Sentient Animals: Pigs

This is one of a series of blog posts concerning animal sentience. Here is the first which includes an introduction:

The series includes true stories, information and accounts which show that animals are self aware sentient beings.

Each entry will focus on one aspect of animal sentience and or one particular animal.

This post focuses on the sentience of pigs. (The following was adapted from an article on my website)

Yorkshire pigs wallow in mud at the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Maryland.

“Many times I’ve looked into a pig’s eye and convinced myself that inside that brain is a sentient being, who is looking back at me observing him wondering what he’s thinking about.
Dick King-Smith, the author of The Sheep-Pig upon which the film Babe was based.*1

Pigs like all animals are sentient, truly aware, they posses many of the abilities and indications of sentience described here:
Sentience in Farm Animals      

Note: The link to the video included in the above webpage is no longer working. You can watch the video below, this is the full documentary and lasts 52:21 minutes.


Here’s how pigs compare with children

Smart Pigs vs Kids – Extraordinary Animals – Series 2 – Earth

“Published on Feb 19, 2014

Understanding a reflection in a mirror takes a child years to grasp, this piglet tested got it in a few hours! Who will fair best in a series of tests between children and pigs?”

Pigs, along with chimps, dolphins and elephants, are in the top five most intelligent animals, according to experts.

Fact. Pigs are more intelligent than either your cat or dog, they are placed as the fourth most intelligent creature on earth. Yet few people know very much about these much maligned and misunderstood animals.

Pigs are clever creatures with an intelligence way beyond that of a three year old human child. Pigs have good memories, they can recognise and remember up to thirty other pigs.

Did you know that pigs have a good sense of direction and are able to find their way over long distances? They can remember where food is hidden and by watching each other they learn where food is located. Scientists at the University of Bristol found that showing one pig where food was hidden could benefit others in the group; instead of looking for their own food the other pigs having noticed that their companion had located food would follow his lead.

Pigs can respond to their own given name within 7 days of birth.

Most amazingly you may be surprised to know that pigs can learn to play, and indeed excel at using joystick video oriented games. Researchers conducting a study of farm animal cognition hope to quantify the cognitive level of pigs by encouraging them to play video games. They use their snouts to operate the joy stick and have over an 80 percent rate of accuracy. Candice Croney a doctrinal student in animal science involved in the research says:

“The computer screen has a series of different icons, or shapes, on one side and a single shape on the other. First, we try to get the pig to move the single shape across the screen to touch the one that matches it. Once the pig accomplishes that, we move on to more complex tasks. Pigs are known to be smart animals, and we expect them to do more than recognize symbols. Our tests are similar to many used in child cognitive psychology. They’ll give us an idea of how advanced pigs are in mental development.”

Having pigs play video games may sound frivolous at first, but we have a very serious goal. We have to know what an animal’s needs–including any behavioural needs–are in order to meet those needs. We do know that pigs can be trained to turn the lights off and on in their housing facility, but what kind of lighting do they prefer? If we can better understand how pigs see the world, maybe we can learn how they think and feel. These experiments may help us start to get the information we need to make better decisions and judgments about how to care for animals.”
In a Pig’s Eye Fall 1997 – Penn State Agriculture Magazine

During similar research it was found that pigs can respond to verbal communications.

Indeed they are remarkable creatures, insightful, curious , fastidious, inquisitive, social, companionable, compassionate, intelligent and ingenious.

Capable of considerable ingenuity they can problem solve better than your dog. Research has discovered that Pigs also have what psychologists call a theory of mind, Theory of mind –  they seem to have an understanding of what is going on in the mind of other pigs and make decisions and act accordingly. This type of thinking is usually thought only to exist in man and apes. Pigs it seems are masters of deceit and, according to researchers at Bristol University, pigs deliberately mislead other pigs so as to gain more food.

Referring to studies concerning the intelligence and emotions of farm animals Mark Townsend environment correspondent for the Guardian writes this about pigs:

“Scientists claim such findings are increasingly challenging the belief that farmyard animals have no ‘sense of self’, a notion that could have profound implications for the way Britain’s creatures are farmed. Pigs were similarly found to have a cerebral capacity beyond the popular preconception of a farm animal. Researchers at Bristol University found that pigs are masters of deceit, deliberately misleading other pigs if it would result in more food for themselves.”
Sheep might be dumb … but they’re not stupid | UK news | The Observer.

