Why Do Pigs Eat Their Babies?

Pigs are a popular type of livestock and they are reared primarily because of their source of meat. Nonetheless, other people rear pigs for skin supply and fat.

Why do pigs eat their babies

Regardless, raising pigs is not easy as they have several challenges. One of the main challenges is pigs or sows eating their babies.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why sows or gilts eat their babies. Here are some of the reasons.

9 Reasons Why Pigs Eat Their Babies

1. Hormone Change Before Giving Birth

Pig savaging or cannibalism is usually caused by a change in hormones before parturition. This condition usually occurs in most mammals that are giving birth for the first time. So, it is more common with gilts when it comes to pigs.

When the pig reaches 115 days after mating, these hormones are activated. They occur because the piglet activates its pituitary and adrenal glands to form corticosteroids. Afterward, the hormones produced are then transferred through the bloodstream to the placenta.

Later, the placenta produces prostaglandins, which are circulated to the sow’s ovary. All of these hormones play a role in the behavior of the pig before and after farrowing.

So, if you sow or gilt starts eating its piglets after birth, the reason may be the hormonal changes that took place even before parturition.

2. Certain Pig Breeds That Eat Their Babies

Even though pigs that eat their babies are normally gilts, this does not apply to all pig breeds. That’s why it’s essential to find out if your pig’s breed loves eating its piglets or not.

The pig breeds that are popular for eating their babies are domesticated pigs like pure-bred white gilts.

Besides, cases are also common in new gilt herds where many pregnant pigs have been reared in extensive straw yards. Its rear to find a wild pig that eats its babies.

Since most domestic pig breeds eat their babies, scientists have linked this to the stress and confinement these pigs undergo while being watched over by humans.

3. To Remove A Sick Or Dying Piglet

Pigs have proven to be more intelligent than most domesticated animals. The pig’s ability to solve problems is properly documented and shows how smart pigs are. Besides, they are more trainable than even cats and dogs. That’s one of the reasons why they eat their sick or dying piglets.

Yes, pigs can eat their sick or dying piglets, not because they want to but to protect the other piglets. If a piglet is suffering from a contagious disease that may spread to the other piglets, the mother may eat it to prevent the spread.

4. To Protect The Other Piglets

Another reason why sows eat their young ones after farrowing is to protect the piglets. Apart from falling sick, a piglet may die because of being stepped on or from an accident.

So, to prevent the pig from rotting and its carcasses attracting predators, the sow eats the dead piglet. As a result, the other piglets will stay safe but the sow will have to do the unthinkable.

For this reason, it’s very important to always check on your piglets to ensure that the sow doesn’t eat its babies in case of an accident like this one. If not controlled, the sow may develop an appetite for piglets which may push it to eat more piglets.

5. Harsh Environment

Aside from hormonal changes before birth, protection, and sickness, pigs can also eat their piglets because of the harsh environment that they are in. Therefore, you need to ensure that the pig is well fed, cared for, and stays in a conducive environment to give birth.

Most farmers separate pigs and place them in an area that they are not used to. If the area is conducive, then it is unlikely for the pig to eat its babies as it won’t be stressed. This also brings us to the next reason that causes pigs to eat their piglets, which is stress.

6. Excessively Stressed Sow

When a pig develops a lot of stress during or after pregnancy, it can resort to eating its babies to reduce stress. Stress in pigs can be caused by various things such as the environment, metabolic, immunological, and biological.

Reasons why pigs eat their babies

Biological stress is normal in gilts as it’s their first time giving birth. If the stress is excessive and they cannot handle it, they may resort to eating their babies.

Besides, social stress such as regrouping the animals at the wrong time can push the pig to do the unthinkable and eat its babies as well.

So, ensure that the gilts and sows are stress by environmental, metabolic, and immunological factors. However, you cannot prevent stress that comes because of the first farrowing of gilts. Also, don’t change them in a new farrowing environment as this could cause even more stress.

7. Nutritional Deficiencies

Pigs require a sufficient supply of food and water. Nonetheless, you should ensure that the foods you feed your pig are rich in vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Besides, most of these nutrients are present in common commercial pig food. However, you may have to add some supplements to ensure that your pig doesn’t lack any nutrients.

More so, if your pig is pregnant, you should ensure that it does not suffer from any deficiency, as this may push it to eat its piglets to compensate for the lacking nutrients. For instance, if the sow lacks iodine, it may produce hairless piglets that are also weak. These may not survive and the piglet may want to save other piglets by eating them.

8. Effects Of Being Placed In Individual Confinement For The First Time

Another main reason sows eat their babies is that they don’t like the individual confinement they are transferred to after farrowing. Because of the stress and pressure that they feel, such sows end up eating their piglets.

Therefore, if you notice that your farrowed sow is greatly disturbed because of the new confinement, change it immediately, or you may regret it later.

What’s more, since farrowed sows are hungry, the piglets should be separated for some time as they may be turned into food. This applies mostly to the first piglets. But after giving birth, the piglets can be returned to their mother after about 20 minutes.

9. Clumsy Sow

Some pigs eat their babies because they are clumsy. There is a high chance that a clumsy saw will accidentally step on its newborn and kill it. If such cases happen, the pig is more likely to eat the dead or sick piglet.

However, this is not common, but a clumsy farrowing sow shouldn’t be left with piglets a few hours after parturition.

Bottom Line

If you have been wondering why some pigs eat their babies, now you know. The main reasons are due to hormonal change before giving birth, excessive stress, protect their piglets, get rid of the sick piglets, nutritional deficiencies, harsh environment, and effects of being put in individual confinement for the first time.

Identifying why your pig, sow, or gilt is eating its babies is very important to tame it. This will also help you to prevent it from eating more piglets and reducing your piggy population.

So, if you’re not able to tell why your pig is eating its babies, get in touch with a professional veterinarian to help you find out.