Pigs have a unique sense of smell that can be traced back to their ability to smell the pheromones of other pigs in heat.
Pigs have large heads and noses. That’s where their sensitive smell receptor cells are located. This is not exclusive to pig’s noses, it is true for most animals including humans!
This makes them appropriate for finding truffles which are underground fungi that are notoriously hard to find and smell. This isn’t the secret to finding them, but it makes them better at it than humans or other animals since they have a more linear sense of smell.
How Do Pigs Find Truffles?
It all starts with pigs’ sense of smell. Pigs are able to smell the truffles long before they are physically able to eat them.
They dig up the earth in areas where there may be a truffle present , by digging shallow holes at random, they gradually become more focused, probing deeper into the soil by pushing it aside with their snouts and paws .
Pigs use their snout as a ‘scent-detector’ that moves across the ground like a vacuum cleaner, and can identify when there is a substantial amount of pig manure in an area as they can smell it from up to 50m away.
This is their cue to dig up the soil, where they can find the truffles from between 2 and 10cm below the surface.
The pigs will then eat all of the truffles in that area, as truffle foraging is really time-consuming!
How to Train a Pig to Find Truffles?
Pigs were traditionally used to find truffles by locals in the Italian region of Umbria and Tuscany where truffle hunting is an important part of a farmer’s livelihood.
This method has become increasingly popular amongst farmers, who feel it’s more efficient and economical than other means of foraging, such as simply walking over an area in search of truffles.
The method is as follows:
Pigs are taught how to find the truffles by following a trainer or guide. A shallow hole is dug in an area where there may be some pigs with a sharpened stick pointed at the correct depth.
The pig is then allowed to sniff the stick, and once it knows that there is a truffle underneath the ground, will begin to dig for it.
When the pig has found the truffle, some food is then thrown in after it. After several repeats of this process, the pigs will quickly learn where to find the truffles and dig them up with their snouts.
Once trained, a pig can learn to find between 10-20kg of truffles a day.
It takes about 6 months for a pig to be fully trained before being taken out into fields for foraging.
Pigs are generally easier than dogs at sniffing out truffles, as dogs tend to use their eyes too much.
Why Do They Use Pigs to Find Truffles?
Pigs have a very good sense of smell and are able to smell truffles using their nose over a distance of 50 meters.
This is a far greater distance than any other animal that is commonly used. Pigs also have a keen sense of smell and like to explore, so will happily seek out truffles in areas where they are scarce.
This is an excellent point for the pig farmer to take advantage of, since pigs can sniff out truffles and bring them back for the family to enjoy!
Pigs are the primary animal trained to look for truffles, as they will continue to find truffles even if they aren’t supervised.
Pigs can also be trained for other purposes, such as finding hedgehogs, which are very useful.
Do Pigs Find Truffles in Winter?
Pigs can still find truffles in winter, as they have a lot of fat stored in their body, with enough food to be able to digest the truffle in the cold weather.
It is also easier for pigs to sniff out truffles in this as the scents will be stronger when the air is colder.
It has been found that pigs will sniff out any type of food locally available to them. They have been known to find apples and other plants in neighboring gardens.
Pigs are also known to sniff out and eat gemsbok droppings.
As you can see they are quite good at what they do, so the cold month of winter will not stop them.
How Much Does a Truffle Pig Cost?
Normal pigs go from 100 to 1000 USD, but properly trained truffle-hunting pigs with a great track record can be purchased in the thousands.
In the popular Nicolas Cage’s movie “Pig” the truffle hunting pig was worth 25,000 USD so you can expect that will be the maximum you could pay for this type of train animal.
But in reality, you could probably find one for less, but do expect to pay thousands.
Another option is to purchase a pig at a normal price and try to train them.
When Do Truffle Pigs Need Feeding?
Pigs are normally fed a mix of soybean meal and maize in combination with earthworms. They also have a diet of weeds and grass that they dig up in the field, as well as their own waste products.
A farmer may need to give a pig some compost to increase the number of nutrients in their diet.
You can also feed them a mixture of lucerne hay for protein, maize meal for carbohydrates, and earthworms for Vitamin D3.
Also, pigs feed is another great option but the most important thing is to give them the best quality food you can afford.
Remember this animal is an investment and you must take care of him. Especially if they’re going to be running around trying to hunt for truffles.
They should eat as much as they want but it should always be healthy.
If you want to be more specific, take them to your vet and they can assign a specific diet for this pig with the proper amount of calories they should consume depending on how much work they’ll be doing.
What Is the Truffle Pig Lifespan?
Pigs have a lifespan of about 8 years. But if you provide the proper care under the right conditions some pigs can live between 15-20 years.
Pigs have proved to be very clever and can learn new tricks quickly if they are given the right amount of attention. So living is a part of their nature; they just need someone to provide the proper environment for their development.
Will a Truffle Pig Make a Good Pet?
These pigs will happily live with you in your house as long as it is clean and well maintained. They will eventually become house-trained to go outside to pee and poop – they have been known not to soil indoors unless they are kept in a very small space.
If kept as pets, they will still require the same amount of food and attention as a pig that is being trained. These pigs need lots of human attention, especially when learning new tricks.
Pigs will be able to find truffles in areas you would never think of, as they are more sensitive to scents and hunting is part of their nature.
This can be useful if you’re trying to grow truffles in your own field as it is much more efficient than finding them using dogs.
If you’re looking to train or purchase a truffle-hunting pig this could be a great investment, and as explained in this article a great opportunity for any farmer.