Pigs, hogs, swine: all of these are names for wild or domestic members of the scientific family Suidae. They are hoofed mammals with four toes on each foot. Humans have been raising pigs for more than 9,000 years. Domestic pigs are descended mainly from Eurasian wild boars, Sus scrofa.
What They Eat
Pigs are omnivores, eating plants and animals. Their snouts are well-suited to foraging for food scraps, roots, nuts and insects. Domestic pigs on farms eat feed rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. Pigs drink up to 8-10 gallons of water daily.
Where They Live
Domestic pigs live on every continent except Antarctica. Pigs do best in environments where they have ample shade, dirt, mud and water.
What They Do
Pigs spend a great deal of time digging with their snouts, or rooting – turning over soil to find roots, insects, and garbage to eat. Pigs wallow in mud. This protective coating of mud helps them cool down, avoid sunburn and deters some biting insects.
How They’re Doing
Several hundred pig breeds exist around the world today. Because they are valued for meat and other products, domestic pigs are thriving. However, some wild relatives, such as the Visayan Warty Pig, are critically endangered.
A herd of domestic pigs lives at the Minnesota Zoo’s Swine Barn. When the Wells Fargo Family Farm is open, visitors to the Swine Barn can watch sows nursing litters of newborn piglets and look for older weaned piglets enjoying their feed.
Meet the Animals
The Zoo’s herd consists of Kunekune pigs (pronounced “cooney cooney”). The Kunekune is a domestic breed from New Zealand; their name means “fat and round” in the Maori language. Their coats can be solid or a combination of colors, including black, brown, ginger, white and cream. This small but heavy-bodied pig is distinctive for the small tassels of hair hanging below their jaw. These are called pire pire, a unique physical trait of the breed. The pire pire vary in size from one pig to another. Adults may lose one or both pire pire during a scuffle with another pig or by simply stepping on it while grazing.
The Minnesota Zoo is also home to wild relatives of domestic pigs, the Red River Hogs on the Tropics Trail.
Care at the Wells Fargo Family Farm
Domestic pigs at the Minnesota Zoo live in the Swine Barn. One half of the building houses a farrowing crate. This is a warm, safe place for a sow to care for piglets. This modern device protects newborns from being crushed accidentally by their mother when she gets up to eat and drink. Heat lamps may be used on either side of the farrowing crate to keep piglets warm in cold weather.
Sows care for their piglets for 3-5 weeks, nursing them frequently. Although a piglet may only weigh 2.5 pounds at birth, it will generally double its weight by the time it is one week old.
After baby pigs stop nursing, these shoats are transferred to the other side of the Swine Barn. There, they continue to feed and gain weight. Runways leading from the Swine Barn allow pigs to go outside to exercise.
- All domestic pigs have curling tails. Their wild relatives (including wild boars, Red River Hogs, and Visayan Warty Pigs) have straight ones.
- During its 6,000-year history, China is believed to have produced more than 500 breeds of domestic pig. Nowadays, Chinese farmers raise about 50 breeds.
- Pig’s Eye is the original name of the city of St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota. Other pig-related city and town names in the United States include: Bacon, GA; Barrow, AK; and Frankfurt, IL.
- Pigs are highly intelligent and can be trained much like a domestic dog. Another indicator of pig intelligence is their wide range of play behaviors.
- Pigs communicate with a variety of grunts, squeaks and squeals, each with their own meaning.
- Pigs are easily house-trained and will not soil their own bedding when offered a choice.