Pigs are masters at rooting! Even small piglets will use their noses to start turning over a section of soil or ruffling through the bedding in their pen. What are pigs trying to find and why do the keeping doing it?
Pigs are rooting to find minerals or food, like bugs and roots, in the soil or to change or make a wallow or nesting area. Pigs root in their pens to find spilled feed, rearrange their bedding and to exercise.
What’s The Best Thing To Feed Pigs? is an article I wrote to go over the pros and cons of popular pig feeding options so you can choose the best pig food for your situation, while keeping your pigs healthy.
Pigs are rooting to get the minerals in the dirt
Pigs love to root in the dirt, looking around for hidden treasures underneath the surface of the soil.
Here is an abstract of an article going over the trace mineral status of pigs in Spain.
This study compares pigs raised outdoors with pigs raised indoors and lists that higher mineral amounts in the outdoor raised pigs is likely due to the ingestion of soil while rooting.
The specific results of this study showed higher levels of iron and nickel in outdoor pigs, but also higher levels of arsenic, mercury and lead! The study was specifically looking for toxicity levels depending upon pig management.
Of course, the pigs can only ingest minerals that are already in the soil! This is telling us that we should only let the pigs root in areas that have good soil!
Pigs eat bugs that are living in the soil
We tend to forget about (or ignore) all of the life in the soil, especially all of the bug larvae, which are called grubs or maggots.
Pigs instinctively know that these little protein snacks are under the surface somewhere, it just takes some looking to find them!
Here’s an article on grubs in lawns, specifically Japanese Beetles. These grubs (which are bug larvae) are just what your porkers are looking for when they start rooting through the soil.
Pigs are looking for roots to eat
The final food item that pigs are rooting for is roots. While that sounds a bit confusing, when you think about it we eat a lot of roots, too.
The first roots that come to mind are vegetables like carrots and beets, but there are foraging type roots growing in yards and pastures all over the country that are waiting to be used and available most of the growing season.
For instance, dandelion is an edible plant, the whole plant, roots and all. We tend to think of the bloom, then of the leaves for eating, but really the whole thing is food. Funny that we had to read this but pigs just know!
10 Wild Edibles in Ohio is an article for people in my state looking to expand their eating options. People and pigs are pretty similar, as far as digestion goes, so it will give you an idea of what type of things your pigs are looking for.
If you are curious about edible wild plants in your area, just search “wild edibles your area/state” and see what comes up for you. There are also multiple YouTube channels that cover this type of information, as well.
Pigs root for fun and exercise
Pigs like to stay busy during the day. It’s normal for a pig to have something to do, a little at a time, all day. This is what pigs do in nature to get enough calories to live.
Domestic pigs have life easy, as far as finding enough to eat, but sometimes we forget that searching for food by rooting would also provide exercise and engagement for the pigs, as well.
The need to do something is built into all pigs. They want to stay busy and have an outlet for their energy. Pigs that can’t root, or other wise burn off some energy, live stressful lives.
Here’s an article talking about environmental enrichment and behavior for finishing pigs, meaning giving the pigs something to do for fun. This abstract notes that giving pigs more things to investigate in their pen keeps them busy.
The reason you need to keep pigs busy is they are made to be rooting all day looking for food. Once you keep them on a farm, the pigs no longer need to work for the food but they still have all of the energy to use.
If pigs do not have a way to root around to interact with their environment and burn energy, they get stressed.
Stressed pigs exhibit behaviors like tail biting
Pigs being stressed because they are not in a suitable environment is why pushy or aggressive behaviors toward other pigs, or even people, start. I’m referring to things like tail biting and chewing on the bars of the pen.
Pigs that are bored or stressed are the ones tail biting. Happy pigs with plenty of room to roam and ways to naturally use their rooting abilities don’t take out their stress on their pen mates.
Don’t get me wrong, any animals when put together will establish a “pecking order” of sorts, meaning someone got pushed around at sometime. But…overall, happy pigs do not hurt each other.
Pigs root to rearrange their pen
Pigs are one of the few domestic animals that will rearrange their everyday living area to suit their needs.
Pigs will move bedding around to make a comfy nest for sleeping or move the bedding completely out of an area to dig down and make a wallow.
Even feeder pigs, pigs that are being raised for meat, just “know” how to move things around by rooting to get a nest or a nice cool place to sleep on a hot day.
Sows (mom pigs) that are soon to give birth will move a huge amount of bedding or other nesting material, in order to make a good place to have and care for the newborn piglets.
Some of the material moving involves carrying in her mouth, some of it involves rooting around once the material is close to the place the sow needs to use it.
Without the ability to root, pigs can not take care of themselves or their babies.
Some of the rooting may seem destructive to us, but to the pig it always has a purpose. Rooting is an integral, stress relieving activity that’s a mandatory activity for pigs of all ages to engage in to live happy, low stress lives.