Pigs need mud. They have a physiological and psychological need for it. They?re attracted to it like no other thing. It provides the most effective way for them to cool off and appears to offer a deep seated happiness that nothing else can deliver. In terms of modern pig farming, whether factory or otherwise, this is highly unfortunate because these systems of raising animals make no concessions on this vital aspect of pig welfare. No mud wallow is provided in pig pens. This is a huge deprivation that can only be appreciated if you see pigs given the opportunity to wallow and root in mud.
The benefit of a mud wallow is that:
- Allows pigs to cool down
- Provides an ideal material for rooting
- It controls lice and parasites naturally - no need for medication
- Keeps pigs skin in good condition
- It gives pigs an immeasurable sense of joy and contentment
The 'standard' natural pig farming system meets many of the needs of the pig. One core need is for the pig to keep cool through allowing it to regulate its body temperature as it is unable to release heat through sweating. Pigs cannot sweat. The natural pig farming system has an open sided sty design that allows the breeze and wind to provide cool air. The roof ensures pigs can lie in the shade away from direct sunlight. For many climates this may be sufficient but for tropical climates the weather is too hot and humid for this to be sufficient to keep the pigs throughout the year.
My natural pig farming system goes step further in ensuring that the pigs can keep cool. We provide a mud 'bath' in one corner or side of the pen. Kept wet with water this provides a splendid cooling wet water bath. Left dry, the natural coolness of the soil provides the cool that a pig seeks. A pig doesn?t want to lie in wet mud all day and night, so our natural pig farming practice is to add water during at certain times of the day when the weather is hottest, and then let it dry naturally. We apply the water with a watering can (we're very low tech) which enables the pigs to get a cool shower as we pour.
Apart from keeping the pigs cool, the great benefit of providing mud in the pen is that the pigs clearly appreciate it. They spend most of their time in the mud bath, roll around in the mud in ecstasy (my interpretation) when you add water to the mud (we add at least 2 times a day - morning and evening, and when the weather is very hot at mid-day). The mud bath also allows the pigs to carry out rooting behavior, a activity which they evidently enjoy more than rooting in the sty deep bed flooring. It's something they do frequently. When we top up with new soil the pig get immense satisfaction rooting amongst it, rolling around in it, and eating the more tasty parts of it (it's healthy for them to do this).
Incorporating a mud bath is an addition to the basic deep bed natural pig farming model. In my opinion, if you really want to give your pigs a healthy, contented life, it?s an important one. And if you live in a climate with hot summers it's a vital one.
You will notice that in a lot of the photographs I use on this website the pigs shown are covered in mud. This is not a sign of them living in squalor or neglect; rather, it's a badge that shows that the pigs are living a happy natural life doing what a pig enjoys doing; namely wallowing to its hearts content.
A note on size of mud baths: The larger the better. In hindsight I would increase the size of the ones we built in our sties as the pigs spend pretty much all their time in the wallow.
Today’s debate on improving the environment pigs live in center on the provision of manipulable materials. It boils down to adding straw to a pig’s pen (see deep floor bedding page). Whilst this is a welcome improvement in situations where pigs are being raised in the sterile concrete and slat floor pens of the sfactory farms let’s be very clear - it falls far short of what a pig really needs to fulfill its life as a pig.
A pig doesn’t really want the manipulable materials we want to offer it, it wants mud! Give a pig a heap of straw (in a deep bed pig sty) and it will arouse its curiosity for but a few minutes. Provide a mud bath for pigs and it’ll literally be in ecstasy for the initial minutes, and then contentedly happy for the rest of the day. It will live in that mud bath day in, day out.
The photograph below shows another sow on another occasion enjoying a wallow in mud beside a water container after being let out of her pen. Whatever their age and circumstance (and remember these pigs already had in-pen mud baths) the behavior is the same. Click whirl ... find mud, wallow, enjoy! It's such an ingrained hardwired behavior and it clearly a core dive in the pigs make-up.
The final photograph below shows some of my pigs in our 'backyard' sty which has mud bath corner (simply soil thrown on top of the deep bedding) enjoying the cooling effect of some new red soil I had added to the sty. They're happily rolling about and immersing themselves in the mud. It's a scene of sheer pig bliss.