Youth Livestock Safety - 2 - Swine Safety: Behavior Basics

Swine Safety Lesson 2: Behavior Basics: Getting to Know Your Show Pig

To work safely with your show pig, you should have a basic understanding of animal behavior in general, and the behavior patterns of swine in particular.

A temperamental pig must be handled differently than one that naturally calm. Handling differently means you should move slowly and deliberately when driving the pig, spend more time with the pig to help it adjust to human interaction, and practice show ring activities at home and again when you get to the show.

A pig frightens easily. Even very small disturbances in its surroundings can frighten it, which can cause your show pig to be calm at home in familiar surroundings, but become nervous when taken to the county fair where there are new, strange sights, smells, and sounds. A pig will usually grunt, bark, or squeal when angry.

A pig has wide-angle vision that allows it to see behind itself without turning its heads.

Pigs are sensitive to sharp contrasts in light and dark. A pig may balk and be reluctant to move if it sees shadows, puddles, bright spots, a change in flooring type or texture, drains, or flapping objects. Pigs also move easier from darker to lighter environments.

When a pig becomes distressed during handling, allow it to rest and recover before proceeding again.

A pig will stop when faced with a solid barrier. That’s why solid portable panels work well for moving and sorting pigs. These panels will likely be used at shows too. “Rooting” is a natural behavior for pigs. “Rooting” is when the pig tucks its head and uses its snout to push up whatever it comes in contact with. It will “root” at its food and water containers and its handler. If a pig roots under your foot it can knock you over as it rises up.

Pigs have strong jaws and sharp teeth. Even though its sharp incisor teeth were clipped when it was a piglet, its remaining teeth are sharp and can cut you if the pig decides to “root” up your leg.

Pigs do not sweat and are unable to cool themselves like other mammals. They wallow in mud to cool themselves. In warm weather, you may have to provide shade and possibly a water mist or drip on your show pig’s pen to help it keep cool. When you understand how your show pig might act in different situations, you can use that understanding to help make livestock shows safer for everyone – exhibitors as well as people who are watching the show. Keeping your show pig calm is a good start.

Other strategies to keep in mind at the show include:

Be aware of where others are at the show – your fellow exhibitors and the general public, especially those who may be walking around the alleys where you drive pigs. Move slowly to and from the show ring with your show pig. It’s not a race. When you become excited or in a hurry, your show pig will sense the change in your behavior, which might scare it. Remember that fear causes an animal to run from whatever scares it. Get to know your show pig’s behavior patterns and help it adjust to its new surroundings when you get to the show. Do the best you can to keep away from crowded areas while driving your show pig. Many people do not understand how easy it is to scare a show animal or how strong the animal is because show animals usually look so calm and well-behaved. Practice, practice, practice show day activities – at home and again when you get to the show. Practice driving the pig to the show ring; driving in the ring using your show cane, stick, or whip; driving the pig back to its pen; driving the pig through gates; and washing and clipping it. Your show pig will be much more comfortable doing activities it has practiced before and it will be less likely to be scared of the show ring if it’s been in there before the show. To control your show pig with the show stick, gently tap the pig in its neck/shoulder area. Lightly tap on the right side to make the pig go left. Tap on the left side to make the pig go right. Tap the top of the back between the shoulder blades when the pig is walking straight. With practice your show pig will learn that a tap on the top of the shoulders means to go straight. Avoid excessive tapping and never beat or use force to strike the pig with the show stick. Aggressive actions toward the show pig will scare it and cause the pig to run away.

Discussion Questions

With your project group members, discuss how you stay safe when working with your show pig.


How did your show pig act the day you bought it or moved it to a different pen to get it ready for show? How did it act the first time you drove it using your show stick? How did you feel the first time you drove your show pig?



Why is it important to practice showing your pig? How does learning about swine behavior help you when you work with other animals?


List some ways you can you show others what you’ve learned about animal behavior? How will learning about pig behavior help you in the future with your swine project?

GO ON TO SWINE SAFETY LESSON 3: Facilities and Equipment

swine handlers at a swine show