Field of Science

Pig penchant for shit?

I met Yoshi, who uses beetles to study evolution, at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor Labs last year, and talking about pigs being misunderstood, and only disgusting because we force them to live the ways we do (my point), he told me about pig toilets.

Humans shit and pigs eat the shit.

I didn't believe him.

But now I do.

The sign says "women ← → men" in Chinese.

Apparently they were also common in Goa, India, but now they are being outlawed.

But look, I'm still skeptical. Yes, eating shit is disgusting. But I wonder if they would do it if they were offered something better. Do they have a penchant for shit, or do they only eat it because we won't serve them babies? I mean, carrots.

Update 1/18:
Gotta have pot-bellied pigs.


  1. Having at one point owned three dogs and two pigs simultaneously, I never saw the pigs eating shit -- either dog or pig shit. Or cat shit for that matter (had three cats at the time too).

    Pigs crap a lot, though, so that may be part of where they got their rep. It's also, as you say, how we treat them -- not that we force them to live like we do! But that we force them to live in some of the worst conditions that any farm animals experience.

    Turns out pigs are ridiculously smart animals. Compared to dogs, I would say that pigs are a little more clever, but dogs are more obedient (probably owing to their social structure). So I can teach a pig to do a trick much more easily than I can teach a dog, but the dog is easier to train to perform it reliably. At least, that has been my experience.

    Factory-farmed pork is really a travesty. Compared to cows... well, cows first of all are a lot dumber (consider the evolutionary pressures on a pure herbivore like cows vs. a true omnivore like pigs -- all the cow brain needs to accomplish is "eat green stuff" and "don't fall over", while the pig brain needs to do a lot more discerning). Then, cows typically get to live outside, albeit in relatively crowded conditions, on a patch of dirt, being fed corn instead of grass. But the cows don't seem to hugely mind this. Factory-farmed pigs on the other hand live in ridiculously cramped conditions, indoors all the time, and probably as a result of their more complex personalities when compared to other farm animals, they tend to go batshit crazy under those conditions.

    Honestly, the pigs in the pig toilets probably have it better. :/

  2. Those pigs in the picture above look like happy campers. At least, that how I look when I'm out camping.

    In Denmark (World's largest producer of pork) pigs are treated like scum most of the time, but there are some farms raising them outdoors in large pastures, and those pigs are probably quite content. You can see them from the trains sometimes. Always an uplifting sight.

    However, they do looks quite dirty, compared to other animals that live outside. However, we have bred them to be pink, so it's really our fault. We don't think of their wild relatives as particularly piggish, do we? And I bet none of these pigs or boars eat shit.

    I also wonder if any humans confined to a pigsty would start eating shit if they had no other alternative?

    Lastly, other "cute" species eat their own shit: gorillas for nutrition and koala mothers feed their young with their own. And... we eat honey.

  3. Indeed, pasture-raised pigs can be quite happy.

    I'm not sure about the hogs used for farming that are pink all the time, in terms of how dirty they look, but our pigs were Vietnamese pot-bellies, so they have bristly hair and did not look particularly dirty most of the time. They do wallow in the summer, which means rolling in mud. It's to keep them from getting sunburned. But considering that one of my dogs can't resist the opportunity to roll in unfamiliar shit, I'm saying that pigs win in this regard.

    Our pigs probably kept themselves cleaner than our dogs overall, though like I say, pigs shit a lot. For whatever that's worth...

    (On a side note, it's worth pointing out that Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs are only miniature in comparison with other pigs... The smaller of our pair was still about 100 pounds!)

  4. I have been dreaming about having pot-bellied pigs. They are CUTE! Pictures added.

  5. We had to give ours up because we had difficulty taking care of them with our setup in the suburbs, and then we were anticipating having a baby (and let me tell you, I'm really glad now because taking care of a baby and two pigs at the same time would kind of suck). My dream, though, is that when our kid(s) grow up and I retire, to move out to the country and have pot-bellies and goats and chickens. That would rule.

    I get sad when I see pictures of pot bellies still. heh...

  6. My father went to college at an agricultural university in a small village in Rajisthan, India. In the town there was no running water for toilets, and only open sewers. It was common to have toilets that opened out into narrow alleys between buildings and "wild" pigs would eat the shit.

    I didn't get to see the system in action because they've now got running water, closed sewers, and flushing toilets, but the holes in the walls and narrow dead end alleys are still there.

    Apparently the pigs also took care of kitchen waste.

  7. Apparently the pigs also took care of kitchen waste.

    This reminds me of the story about the consequences of the stupid authorities in Egypt ordering the killing of all pigs to prevent swine flu: Now Cairo is having a huge problem with trash in the streets, which before the pig-holocaust was eaten by pigs.

    WHEN the government killed all the pigs in Egypt this spring – in what public health experts said was a misguided attempt to combat swine flu – it was warned Cairo would be overwhelmed with refuse. And it is.

    The pigs used to eat tons of organic waste. Now the pigs are gone and rotting food piles up on middle-class and poor streets alike.

    Read the rest...

  8. That much I can attest to, pigs are totally down with kitchen waste.

    Mine eventually got sick of egg shells and corn husks, but pretty much everything else that came out of my kitchen, they would merrily eat. (And they'd still go for the egg shells now and then, which makes me wonder if there was some nutritional aspect to it...)

    It also turns out that pigs LOVE booze. Absolutely, completely, love it. One of mine would lick whiskey off of my fingers. Another would ambush my party guests when we had outdoor parties and try to tip over their beers, which she would then slop up.

  9. (And they'd still go for the egg shells now and then, which makes me wonder if there was some nutritional aspect to it...)

    I recall my grandparents, who were old-style farmers with crops and lots of animals, fed egg-shells to the chicken because the calcium in it (perhaps other things, too) helped the hens build strong new eggs. So I was told.

    Pigs loving booze is new to me (my grandparents were frugal, it goes without saying). Did they get drunk, do you think?

  10. I never let them have enough to find out... I've seen drunk dogs and stoned cats (and even one dog that was drunk and stoned, and as a result decided it would be a good idea to go into the middle of a room full of similarly-inebriated people and take a big and blatant piss on the floor) so I have no doubt they would act drunk -- but I think that sort of thing is ethically questionable to say the least, so I never let it happen :)


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