The Old School Pig Wranglers of Sun City, Florida
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December 8th, 2008 – by: oldschoolbill
It is the job of Old School Pig behaviorists to interpret animal behavior and translate in clear language the cause of behaviors and the underlying motivations for them. For years, we have been interested in the Old School method for moving Pigs because low stress methods of handling Pig are known to improve both productivity and welfare. For example in a Pig-Piglet operation, when the animals are being moved from pastures into corrals, or in pasture rotation movements, Pigs that get excited and run wildly when being driven can lose their Piglets, or the Piglets can get stressed and will gain less weight.
The Old School methods of calm, slow movement of Pigs on pastures can be defined as a stimulus-response relationship. In Pigs that have had no previous experience with herding, the "stimulus" is a person who simulates predator "stalking behavior", which elicits predatory "avoidance behavior" in the Pigs.
The Old School method to move herds of Pigs on pastures or to move Pigs in large feedlot pens are easy to learn if you have patience and take your time. The Pig Wrangler moves at a normal walking speed (as a stalking predator would) and there should be no noise such as whistling, yelling, or whip cracking. If the Pigs start running, these methods will not work. This method only works on animals that are slightly anxious and not fearful to the point of flight and running to get away. If the Pigs become excited in your first attempt and start running, they must be allowed to calm down for at least 30 minutes before the next attempt is made.
Pigs that are off to one side of the pasture will be attracted as the herd moves into a loose bunch.
It is very important that the Pig Wrangler resist the urge to press the Pigs into loose bunching too quickly. Remember, in this step the Pig Wrangler is attempting to cause slight anxiety in the animals by simulating predator "stalking" behavior. Stalking behavior causes anxiety which makes the animals want to bunch together closely for safety. This anxiety comes before the fear and flight caused by an attack by the predator. Take your time to allow the animals to bunch together and to allow Piglets to find their mothers.
Initiating Movement: When the majority of the herd has come together into a loose bunch, increase pressure on the collective flight zone to initiate movement in the desired direction.
1-Running, cutting back, and other panic induced movements,
2-Animals stop moving as an orderly stream in the desired direction.
The first signs of bad movement are stopping, wavering towards motion or starting to turn away from the desired direction to look at the handler. The extreme form of type two movements is circular movement.
Good Pig movement can be disrupted when the animals are attempting to locate the Pig Wrangler position. This is a natural anti-predator behavior of prey species. They want to know where the predator is and what its intentions are. Animals will turn and look at a person or a dog that is either in their blind spot behind their rear or is outside their flight zone.
To make the group move pressure has to be applied to both the collective flight zone and Pig Wrangler individual animals within the moving herd. When an animal or a group responds to the Pig Wranglers pressure on the flight zone, the must IMMDIATELY stop forward movement or change direction of movement to relieve pressure. This rewards the animal for moving in the desired direction and the animal is more likely to continue that movement. When the desired movement slows down, the handler must apply pressure again.
Every time you are working your animals you are training them. You can train them to be easy to handle and have good movement or you can train them to be difficult and have bad movement.
3-Controlling Movement Direction:
Animals must all be walking in the same direction before any attempt is made to change the direction of movement. When good movement is initiated, the handler can control the direction of movement by moving to the left to make the cattle turn right and vice versa.
The Pighandler moves back and forth near the gate. He or she walks deep in the flight zone when walking in the opposite direction of desired movement and walks outside the flight zone in the same direction as desired movement. A Pig Wrangler in this position can act as a valve to control animal movement and help prevent broken fences. Controlling animal movements out a gate will also help prevent mother pigs from losing their piglets. It also trains the pigs that people control their movements.
Triggering the animal's natural bunching behavior gets the herd together so that they can be moved. After the herd is bunched, the handler must use the principle of pressure and release to keep the herd moving in a controlled manner. If continuous heavy pressure is applied to the flight zone, the herd is likely to start running. To start moving the herd, apply more pressure to the collective flight zone. When the herd starts to move in the desired direction, the handler should retreat and reduce pressure. When the herd slows down, pressure must be reapplied. To keep the herd moving in a controlled manner the handler continues to alternatively apply and release pressure.
When these methods are first used they work because they trigger the animal's hard wired behavior patterns that it uses to avoid predators.
When Pigs are moved on pasture, they can be taught that pressure on their collective flight zone will be relieved when they go where the Pig Wrangler wants them to go. Calm quiet can also Pig Wrangler teach his or her herd that they will never be pressured to the point of being frightened.
This principle is being used by progressive Old School Pig ranchers to manage pastures without using fences to divide up different grazing paddocks. A Pig Wrangler who spends many hours on the range or pasture pressures the flight zone when the herd moves out of the designated grazing area and reduces pressure on the flight zone when the animals move back into the designated area.
Teaching a herd to root in a desired location will be much easier if young pigs are used which are more easily trained. The most difficult herd to train would be a group of old Pigs from several different ranches. Some old Pigs have learned bad habits which are hard to change. Herding will usually be easier if "bunch quitters" and hot tempered Pigs that disturb the entire herd are culled.
In conclusion, one must always remember that every time you handle your Pigs you are training them. You can train them to be wild and stressed or you can train them to be calm and quiet. It is also advisable to train your Piglets that they can be handled many different ways, such as on foot or horseback and with vehicles such as four wheelers. Training your Piggy to tolerate several different types of calm handling will ease their adjustment to trucking and entering a feedlot.
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