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Why Do Some Pigs Wear Nose Rings?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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
  • Self-soothe

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.
All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon250457 — On Feb 26, 2012

How do I know if my pig's ring has become infected? One pig is fine and has bounced back, but the other is still finding it painful and has froth on either sides of his mouth. Advice needed!

By anon136122 — On Dec 21, 2010

Regarding their "ultimate end:" the slaughter of livestock is done according to regulations which are intended to prevent the undue suffering of the animals. They feel as little pain as possible at their "ultimate end."

Regarding the "halfway on" comment; nowhere in this article, or any other I've ever read, nor according to any pig farmers I've spoken with, is there any reference to putting a nose ring halfway on. They are clipped on, as opposed to pierced. Just as a clip on human earring is not a piercing "halfway on."

By anon126475 — On Nov 12, 2010

Most of these pigs are raised for slaughter and I don't think it would hurt them any more than their ultimate end.

By FirstViolin — On Sep 27, 2010

It may seem cruel to put a ring on a pig, but isn't it worse to have them make their noses all bloody scraping on the floor, or fighting with each other?

I think that as long as the nose ring hoops are put on properly, and the farmer checks to make sure it's not hurting the pig, then there's no reason not to use them, I think.

By musicshaman — On Sep 27, 2010

I wonder if you could accomplish the same thing via another method -- I mean, surely there's a way to keep pigs from rooting other than using nose rings and hoops?

I don't know, I'm not a pig person, but that does seem somewhat counterproductive.

By StreamFinder — On Sep 27, 2010

Are the nose rigs they use on pigs the same kind of hoop nose rings used on studs (breeding bulls)? And if so, what's the point of not installing it all the way? I can certainly understand wanting to keep the pigs from rooting, but it does seem cruel to just put it on halfway -- anybody who's ever tried to put an earring or nose ring in and had it get stuck halfway can tell you, that does not feel good! And I'm sure that pig nose rings aren't the 1mm nose rings used for people.

Besides, if it's really that psychologically disturbing to the pig, then what's the point? It won't be good for eating because stressed animals produce poor meat, and it won't be good for anything else either because it's so unhappy.

Maybe I just don't get it, but that's how I feel.

By anon104142 — On Aug 15, 2010

I heard a farmer putting rings in a pig's nose yesterday and the sound was absolutely heartbreaking. The stress that the farmer caused that animal, it was barbaric! After reading the information on this website it has made me feel a little bit better! Thanks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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