Some farmers install nose rings on their pigs to inhibit a behavior known as rooting. When pigs root, they use their noses to burrow into the ground, turning it over to expose material of interest. While rooting is an entirely natural behavior, it can be very destructive, and pig rings are used to reduce the overall damage which can be caused by pigs. Not all farmers use pig rings, and there is some debate over their use.
Unlike cattle rings, which are inserted through a piercing made by a veterinarian, pig nose rings are usually simply clipped on. The ring makes it hard to root, because it gets in the way of the nose and causes pain if the pig persists in rubbing its nose in the soil. Eventually, the clip on ring may slide off, requiring replacement, and some farmers clip multiple rings onto the pig's nose to reduce the need to handle the pig for ring replacements.
When pigs are kept entirely indoors, the rings can be critical for protecting the health of the pigs, because they will become stressed and engage in rooting behavior, even if their pens are made entirely from concrete and other hard materials. A pig may scratch its nose up in the process of trying to engage in a natural behavior, raising the risk of potential infections in the pig. Nose rings can also reduce fighting among indoor pigs.
For pigs that are kept outdoors, rings prevent damage to pastures where the pigs range. Pigs are curious animals, and they tend to tear up confined pastures to express their boredom, and to look for items of nutritional value or interest. Using larger pastures and rotating pigs can reduce rooting damage, but nose rings may also become necessary. In areas where pigs are allowed to roam on public lands, a tradition known as pannage, rings may be required for loose pigs so that the animals do not damage common areas.
Some people argue that nose rings are inhumane, because they cause pain and suffering to the pigs. Inhibiting a natural behavior can create psychological problems, especially in pigs which are kept in close quarters, and the use of rings also prevents pigs from supplementing their diet with nutrition they find in the earth, which can be a major problem if pigs are not fed a balanced diet. Other people argue that the devices are sometimes a necessary part of pig husbandry, and that when installed competently, they should not cause undue distress.
How To Put a Nose Ring in a Pig Safely and Effectively
Here are a few suggestions for ringing a pig’s nose to keep the pig and you safe from harm. Remember that the main point of the ring is to make it uncomfortable when the pig tries to root; it should not be painful at all times.
- First, you should get the correct size ring for the pig’s nose. A piglet will need a smaller ring, which will need to be regularly upgraded as the pig grows. Leaving a small ring in a growing pig’s nose for too long can require it to be cut out; obviously a painful procedure you want to avoid. A hog will need a larger ring that fits correctly in its snout.
- There are special ringing pliers available which are made specifically for installing a ring in a pig’s nose. Ideally, you will be able to purchase pliers that are made by the same manufacturer as the nose ring. This will ensure that the ring fits securely within the grooves of the pliers so that the ring can be inserted with minimal effort and stress.
- You should aim for the very front of the septum on the pig’s snout. This area is the soft tissue between the cartilage and the outer tissue, the part that separates the two nostrils. The cartilage part of the septum begins close by, so make sure you place the ring at the very front of the snout so that you don’t cut into the cartilage.
- The pliers should have a screw you can set to prevent squeezing too hard. Get a feel for it by practicing with the ring and pliers to adjust the screw where it needs to be so it won’t be too tight. The objective is to squeeze the pliers just enough for the two ends of the ring to meet. Be mindful to avoid pushing the ends of the ring through the septum. You will need to clamp the ring together quickly and with some force. Otherwise, the pig could shake it off right away. You could also injure the pig if you keep holding onto the ring after it is installed.
- You will notice that the wire of the ring bends into a vertical tip in the middle of the ring. Make sure you install the ring with this tip pointing upward.
- To install the ring accurately, you will probably need to restrain the pig for its own safety and yours. Since the pig will try to jerk its head away, a hog catch can be the best form of restraint. A hog catch is basically a looped wire on a pole that restrains the pig by its upper jaw.
Alternatives To Using a Pig Nose Ring
Rooting is a natural behavior for pigs. They do it for various reasons, so you may decide that a nose ring is not the best option for a healthy, happy pig.
A pig will root as a way to:
- Search for something in the ground that interests it, such as food
- Cool its body temperature
- Communicate with other pigs
- Combat boredom
The reason for the constant nudging and digging that pigs do with their snout, known as rooting, can sometimes be unknown. A nose ring may cause the pig distress by inhibiting this natural behavior, so you could discover that one or even multiple alternatives could work much better. Many farmers will tell you that rooting is not always destructive; instead of destroying land, it can sometimes help with its development.
If you want to avoid a nose ring altogether, a few options exist that you can utilize separately or in conjunction with one another.
- Provide toys that stimulate the mind and satisfy the pig’s instinct to root. Farmers suggest puzzle blocks, large and small balls, and other toys that the pig can relatively easily nudge and inspect.
- Bury treats, food and toys for your pig to find. Provide a dedicated area for your pig to forge and root to its heart’s content. A sandbox can also work great if you don’t have the land to spare.
- Move the pig regularly to different areas to avoid the boredom that comes with immobility.
- Fill its pen with a thick bed of hay and straw and, like the sandbox idea, bury treats inside it, such as root vegetables. You can also hang treats that it can grab from posts and make toys that will preoccupy the pig; they compel the pig to work for the treat.