Pigs are highly social animals, they sleep together huddled in nests and while they sleep they love to cuddle up close to one another nose to nose. Pigs also greet other pigs whom they know by rubbing noses much in the way we would shake hands. Pigs are highly co-operative in social groups and show affection by grooming each other. Very much like us, and indeed other animals, they establish social groups and are capable of evaluating the behaviour of other members of the group understanding which of their number are more aggressive and dominant.

In the wild sows form stable family units led by a matriarch with her children and female relatives. Pigs are excellent mothers with a deep affection for their piglets, the bond of a mother and her offspring is as strong as that of any human. In her natural habitat, before she gives birth the mother pig builds a large nest to protect her young, she is very careful about both the quality of the nest and its location, in some instances she may walk for three to six miles to find a suitable place to construct her nest, taking as long as six hours to do so. Here in this carefully selected secluded place she will give birth to her piglets and protect them after they are born for about two weeks, after which time the new family leave the nest and return to the rest of the herd, over the following twelve weeks the piglets are gradually weaned and begin to eat solid food.

Pigs are very vocal creatures and have a wide range of communicative calls consisting of grunts, squeaks, snarls and snorts. These are not random noises with no meaning as many people are apt to think, although incomprehensible to us these noises communicate a variety of emotional states, intentions, warnings and other messages important to pigs and what is central to thier way of life. For instance a lactating sow has a special call which summons her piglets to suckle, piglets keep in contact with each other and their mother by grunts and squeals. Pigs are affectionate creatures if you observe closely you will see pigs greet each other, gently touching snouts sometimes accompanied by soft grunts of friendliness or fondness but sometimes more amorous.

Many consider that individuality is the prerogative of the human animal. In reality this is yet another erroneous misconception and one which many people have about other animals, particularly farm animals. It may surprise you that pigs, like humans, are unique individuals. Pigs like ourselves come in a whole range of emotions and characteristics, some are playful while others are more serious, some may be timid while others are more bold, some pigs are more resilient than others while sadly just like us some are highly sensitive and suffer with depression.

Generally though pigs are highly sensitive and emotional animals. Many pigs confined in the cramped spaces of factory farms become seriously depressed, because they are intelligent creatures they are aware of their awful plight: the cramped space in pens where they can do nothing and can barely sit down nor turn round with nothing to occupy their intelligent active minds.

As highly sensitive creatures pigs experience both positive as well as negative emotions and like us they are capable of feeling both happiness and sadness.

“As happy as a pig in mud” is a saying often used to express how much fun someone is having. Pigs wallow in mud to keep cool and to protect them from sunburn but they also seem to enjoy the experience.

Like all animals pigs experience pleasure and are playful. It is piglets in particular who love to play, in ways very similar to those of human children, such as frolicking, chasing one another, running in circles, squeaking and grunting in sheer delight, pretend fights and general rough and tumbles and exploring their environment. Play is for piglets as it is for children an important part of their development. Pigs also like “toys” such as an old blanket or cardboard boxes. Pigs will however soon tire of the same toy very quickly.

Contrary to popular misconception pigs are clean animals they prefer bathing in fresh water rather than mud. Yes, pigs do wallow in mud as has already been mentioned above but this is done because pigs do not sweat, so in order to cool they take mud baths. In the wild pigs defecate away from their nests. The fact that pigs are forced to live in filthy conditions in their own excrement is amongst the many reasons pigs suffer with depression, along with confinement and lack of mental stimulation, when they are forced to live in factory farms and other conditions that deny them their natural inclinations. So when you hear any of the derogatory remarks often made, such as you are a filthy pig or this place looks like a pig sty, know that this is a misconception, for pigs are very clean animals. In fact pigs are so clean that they can be kept indoors like your cat or dog and make good companion animals.

Furthermore the reference to pigs as a metaphor for gluttonous behaviour is also way of the mark. In fact given the opportunity pigs are very picky eaters, they dislike monotony, preferring variety they soon set aside food if the same food is offered to them each time. The idea that pigs eat anything without even savouring the flavour as is eluded to in the common expression “giving pigs cherries” is a misconception. Actually unlike a dog, pigs do not gobble up their food, rather they nibble, sniffing carefully to ascertain if they would like to eat the food or not.

In the wild pigs spend a lot of time foraging for food, rooting for food with their highly sensitive snouts they are able to obtain a huge variety of foods including fruits, mushrooms, roots, snakes worms and even rodents. Again very much like ourselves a pigs body is composed of one to two thirds of water and therefore water is an essential part of their diet.

Pigs are compassionate. This is an aspect of farm animals few ever know about, this is because we are now so removed from them.

