Pigs are members of the order Artiodactyla, the grouping of ungulates that have even-toes. The family to which they belong is Suidae, which has 10 species including bearded pigs, warty pigs, the wild boar and the domestic pig. Wild Pigs can be found from Asia to Europe and Africa while domestic breeds are worldwide.
Unlike the majority of the order, pigs have four toes on each foot, only walking on the middle two digits. They also are outliers for their simple stomachs as most other animals found in this group have a complex ruminant stomach. This allows a pig to consume foods that would render most other even-toed ungulates unhappy.
These animals are thought to be the dirtiest creatures, filling their mouths with whatever leftover scraps the farmer has to offer. But what if you were told that pigs are among the pickiest of mammals, even refusing food that might otherwise look appealing to us? Does this only pertain to those found as pets?
Pigs have become so widespread that you can find individuals in the wild, as livestock on farms, and as pets. So what exactly do pigs eat? Do they share the same nutritional requirements regardless of their lifestyle?
What do pigs eat?
Pigs belonging to the family Suidae are referred to as omnivores, an animal that can eat both plants and other animals. Regardless of if they live on the farm or are out in the thrushes of Africa, pigs consume mostly fruits, flowers, leaves, roots and fish. They are avid foragers, using their snout to rummage through different foods found on the ground until they can find something desirable.
Although 10 species does not sound like a lot, there are big differences when it comes to the diet of a wild boar compared to that of a domestic pig. Also important to take into consideration is how they find their food and digest it as they are separate from other members in Artiodactyla. How does this low-lying animal survive in the wild when a farmer isn’t providing unlimited mash?
What Do Wild Pigs Eat?
The diet of wild pigs are limited to available resources. Depending on the species and distribution, their meal choice might differ. In order to understand what the majority of pigs will eat in the wild, you must learn about the preferences of the three most common wild pigs. In other words, know the separate species meal plans to grasp what wild pigs eat as a whole.
The Bearded pig (Sus barbatus) is found in the tropical rainforests of Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, and Borneo. They also have been known to roam around a few of the smaller islands surrounding these areas.
As the name suggests, the prominent beard is a key identification of this species., which is sported more by the males. They were listed as a vulnerable species in 2008 by the IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature. This is largely due to habitat destruction, taking away a vast majority of their primary foods.
Wild Bearded pigs spend the majority of their days looking for food on the forest floor. These tropical rainforests give the pigs their main food source, fallen fruit.
In fact, these animals will follow gibbons and other primates in hopes of having the fruit dropped. Interestingly, this is actually quite a successful tactic. In addition to fruit, Bearded pigs forage on roots, shoots and insects. They have even been known to prey upon carrion, which is a dead animal’s carcass.
With both fruits and insects incorporated into their diet, these wild pigs are considered omnivores.
The Warty pig (Sus cibifrons) is known by many names, all from the native people of the cultures interacting with these animals. In Hiligaynon, they are known as a “forest pig” while those in Cebuano refer to the warty pig as the “dark pig”.
Regardless of their debated common name, this species is named for the three pairs of fleshy warts found on its face. Scientists have not been able to determine why exactly they have these warts. One theory is that they keep their face defended from tusks in a pig fight.
Unfortunately, 95 percent of their natural habitat has been lost and turned into crops, making them critically endangered. This leads to a shortage of food in their natural habitats.
The Warty pig is endemic to two of the small Visayan Islands in the Central Philippines. This means that you cannot find them anywhere else in the wild.
With so much of their habitat lost, they feed mainly off of roots, tubers, and fruits in the forests. Being another omnivorous pig species, they will also find small earthworms to satiate their diet. The Warty pig has adapted to human encroachment, taking the chance to feed off of cultivated cereal and vegetable crops that once belonged to the wild animals.
When one imagines a Wild boar, they picture a tusked animal in the safari. That picture is not far off. The Wild boar (Sus scrofa) is native to Europe, Asia and northwest Africa.
Unlike the Bearded pig and the Warty pig, this species is widely distributed with an estimated 25 subspecies.
This animal is actually the ancestor of the domestic pig, bearing similar morphological features.
The Wild Boar has a stocky build with somewhat thin legs. They also sport two tusk-like canine teeth that poke out of the mouths found in the adult males. Scientists have recorded that these athletic swine need around 4,000 to 4,500 calories of food per day, which is supplied in abundance.
The diet of a Wild boar is the most versatile of any pigs found in the world. They have such a large diversity of meal options that biologists have separated them into four categories. There are the foods that can be dug up at any time of the year such as rhizomes, roots, tubers, and bulbs.
More seasonal foods include nuts, berries, and seeds. Then there are those that require a bit of rummaging such as leaves, bark, twigs and possibly even garbage if surrounded by humans.
Lastly, are the meatier items. Compared to other pig found in the wild, this species consumes the most animal-based foods. These include earthworms, insects, fish, rodents, insects, bird eggs, lizards, snakes, frogs, and carrion. The Wild boar is not a shy eater, finding and taking what they want.
How Do Pigs Find Food in the Wild?
We all know have seen a cartoon of a pig using its flat snout to forage for truffles. But how exactly do pigs find food in the wild? Do they have a sense of smell that would rival a bloodhound?
The answer is actually that they do. When looking at the anatomy of a pig, it is clear to see that their snout is much bigger than their eyes. These animals don’t rely on their eyesight to find food, as it is rather poor. Instead, they find food with their noses.
Have you ever noticed how hard a pig’s nose is? Well, it turns out that the tip of their snout has a disk of cartilage, making it quite leathery to the touch. Unlike other animals, pigs have very sensitive noses. They will do what is referred to as “rooting”, where they literally dig their snout into the soil in order to find food. When the majority of your diet is located under the forested top layer of dirt, using a nose as a metal detector is the best maneuver.
