Training new pigs to electric fencing can be an interesting process to say the least. If there is one thing about farming that I still don’t enjoy, it’s introducing these guys to electricity! The reason being is that if something is going to go wrong with a pig, the greatest probability is that it will probably happen here. Pigs are short, stout, strong, agile, fast and powerful little buggers that can blow thru a fence in nothing flat if they get fired up. The bulk of times that I have had pigs get loose has been when I first brought them onto our farm and put them into electric portable fencing and even more recently into our permanent high tensile electric fencing that was installed this past Spring.
So this article is designed to help you avoid having a loose pig, especially when you first bring it home and let it out into your pasture arrangement. Personally, I would much rather chase a handful of loose cattle than one loose pig. So anything we can do to avert disaster on the front end is well worth the effort. Once a pig is loose, it is no fun rounding him back up. The only exception to this in my experience is if they have been on your farm for awhile and are used to you and used to being fed daily from a 5 gallon bucket. If that is the case, once you call them and/or they see the bucket you most likely won’t have too much of an issue luring them back to captivity and your biggest issue might be getting out their way!
Introducing New Livestock on the Farm
Introducing a new critter to your farm can be a really stressful experience for both them and us. My first advice to you is to remain calm and collected, as the animals can sense if you wound up and their own stress can feed off of that. This is one area I still struggle with as it is human nature to get worked up, but thankfully my wife is great at two things when we bring new pigs home: Keeping me settled down and praying the entire time for both the pigs and me. Having a supportive spouse with farming adventures is truly priceless. Second, if at all possible I suggest leaving the new pigs in a livestock trailer overnight after you get them to your farmstead. While this might sound cruel, you have to realize that they have just been loaded up, removed from their home, and hauled down the highway to someplace new. This can be traumatic, and is compounded by then immediately dumping them into electric fencing with new surroundings and getting shocked. Personally, I’ve had the best success in training new arrivals by letting them sleep it off overnight in the trailer while it was parked in the shade. I give them a little feed (but not much, more on that in a moment) and plenty of cold water. Normally, they make a pretty big mess with the water but get enough to drink in order to stay hydrated. When feeding and watering in a livestock trailer, take extra care to guard the door or you’ll have pigs in your yard in nothing flat.
Fencing Options Available
Depending on what your physical setup is like, we can go a number of different directions in terms of “how-to” and each situation is different and requires some ingenuity on your part or guidance from an experienced lunatic farmer. For the purposes of this article I focus on a couple of different methods and ideas. Regardless of what your setup is, it’s always best (but not required) to train the pigs to your electric fence inside of something permanent. That might be a barn, woven wire fence or in my case high tensile fence. This is actually the first year we have had a permanent facility to train pigs in and if I could travel back in time I would have built something to work with them in long ago. So up until this year all of our pigs have just been placed right out into the pasture or forest (we are currently using mature hardwoods to raise our pigs in) and directly into portable electric fence. And in short it works just fine, most of the time. For the first couple of years we used a pos/neg sheep fence from Premier fence but then switched to premiers pig fence once it became available. I endorse either product for the purpose of raising pigs. The pig fence is a lot cheaper per foot than the sheep fence and much easier to move, especially out in the woods. But, you won’t raise anything other than a pig in it! The sheep fence is good for sheep, pigs, goats and in a pinch could be used for cattle (but is overkill for that purpose). However, it’s pricey and very heavy. Working with it out in the woods is a real chore, and I find it difficult to keep the top taught and not sagging without lots of additional fiberglass posts for added support. But if you are just starting out, utility is the key and having something that can be used for multi species is a wise investment. It also makes it easier to resell down the road when you no longer need it.
What we are now doing is placing the pigs into one of our cattle corrals that we have added additional wires to which will keep the pigs in. This is our permanent outer fence for training. We then setup some of our portable fence inside of that permanent fence and train them to it first. This way, if one breaks out we still have a second line of defense and can put him back in much easier than if we were out in the woods. Two is one and one is none philosophy. If a new pig gets loose and takes off on you, good luck. Fortunately, we have never lost a pig and generally speaking if they get out they usually get themselves back in as they want to be with their buddies. I think we have been really blessed in this regard and have definitely dodged some big bullets thru the years.
Ready, Set, STOP!
So now you are all setup and ready to let them out – ready, set, stop! The last thing we want to do is have them all meet Ben Franklin at once and go stampeding thru the other side of the fence. What we do here is let them out one at a time to keep things in check as much as possible. We also have a nice full tub of feed sitting just a few feet away from where we let them out as well as fresh water. Remember I said not to feed them too much the night before when you get them home? We actually want them a little hungry and here is why: They will hop out and usually go straight to the food and chow down for a few minutes. But it isn’t long before their strong curiosity takes over and they venture over to the fence. Generally speaking, once they hit it they jump backwards and squeal, then head right back over to the food. This is why we want them hungry! They just figured out that the fence hurts and we want to give them something else to go focus on, and with a hungry belly that food becomes the focus. Once they have hit the fence a couple of times, we can go ahead and let the next pig out. Usually I’ll wait about 10-15 minutes between letting pigs out so we don’t get more than one excited pig at a time. Within a couple of hours, they will pretty much be done testing the fence at least for today and are happy to eat and sleep after being cooped up in the trailer.
Photo: A young Hampshire pig being trained to portable electric fence from Premier Fence Co. with permanent high tensile fence in the background.
After 24-48 hours, we’ll take down the portable fence and let them experience the high tensile fence which is also hot. We have placed the wiring in the corral training area from 6” above grade to 21” above grade on 3” centers so it would be very difficult (although not impossible) for pigs to physically squeeze out between the high tensile wires. This helps me sleep at night until the pigs are fully trained.
Photo: Two young Hampshire pigs being trained to high tensile electric fence.
For my own operation, I also want them trained to both types of fence so I have flexibility in where we keep them or for rotating within the permanent fence. I also do this for anther important reason and that is so we can segregate groups of pigs within our permanent fence using the portable product. One mistake I have made in the past is mixing different groups of pigs that I shouldn’t have. What I mean by this is that, like any herd, there is a pecking order and the big pigs will smack the little pigs around when they are first put together. So much so that the little pigs might try and get out of the fence to get away from the bullies, even if that means getting shocked and taking the fence down in the process. If your pigs are not too different in size then this will be somewhat mitigated (but will still occur most likely) and you can pull it off. From experience though, if you have a way to do this inside of some permanent fence or structure after your new pigs are fully trained to electric that would be best. It can get dicey for a couple of hours until everyone settles down. Two days later, they will all be laying together with no more fighting and by the end of a week it’s one big happy herd slopping around in the mud.
However if you are thinking about more of a production model or butchering at different times of the year for your own home use, then mixing them is probably a mistake. If you have some pigs that are 200lbs and some new ones that are 75lbs, it’s best to keep them in separate groups. The big guys will really beat up on the little guys, raise their stress level and maybe even cause them to bust out of the fence. You will also want to be using different protein rations for each group as well which makes keeping them in different groups a no-brainer. It also makes it easier to sort when it’s time to load them up for the butcher which is an entirely different article for next time.
So remember: Keep your cool, make sure your fence is hot, have the pigs calm and slightly hungry. Let them out one at a time and it should go smoothly! Good luck.