe. The other species are distributed over Asia and Africa, i.e. over the “Old World”.
Pigs are very different. The smallest is the pygmy wild boar from Asia. It weighs a maximum of twelve kilograms. That’s how much a smaller dog weighs. The largest is the giant forest pig that lives in the African tropics. They manage up to 300 kilograms.
The elongated head with the snout is typical for all pigs. The eyes are small. The canines have no roots and grow throughout life. They sharpen each other by grinding against each other. Hunters call them “tusks”. The males are larger than the females and are very dangerous in combat.
How do pigs live?
Pigs like to live in forests or in areas with some trees like savannas. They mainly travel at night. During the day they sleep in dense undergrowth or in the burrows of other animals. There must be water nearby. They are good swimmers and like mud baths. Then one says: You wallow. This cleans and protects your skin. They also get rid of parasites, i.e. pests. It also cools them down, because pigs can’t sweat.
Most pigs live together in groups. Usually, there are a few females and their young animals, the piglets. An adult female is called a “sow”. The adult males, and the boars, live as solitary animals.
Pigs will eat almost anything they can find or dig out of the ground with their trunk: roots, fruit, and leaves, but also insects or worms. Small vertebrates are also on their menu, as is carrion, i.e. dead animals.
The pigs that live in our stables are “common domestic pigs”. There are many different breeds of these today. They are descended from wild boar. Humans bred them. When pigs live in the wild in America today, they are escaped domestic pigs.
How did our domestic pigs come about?
Already in the Neolithic period, people began to get used to wild boars and breed them. The oldest finds were made in the Middle East. But also in Europe pig breeding started very early. Gradually, the breeding lines have also mixed. Today there are about twenty well-known pig breeds, plus many less well-known ones. Because the domestic pig is the most well-known member of its animal family in Germany, it is often simply referred to as the “pig”.
In the Middle Ages, only the rich could afford pork. The poor people were more likely to eat the meat of cows that stopped giving milk because they were too old. But sometimes poorer people kept one or more pigs. They took advantage of the fact that pigs will eat almost anything they can find. In the cities, they sometimes roamed the streets freely, feeding on garbage. Cattle wouldn’t do that.
Since pigs are herd animals, you can also drive them to a pasture or into the forest. In the past, that was often the work of the boys. In the fields, the pigs ate what was left after the harvest, as well as all kinds of grass and herbs. In the forest, apart from mushrooms, they especially liked beechnuts and acorns. For the best Spanish ham, the pigs can only be fed with acorns today.
Domestic pigs are often considered dirty. But that’s not the case. If they have enough space in a stable, they make a corner for the toilet. When they wallow in wet mud, it cleans their skin. In addition, their body temperature drops. This is necessary because pigs cannot sweat. And because of the dried mud, they don’t get sunburnt either. They are also very smart, like monkeys. This could be shown in various experiments. This makes them more like dogs than, for example, sheep and cows.
There are also people who don’t want to eat pork at all because their religion is against it. Many Jews and Muslims consider pigs to be “unclean” animals. Others don’t necessarily find pork healthy either.
How are domestic pigs kept in a species-appropriate manner today?
Domestic pigs are purely livestock. Farmers or pig breeders keep domestic pigs to slaughter and sell their meat. On average, every person eats about a kilogram of meat per week. About two-thirds of that is pork. So a lot of domestic pigs are needed: In [[Germany there is one pig for every three inhabitants, in the Netherlands, there are even two pigs for every three inhabitants.
In order for domestic pigs to feel really comfortable, they should be able to live like their ancestors, the wild boar. This is still the case in many places around the world. In Europe, you only see that on an organic farm. But even there, it’s not really a requirement. It depends on the country in which the pigs live and which seal of approval applies to the farm. Meat from happy pigs is also significantly more expensive.
On such a farm, there are a few dozen animals rather than a few hundred. They have enough space in the barn. There is straw on the floor for them to rummage around in. They have access to the outside every day or live outside at all. They churn up the earth and wallow. To make this possible, you need a lot of space and good fences so that the pigs cannot escape. In such farms, they also work with special breeds. The sows do not have as many piglets and they develop more slowly. This also has to do with the lining, which is more natural.
The meat of such animals grows slowly. There is less water in the frying pan, but more meat is left over. But it is also more expensive.
How do you get the most meat?
Most pigs are now kept on sober farms. They are often called “animal factories” and are referred to as factory farming. This type of pig breeding pays little attention to the peculiarities of the animals and is designed to produce as much meat as possible with as little effort as possible.
The animals live on hard floors with crevices. The urine can run off and the feces can be hosed off with the hose. There are different compartments made of iron bars. The animals cannot burrow and often have too little contact with each other.
Real sex doesn’t exist for these sows. The insemination is done by a human with a syringe. A sow is pregnant for almost four months. In animals, this is called “pregnancy”. Then up to 20 piglets are born. Of these, about 13 survive on average. As long as the show is still suckling her piglets, the piglets are called suckling pigs. “Span” is an old word for “teat”. There the young suck their milk. The nursing period lasts about a month.
Then the piglets are reared and fattened for almost six months. They then reach 100 kilograms and are slaughtered. So the whole thing takes about ten months in total, not even a year.