The Digestive System of a Pig
Most members of the order Artiodactyla (sheep, cows, deer, giraffes, antelope, etcetera) have complex stomachs with either three or four chambers. The pig, however, is one member of this order that does not share this trait.
Pigs have what is called a “monogastric” digestive system. Breaking down the root words, “mono” means “one” and “gastric” is “stomach”. In short, pigs have one stomach that is broken down into four separate compartments such as the small intestine, large intestine, esophagus, and stomach.
In fact, this is the exact same digestive tract that humans have. With this feature, pigs are able to eat a myriad of foods less frequently as it is properly absorbed into the body. This is different from a zebra, for example, which requires constant grazing, as the food it eats is not absorbed as quickly or efficiently.
How Much Do they Eat Per Day?
Understanding just how much food a pig in the wild will eat in one day is a good way to negate any myths.
“Eating like a pig” is a commonly believed fallacy that these animals will eat their weight in food. This is not true. Scientists have been able to determine that they will only consume a mere 3 to 5 percent of their total body weight per day. They will feed on various foods without ever gorging themselves.
In terms of what a wild pig will eat in a day can vary depending on species. Biologists have observed species all over the world to find a typical feral hog diet. The findings revealed that plants make up 88 percent of the daily intake.
The next largest consumption will actually involve other animals at around 10 percent.
Fungi and algae make up a mere 3 percent. Lastly, scientists found items such as debris, garbage, rocks and sand averaging at about 1 percent of the daily diet.
Just remember that this all makes up a small 3 to 5 percent of the total body. Wild pigs generally weight anywhere from 130 to 220 pounds depending on the species and gender, so 5 percent would be about 11 pounds of food per day at most.
What Do Pigs Eat on the Farm?
Pigs grown and bred on a farm have it easier than their wild counterparts. It is the responsibility of a farmer to know which foods will keep a pig healthy.
Although most of these livestock animals are sold as meat, meeting the necessary dietary requirements is key. The majority of farmers raising pigs will give them corn or soybean meal. In addition to this main meal, many of them will also add an ingredient known as dried whey that will add sugar and protein.
The best diet that can be given to a pig on a farm involves high-quality, grain-based diets. These usually consist of crop foods such as barley, wheat, and corn. Feeding grains will ensure that the pigs stay lively and energetic. Soybeans and canola meal are commonly used as an added protein.
What Do Pigs Eat as Pets?
Having a pig for a pet can sound silly at first, but some would say that they are incredibly loyal. They are intelligent, long-lived, and oftentimes an animal that wants to cuddle you. Ensuring that a domestic pig gets the right diet is crucial in keeping it from developing problems. There are different breeds of domestic pigs that have their own preferences.
Pot Bellied Pig
One of the most popular breeds of pet pigs is the Pot-bellied pig. They are known for their curiosity, affection, and trainability. These pigs generally grow to the size of a medium or large dog, weighing in at around 120 to 150 pounds when not overweight.
They can thrive off of a plant diet, making them herbivores. It has been found that a healthy Pot-bellied pig will consume a large number of fresh vegetables, usually making about 25 percent of its diet. These can include celery, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and potatoes.
It is recommended that starchy vegetables, such as potatoes are limited as these can lead to obesity.
In addition to vegetables, these animals typically are fed what is called pig pellets that contain the proper nutritional additives such as sodium without being too high.
Another well-loved breed of the pig is the Miniature pig. Many also refer to them as Teacup pigs due to their size. This breed is so coveted that there are currently more than 50 separate types of Miniature pigs found worldwide.
They typically range from 40 to 60 pounds when fully grown after reaching maturity at 3 years of age.
As with the Pot-bellied pigs, Miniature pigs enjoy a large percentage of their meal to be fresh vegetables. Pig pellets come in all sizes, even miniature, allowing a pet pig to have a well-balanced diet.
Fruit is a good treat to give your pet pig but should be done in moderation, as the sugar content is rather high.
Leafy green vegetables are the safest bet when at a loss of what to feed your domestic swine.
Kune Kune Pig
This breed of pig was bred originally in New Zealand. The Kune kune pig makes a great addition for any family with kids, as they are extremely friendly. This breed is one of the larger types, varying in weight from 140 to 220 pounds.
The Kune kune pig should be provided with a pasture where they can graze at their leisure, especially when full-grown.
They prefer to be fed a mixture of grass, fresh fruit, and vegetables.
Like other domestic breeds, they also eat a portion of pellets per day to meet their dietary requirements.
Since they are larger, most individuals will need 2 to 3 pounds of pellets in a typical day. One difference, as opposed to other pet pigs, is that they do not need to eat high levels of protein.
What Can Pigs Not Eat?
Pigs can eat a variety of foods that other animals would turn their noses up at. But do they have a limit? The seeds of apples, pears, apricots, and peaches are toxic to pigs as they can be fatal. They are also unable to digest uncooked potato skins.
What Eats Pigs?
The main predators of a pig include bears, wolves, dogs, panthers, bobcats, coyote, and humans. Occasionally, they have been swept up by larger raptors like owls and eagles.
Should I Eat Pig?
Humans have been raising pigs for meat for decades. But just because we can kill and eat pigs, should we? Of course, as a predator at the top of the food chain, humans do need protein, which can be met through bacon or ham.
The treatment of pigs by farmers has not been the most kind. Oftentimes, they are given hormones that will even impact whoever consumes the pig later on.
Ethically, a lot of people are unable to eat pig because it is a living being. Regardless, it is a decision that should be considered and researched.