Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pigs and Kids!

If you find yourself contemplating coexisting with pigs and children, take heart. . . pigs and children can live together in harmony, if you do your homework and follow some simple suggestions. Much like with our two legged children, consistency is mandatory when training a pig to be a house pet. Don’t forget, these precious porkers are not nearly as domesticated as dogs or cats, in fact the similarity to a dog ends with the fact that both walk on all fours.

Now before Porgy and Bess arrived, I joined a potbellied pig e-mail list. This was the single best thing I could have done. All I knew about pots was they were cute, I had NO first hand experience with pigs of any kind. I have just always loved them! I haven’t a clue what I would have done without these folks, some like to say they raised my pigs with me and I tend to agree! I was warned plenty to make sure a pig knows who’s boss and I really took that to heart. I tend to be a very strict disciplinarian, with my human child as well as with my pigs. Having said that I never laid a finger on either Porgy or Bess. These are very smart animals, they will catch on quickly. Use brains, not brawn. Pigs are herd animals, and will take top pig position if you let them. I taught my pigs that I was the boss with a combination of persistence (some call it stubbornness!) and a lot of love.

These two came to know me as their mom pretty quickly. I helped Bess especially overcome a lot of her fears by spending a LOT of time showing her things like the big bad gate to her pen was not a scary monster, the vacuum is our friend, stuff like that. We also spent a lot of time socializing them. When anyone expressed even the tiniest bit of interest in seeing the pigs, we scheduled a visit on the spot. We practically pulled people in off the street to visit the pigs. All the exposure to a lot of different people has paid off big time. We have had a yard full of little ones playing, petting the pigs, giving bellyrubs, the whole bit. Bessie was a very timid, frightened little pig . . . today she’s quite a brave little girl in comparison.

When P&B (as the list people nicknamed them) were around 2-1/2 years old, Jon and I went to China to bring home our ten month old baby girl, Lydia. Let me tell you it was very, very difficult leaving P&B for those two weeks! We arrived home at around 2:00 a.m. with Lydia. Her first reaction when Jon carried her into the house and she saw P&B - she laughed! This set the tone of her relationship with these two porkers. They of course were very wary, all these new smells and sounds to get used to.

Our plan of action was attention, attention, and more attention. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a 200 lb. animal feeling jealous of anything! I recall people at my workplace making comments like “boy are those pigs in for a rude awakening when the baby comes home, they’ll be going way down in the ranks in that house for sure” usually followed by laughter, imagining the pigs losing their happy home. I knew in my heart of hearts we’d make it work. For one thing, we don’t believe animals are disposable. For another thing, there’s no way we could part with these two piggers, they were firmly implanted in our hearts and souls. Absolute worst case scenario, we’d build a small heated building for them on our property if they proved to be a danger to Lydia. But I was out to prove the world wrong. (They don’t call me Nazi Mom for nothing!)

So we figured in our favor was the fact that I would be home with P&B all day now, as opposed to them being home alone during the work week. This had to be seen as a bonus in their eyes. It was winter, so we were all in the house all day. Did I mention our house is small? All they had to do was come lumbering out of their blankie pile and they could get at the least a belly rub or back scratch with my foot. Lydia was at a great age to introduce her to animals - she wasn’t afraid. She loved touching them and after a short while she would climb on them when they were laying down. Mind you she was very small, I wouldn’t suggest a heavier child do this.

VERY IMPORTANT POINT HERE: We never left her alone with the pigs. Ever. Pigs and kids is still a big unknown. To this day we are cautious, although not nearly as much as in the beginning. When she would be on the floor petting them and start to climb on them, if they moved at all we’d grab her. She never did anything that they minded, and that was key. We always kept their best interests at heart as well as hers. Another key thing - respect your piggy, allow her to have her space to herself. Pigs need to have a place to go to where they won’t be bothered, such as their blankie pile or in some cases their own room. Follow their lead when it comes to their space, they deserve it.

Each pig challenged Lydia in their own way. I discovered that Bessie was sneaking up on Lydia in her high chair and nipping at those little tootsies. Luckily it was winter and Lydia had sleepers on with feet in them, so she never was hurt, but she was startled when it happened and scared. I started making sure the high chair was in my vision if Lydia was in it. When Bess would start sauntering over to Lydia I would sit next to Lydia and pet Bessie on the head telling her what a good girl she was. She would whine, she really wanted to chomp, but she wouldn’t do it with me there. Eventually she gave up and hasn’t challenged Lydia since. A while after we jumped that hurdle, Porgy took his turn. He would charge at her, not full force mind you, I don’t think he really wanted to hurt her, he just wanted to take the spot of authority over her. Again I made sure I was right there when he was close so I could stop him and tell him NO, while pushing him back. The way to give a pig a meaningful shove is with your knee or shin, to their shoulder. This seems to get the point across to them. Porgy eventually got the point too, and hasn’t tried anything since. It’s pretty much mandatory that you teach your pigs that all humans are above them in the household pecking order, in order to maintain a relatively peaceful household.

Having pigs in the house with children can be a great learning experience. I feel we are raising one more pig lover to send out into the world as an advocate for these wonderful creatures. Children’s minds are blank slates when their born, and for some reason they will mistreat animals to one degree or another unless they are taught otherwise. We have taught Lydia from day one the proper treatment of all animals, especially our pigs. It is coming up on four years since Lydia joined our herd. She loves posing for pictures with the pigs in their Easter hats, birthday hats, and Christmas hats. The pigs of course know if they put up with mom’s silly hat business they get extra treats!

If you already have pigs when you decide to add a child to the mix, realize you will need to already have things under control with the pigs, and plan to devote enough time to them after the child arrives so they don’t feel put out. If you already have one or more children when you decide to get a pig, think long and hard about it. Do you have the time and energy to devote to a pet who’s temperament will be like a toddler, for upwards of 15 years? Pigs are a very big commitment. If you’re up to the task you’re in for one of life’s most rewarding experiences. Pigs are not for everyone; if you’re one of the lucky ones I’d say you are truly blessed. Sandy

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