About a year ago a fellow Berkshire hog farmer, Amy Thames, in South Carolina posted a blog article about pig’s ears.  We use the same notching practice on our pigs.  It’s about how we identify them.  Pigs will get an ear tag caught in a feeder or waterer and pull it out, often slicing their ear. So, we need a different identification system for each hog.  Here’s Amy’s explanation:

One of the questions I always get when I am either giving a farm tour or showing new customers around the pigs is “What’s wrong with their ears?”  As you can see in this picture their ears are funny looking.  No, they were not born that way.  Let me share our system with you.

We use a universal ear-notching system.  This provides us a means to identify each pig without a lot of expense.  It gives each pig an individual identity so that we can follow the life of that pig from the time it was born until the time it goes into the freezer.  If we have a pig that gets sick or injured for some reason and we have to use medications on that pig, we can cull that pig at the sale barn and not use it for our pork production.  We have been very lucky on that front and have had to cull out only a few pigs.

Each coordinate of the ear represents a number and each ear represents the litter and the individual piglet.  Here is a picture to help explain…

We use a special tool to notch the ears and we do this when the piglets are no more than 3 days old.  At the same time we will remove the incisor teeth (we’ll get into that later) and check for hernias, get weights and look for any birth defects.  They receive an injection of iron to boost their immune system.

Here is a picture of the notcher….

About removing the incisor teeth on the piglets.  We do this for a few reasons.  The reason the piglets are born with such sharp incisor teeth is because sows can have litters that have more piglets in them than they do teats to nurse the babies.  In nature this allows the strong to fight for their teat to nurse on and survive.  We strive for all our piglets to survive so if we have an issue with too many piglets we will remove the piglet and bottle raise it or if we have another sow with the piglets the same age we may try to get her to adopt it.  Piglets are born highly competitive and fight for the best teats which are toward the front of the sow and give the most milk.  After about 4-5 days the piglets will establish ownership of their particular teat and the fighting will subside.

Neither procedure is harmful, stressful or painful to the piglets.  The most stress is from being held for the procedures.  We do this while the sow is eating so that we don’t stress her over taking her piglets away from her.

It’s all a process and everything has a reason and a purpose.    I enjoy picking the little piglets up and cuddling them before we get started.