In the book the The Pig who sang to the moon by Jeffery Masson There is a delightful story told to him by Gene Bauston from Farm Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary in California, that tells a tale of friendship, compassion and emotional relationship between two pigs, Hope and Johnny. Hope had a seriously injured leg, for which sadly nothing could be done, and as a consequence her mobility was severely restricted. She had been rescued from a stock yard. Johnny and Hope formed a close bond.

“Able to scoot round on the barn on her three good legs, she could not walk. Johnny, who was much younger than Hope, bonded closely with her . At night he would always sleep right next to her, keeping her warm on cold nights. In the morning Bauston would bring Hope bowls of food and water, Johnny would stay with her to keep the other pigs from interfering with her or taking her food. During the day Johnny would spend most of his time hanging out in the barn with Hope. When Hope died of old age, Johnny was still a young and healthy pig. Maybe he knew about death. The death of his closest friend seemed to devastate him; he died suddenly and unexpectedly within a couple of weeks after Hope, perhaps of broken heart.”

It may surprise you to know that pigs are not only compassionate but they are very forgiving, and even badly abused pigs rescued by farm animal sanctuaries appear not to hold a grudge and as you will see in the story below, are gentle caring sensitive creatures despite their mistreatment.

Judy Woods, Director, Pigs Peace Sanctuary writes this about a very special pig.

“As I sit and write this I gaze out the window and see Libby the pig in the pasture. Her nose is deep in the earth in search of a tender root. She walks off snacking on bites of sweet clover and having a care free day. From the moment she wakes up she is off deciding how her day will be spent. On hot days she is either close to the pond or in the early morning she makes the long walk through the meadow to the cool and lush woods to spend the day.

If you came here and met Libby you might notice how calm and gentle she is; you might gaze into her eyes and see the look of a special friend. You might find that particular spot behind her eyes she loves to have scratched and then you might see her smile.

Read the rest of this moving story about a lovely gentle pig rescued from a pig farm
Libby’s Story: Judy Woods, Director, Pigs Peace Sanctuary

Pigs are very much like us in so many way, they even dream and see in colours

When you really get to know pigs you will be pleasantly astounded at what remarkable animals they are. It may very well surprise you that Pigs like music

There is yet another remarkable story of a very sensitive pig told in the preface of The Pig who Sang to the Moon, where Jeffrey Masson gives account of a remarkable pig who lived on a beach in New Zealand. Piglet as she was called was immaculate, well mannered, sensitive and intelligent friendly to everyone. Famous in her locality she was popular amongst school children who liked to sit at her side and give her tummy a rub. She enjoyed music, in particular the violin, especially on the beach at night when there was a full moon.

“One of her guardians took a picture quite recently of her making the sweetest sounds during a night of the full moon, as if she were actually singing to the moon. The picture of Piglet singing is photographic evidence of her special affinity for music, water, night and moon.

It is another reason to believe that many animals — pigs foremost among them — may have access to feelings that humans have not yet known. Perhaps if we listen carefully enough to the songs that Piglet and her cousins sing at night to the moon, we may yet learn about emotions that could bring us a new and utterly undreamt-of delight. “

The above book is an excellent account of farm animal emotion, it includes information and anecdotes about pigs and other farm animals which after reading you are left with no doubt that pigs and other farm animals are truly sentient beings.

Here is a delightful poem:

Big Earl and Me

When the trailer pulled up and they dropped the gate
I knew his arrival was more than fate
One look in his eyes and I could plainly tell
His life with us would go very well
A special bond there soon would be
Between this pig, Big Earl, and me

He came as a companion for the big pig, Babe
But she don’t care for this big white knave
She chases him and runs him ragged
And bites his butt ’till his nerves are jagged
He’s a gentle old man as all can see
We’re the best of friends, Big Earl and me

He’s long and tall and very sweet
He’s a lot of things, but not petite
He’s as laid back as a pig can be
Like me he’s clumsy as can be
Can’t neither of us climb a tree
We’re two of a kind, Big Earl and me
To read the rest of this poem please click:

Big Earl and Me: Richard Holye.
I hope you will agree that pigs are amazingly complex animals capable of a whole range of emotions, they are gentle intelligent creatures who deserve to live out their lives according to thier natures, in peace and in freedom from fear and pain.

References and Links :

Satya Oct 04: The Edgar Alan Pig Story by Pam Ahern.

1.Quoted in The pig who sang to the Moon by Jeffery Massom

Related Links

Pigs are Intelligent, Emotional, and Cognitively Complex


Photograph. Yorkshire pigs at animal sanctuary




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