Pigs Ate Chickens….ALIVE
If you’re looking for an answer to whether your pastured pigs can coexist peacefully with your free-ranging chickens, you’ve come to the right place! The answer to this question is not so easy. If you would have asked me last year, I would have said, “Pigs and chickens can absolutely live in harmony together! No problem!” Raising truly pastured pigs with free-ranging chickens, and each species going about its business happily ever after, is a definite possibility. I have successfully raised my Tamworth pigs by rotating them to new ground throughout the pasture, while my heritage chickens scavenged for their food in and around the pigs’ designated area. The pigs are kept within an area of the pasture by two wires of electric fence. The chickens go in and out of the pigs’ area by passing under or over the wires.
However, I recently discovered that there are tweaks in this natural system that can cause things to go very wrong. This was the first year I wanted to utilize my pigs’ tilling action on remote areas of my land, where access to the electric fence was not possible. I decided to create a mobile pig pen out of livestock gates. I formed a pentagon by connecting the ends of five gates together with dog kennel clasps. I used wire to attach hog and cattle panel to the inside of the gates, to keep the pigs from sticking their heads through the gates. I attached a chain to one side of the pentagon so that I could move the pig pen easily with the four-wheeler. The area within the pentagon pen was roughly 150 square feet–ample space for two pigs. I moved the pen every day to a new area, to get the pigs off their poop and to give them new areas to till and explore. Pigs are incredibly intelligent creatures who experience the world through their snouts, so they constantly require new space to keep them happy and healthy. This system worked great, until one fateful day.
I had been feeding my pigs hard-boiled eggs, fermented oats, occasional fish, and leftover plants and produce from my garden (broccoli, corn, peas, beans, and squash). They had more than enough to eat, and were growing incredibly fast. But pigs eat constantly, and there is no such thing as “enough food.” They always want more. Because of the tilling and feeding activity of the pigs, my free-ranging chickens had come over to their area to consume whatever the pigs missed. One side of the pig pen had cattle panel on it, instead of hog panel, so the openings between wires were large enough for the chickens to get through. I had seen a few of them enter and leave the pig pen for several weeks, and didn’t think anything of it. One afternoon when I was delivering eggs to the pigs, I found the pigs with feathers stuck to their faces and more feathers in two corners of the pen. Nothing else. Flies were everywhere. Flies only come after something has been killed.
Two chickens (one young rooster and one adult hen) had entered the pen, and the pigs had cornered them. They couldn’t escape. I’m glad I wasn’t around to watch the horror of my pigs eating two of my chickens alive.
I think there are a few reasons why this happened. The first reason has to do with space. When I first brought my piglets home, I had them in this mobile pen system for a few weeks. But then I moved them to a large area of the cattle’s pasture that I wanted renovated. These two little pigs went from 150 square feet of space inside a pen to 5,000 square feet surrounded by two wires of electric fence. After they had rooted up the pasture (about a month’s time), I moved them back into the 150 square foot mobile pen on new land. It’s possible that they were not entirely happy in a smaller space, after they had existed for so long on such a large piece of land. It’s as true in animals as it is in humans: space gives you the freedom to express yourself fully and remain happy. I would equate this scenario to a person going back to work a desk job for someone else, after being self-employed (where there are no boundaries, and creativity is limitless). When the pigs were on that 5,000 square foot piece of land, they would run around and play, had a large area to explore the earth, and had the choice to where they would sleep and wallow. Even though I moved the mobile pig pen to new ground every day (giving them new space, but not a lot of space), the pigs were still limited as to what they could do. They were unhappy living with less space, because their past experiences told them it was possible to live in more space.
Another reason has to do with what the pigs had eaten in the past. I prefer to feed my pigs what I can grow myself, as well as waste products from my ranch. This means that when I butcher chickens, the guts go to the pigs. When my husband catches fish, the remains of fish fillets, and sometimes whole fish, go to the pigs. These, in addition to the eggs my hens lay, are the pigs’ protein and mineral sources. The pigs have experienced consuming flesh. This could mean that they view the chickens as a source of food. But I’m not about to stop feeding my pigs this flesh, because it is what they would eat in the wild. It is a part of nature.
The combination of temptation and limited freedom created a bad situation for my pigs and chickens. The harmony of my chickens free-ranging with my pastured pigs was disrupted. Pigs are a lot like dogs. Put a dog inside a small room with a chicken and that dog will attack the chicken. There is too much temptation there. The dog’s natural instinct is to kill and eat chicken. A pig’s natural instinct is to eat anything it can get in it’s mouth. If I were to lose consciousness and fall to the ground when I’m with my pigs, I would give them five minutes before they began to eat me.
When I raise my pigs in a large area, and the chickens are able to come and go as they please (thus, not getting trapped), the pigs have ample freedom, and the temptation to eat chicken is not nearly as strong as when they are confined to a pen. My dog is the same way, in that she can happily co-exist with the free-ranging chickens when she is unrestricted.
So, it appears that Nature has taught me yet another life lesson through the experience of raising animals. Restriction increases disharmony. Space allows for Nature’s balance.