Low Stress Pig Handling Lessons from Aunt Lottie and Einstein

April 17th, 2016

50+ years ago my Aunt Lottie gave me a plaque that said:

The hurrier I go the behinder I get

Nowhere is this more true than when we are moving pigs.

Pig handlers typically face long to-do lists and limited time. They look for ways to move pigs more quickly and with fewer disruptions. All too often the things handlers do to speed pigs up, in fact, slow pigs down.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

                                                                                                                                       Albert Einstein

A common thinking error is believing that getting pigs scared makes them move faster: trot instead of walk: run instead of trot.

We have to  look beyond the initial burst of scramble and activity scared pigs give us to see the fear and defensive responses that follow:

  • stop, back up, refuse to move…
  • turn back, circle back…
  • bunch, pile, wedge…

These defensive responses may not show up immediately. They often cost far more time than we can ever gain by having pigs trot instead of walk.


Change your thinking.

  • be content to let pigs move at their own pace and take measures to eliminate the stops

Instead of trying to make pigs move faster, figure out where and why pigs are stopping and make corrections so pigs keep moving instead of stopping.


We are going to compare two clips of a handler moving pigs out of nursery pens. I had to stand back out of the way so you’ll mostly see just the backs and ears of pigs in the alley.

Things to look for:

  • How is the handler using his board and shaker in the pen?
  • How much piling, scrambling, squealing… is happening in the pen?
  • Is pigs’ attention in the alley drawing them forward to follow other moving pigs or – drawing them back towards the pen and stopping them?
  • What is the nature of pigs’ herd behavior / movement in the alley?


Pen 1

Pen 2


In Pen 1 the handler used his tools minimally and quietly. Pigs stayed fairly calm in the pen. They woofed and high-tailed it once they hit the alley (attention forward).

In Pen 2 the handler was more aggressive with the shaker, pigs were more scared in the pen and more pigs stopped in the alley (attention back).

This comparison may not be definitive but it suggests that the handler will reduce stopping and get better movement in the alley if he works quietly and keeps pigs calm.


It isn’t always easy to see what is stopping pigs.

This handler was focused on getting an accurate pig count out of the pen. He couldn’t see how pigs were responding in the alley until he turned to follow them.

Our expectations can blind us from identifying the true cause of pig handling problems.

If we assume that pigs only stop because something in front is blocking them: if we fail to recognize that our actions behind pigs can stop their movement, we deny ourselves the opportunity to find true causes and meaningful solutions to many of our pig handling problems.

We can’t always identify what is stopping pigs by getting down on our hands and knees and looking forward.

What kind of thinking is creating your pig handling problems? How do you need to change your thinking in order to solve your particular pig moving problems?

That’s it for this time

Take care

Nancy Lidster