Electric fencing works very effectively for pigs, IF you give them the right first impressions of it. Pigs see most fencing arrangements as an invitation to scratch, lean, and shove until the fence has been mangled beyond recognition and the pig goes where it wants.
The only fence pigs won’t lean on is an electric one, but electric fencing for pigs needs to be introduced carefully if you don’t want to either subject your pigs to a terrifying experience cowering away from it, or inadvertently teach them to charge through it.
Here are the steps we take to make sure that our pigs stay contentedly—and confidently—behind the electric fences we build for them.
The ABC’s of fence training
When our piglets first arrive, we house them in a completely pig proof pen so that they can settle in without fear of fences that bite, and we can sleep at night knowing they’ll still be there in the morning.
(This will continue to be their indoor shelter after they are released into their large outdoor area, which is fenced only with a double strand of electric fencing.)
After they’ve settled in and are coming confidently to be fed and enjoying being petted and scratched, it’s time for fence training.
First, we build a double strand electric fence that divides their pen in two so that the pigs can see it and touch it to find out that it bites, without any option of escaping if they end up on the wrong side of it.
In the image above, you can see the piglet training pen with electric fence installed inside it. The mesh panels at the front make an area similar in size to the walled area where the pigs are. The entire area is divided roughly in half by the electric tape.
Occasionally a pig that has not come across electric fencing before will touch it with some part of its body other than its nose and will go forward rather than backward, resulting in a frightened escapee with no intention of going back where it came from.
Having the mesh panels still in place during their initial electric fence introduction eliminates this problem. If a pig ends up on the wrong side of the electric fence, you can remove the strands, return the pig to the proper side of them, and put them up again.
Piglets learn fast. It takes very little time—a day or just a few hours—for them to understand that if the fence is across the enclosure it’s best to stay behind it.
Here is a series of images showing the pigs’ first experience with the electric fence inside their training pen.
In the image above, Pig #1 wants to know what this new white thing is. The yellow circle is to draw your attention to Pig #2, in the middle, who is watching out of one eye to see what happens (very hard to see if you are on a small screen – just take my word for it). Pig #3 is fast asleep.
In the image above, Pig #1 is now at the back of the pen, never to touch another electric fence. Pig #2 (still lying down) has probably got the message too. Pig #3 has just sat up and is wondering what happened.
In this image, Pig #1 is regaining confidence that the fence won’t come chasing after her. Pig #2 has gone back to sleep (probably with the lesson well-learned) and Pig #3 is still sitting in the same position, and still wondering what happened.
The next thing is to remove the electric fence and let them have the full enclosure again – so that they learn that it’s not the space where the fence was that bites, but the strands of tape.
This is helpful for if you are going to want to be moving your pigs’ outdoor pens around in future – much better than having your pigs baulk at an imaginary line where the fence used to be and refusing to cross it.
If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to teach the piglets to follow you around and be rewarded with tasty treats from a bucket.
The better they are at coming running when they see that bucket and following you for treats back and forth across the space where the tape was, the easier the next steps will be and the easier it will be to lure them back in if the unthinkable happens.
Finally, you and your piglets are ready for the great outdoors. Start this when they’re hungry.
Open their small pen and lead them a short distance into their outdoor area, with a bucket of their favourite food in hand. Don’t go far at first. Feed them a little, lead them back, and feed them a little more in their small, safe pen.
Go in and out like this, offering treats to keep them following you, and then start to wait a while between treats to allow them to drift away from you and explore their new space. As you lead them about, go near enough to the electric fence for them to see it as they begin their explorations.
Keep in mind that piglets can turn on a surprising burst of speed if they get scared or suddenly feel playful now that they are out in a larger area. Newly freed piglets are bound to do some crazy running (very fun to watch) and if they get scared you want them to be able to make a beeline for the place they consider safe–the pen they’ve been living in—without getting lost and confused on the way.
You also want them to have discovered the external electric fence ideally BEFORE they start running.
If you’ve followed these steps you should find that even pelting at full speed, they’ll skid to a stop as they approach the electric fence.
AND, if you’ve done a good job of building their confidence to come to you and follow you for food, you’ll have a way of getting them back if they do end up outside your electric fence.
For the first few days, we lock our piglets back in their safe small pen when we’re not going to be around to keep an eye on them, and at night.
Then when they are fully familiar with where the entire outside perimeter is, and they are behaving in a relaxed and confident way in the whole area, we leave the small pen open out into the big one so that they can come and go as they please.
(We probably would continue to lock them up at night until they were bigger if we were worried about large predators, but that isn’t an issue where we live.)
Prior and proper preparation prevents poor performance
There are simpler ways, with less steps involved, to teach pigs about electric fences. We’ve tried most of them and found that a large dose of luck is needed for things to work out right.
The steps I’ve just described rely on using lots of careful preparation, rather than relying on luck.
A mentor of ours in a former life liked to say that, “prior and proper preparation prevents poor performance”. It’s a saying that’s served us well every time we’ve remembered to apply it.
As well as preventing the poor final outcome of pigs that don’t respect or understand electric fencing, these steps will minimise the chances of your piglets being badly frightened at any time during the fence training process.
There’s something wrong with the picture of piglets cowering together in the middle of an electric fenced area, trying to find safety by hiding underneath one another.
You want the whole thing to be as stress-free as possible for them, as well as for you.
Always more to learn
This article concludes this Series for now – but as always, there is much more still to learn.
In particular we are still exploring ways to keep our pigs’ outdoor area clean and fresh for them since we decided to try keeping them in one place. (If you missed the bit about how we came to this decision, its covered in Part 1 of this Series.)
I’ll cover the topic of keeping a stationary pig pen from becoming a muddy, manure-filled moonscape in a future add-on article as soon as we’ve had time to try out our current ideas and have something worthwhile to share.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and please share your own pig-raising breakthroughs and challenges in the comments below.
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