Christine Pelland from South West Ontario Veterinary Services, Are You Reading Your Pigs?


Reading human body posture is a big part of understanding body language. Parents can spot the differences in their children’s posture that can indicate whether they are interested or bored. During the Covid 19 lock down this can be a very useful skill. Likewise, as adults, reading body posture can help us to “read between the lines” to better understand what others are really thinking even if they are not saying it.

These German pig behaviour researchers wanted to better understand the links between growing pig body posture and the pig’s environment. The researchers analysed tail and ear postures of growing pigs in two different housing systems throughout the growing period. On one farm, 168 undocked pigs (84: barren housing, 84: enriched housing) were observed individually at three time periods: beginning, middle and end of the growing period. By scan sampling, the tail (curled-up, raised, hanging, tucked under, wagging) and ear posture (forwards, sidewards, backwards, mixed) was noted. Moreover, the body posture (standing, feeding, lying (eyes open), lying (eyes closed) and tail lesions were noted.

The researchers found the following:

  • Significantly more curled-up tails and ears directed forwards occurred in the enriched environment
  • Significantly more tucked under tails occurred in the barren habitat.
  • The time period of observation ( beginning, middle and end of growing period) also had significant influences on postures.
  • Tail lesions had significant effects on most tail postures.
  • Most ear postures were influenced by the body posture of the pigs.

Take Home Messages:

  • This research confirms previous studies that showed that when pigs are in a more barren environment they are more likely to keep their tails tucked out of harm’s way such that the tail is less likely to be targeted as something worthy of investigation by a bored pen mate.
  • Always read your pigs! They can tell you a lot if you know what to look for.

Ref: Czycholl I, Hauschild E, Büttner K, Krugmann K, Burfeind O, Krieter J. Tail and ear postures of growing pigs in two different housing conditions.  Behav Processes. 2020 May 13;176:104138. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2020.104138. [Epub ahead of print]