Observing and Assessing the Health of Your Pigs: A Guide for Show Pig Parents [PLUS: Sneak Preview!]

daily care health Sep 28, 2023

Observing and Assessing the Health of Your Pigs: A Guide for Show Pig Parents

One of the essential aspects of caring for pigs, especially for young members of 4-H and FFA, is learning to understand and observe their animals. These lessons not only teach responsibility but also the importance of being attuned to the needs of another living being. Check this quick read plus get a sneak preview of The Showman's Guide to Show Pig Health in the video above. 

The Critical First Week 

When your family receives new pigs, it's crucial to be especially observant during the first 7 to 10 days. This period is vital because the pigs are undergoing stress from being hauled and acclimating to a new environment. They are adjusting to a different pen, a different water source, new feed and potentially even being co-mingled with other pigs from other farms. All of this stress weakens their immune system, making them vulnerable to disease.

"The most critical time is the first 7 days your pig is in the barn"

Todd Price, DVM

Because of all this stress right at the beginning of the project, people often have more health challenges the first two weeks you own your pigs than the entire rest of the project. When a pig gets sick, it limits their potential to grow, gain, and become all they were bred to be - so learning to be great at show pig health is one of key compontents of improving your project success. 

What's really neat about caring for show pig health is that it's one of the first things we can teach young 4-H members. Young kids especially enjoy watching over their new animals and learning to see how those pigs are feeling and it's something the entire family can learn and do together daily. 

Signs of a Healthy Pig

When entering a barn, it's important to:

  • Listen for any coughs or unusual breathing. 
  • Look for pigs that are alert, with clear eyes and normal respiration. 
  • Observe if they are socially active. Pigs are very social animals; if they're isolated or not curious to see you enter the barn, it may be a sign they're not feeling well. 
  • Note the status of stools in the pen. 
  • Watch your pigs eat. 

Over time, you'll learn to know how your pigs are feeling with a quick 10-second observation. It's especially fun to teach young exhibitors how to observe their pigs. Once they know what to look for, they'll often be more in-tune with something that's changed with their project animals than the adults in the barn who might have a tendency to rush through chores and move on to the next item on their agenda. 


"The quicker you find something, the easier it is to treat."

Todd Price, DVM


Addressing Potential Issues

Here are four steps to follow when you see a potential issue arise: 

  1. Observe: The sooner an issue is detected, the easier it is to treat. Observe your pigs twice daily then...
  2. Document: Keep track of any anomalies. Make sure you take a note of any changes in behavior or physical appearance when you see it. Whether it's reduced food and water intake, abnormal breathing, cloudy eyes,  or a loose stool, writing down these changes and when they occurred can help in future assessments or veterinary consultations.
  3. Seek Help: If you're unsure about the pig's health, it's always better to consult someone you trust right away. Sharing a quick video or photo with a vet or advisor can help in early diagnosis.
  4. Act Fast: One of the biggest mistakes families make in dealing with illness is waiting too long before seeking advice or treatment.  It's essential to be proactive and address concerns promptly. 


Learning to value and protect the well-being of animals teaches responsibility, attention to detail, and empathy in a way no other experience can. Learning together as a family to observe and care for the health of your pigs isn't just one of the most enjoyable parts of the project for young exhibitors, it's one of the most important core components of having success with show pigs. 

If you'd like to learn more about caring for the health of your project, you can watch more than 20 additional videos with Dr. Todd Price in The Showman's Guide to Show Pig Health.

herdly.io offers video-based online courses in showing livestock, taught by the industry’s most talented breeders and feeders. We're here to help you win - in the show ring and beyond. 

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