Friday, 11 March 2016

Life in Black and White

If there is one thing that sharing my home with with animals has taught me it's that life is far from Black and White. Nature has her own ideas and reserves the right to change direction at any time. This makes life feel like a bit of a roller coaster ride for me from time to time, as my much loved critters can lurch from deaths door to rude health and back again in a matter of hours or seem to undergo personality transplants at the drop of a hat.

Now I'm the kind of person that likes to get things sorted and know what I'm doing. In my mind it either is or it isn't with no grey areas. But when it comes to my animals life is never Black and White and just as I decide on a plan, my farm yard friends seem to turn it on its head!

It didn't take me long to realise that animals don't read books or listen to vets advice and as such, they rarely feel obliged to do what's expected of them despite my expectations. But it has taken me a while longer to realise that I don't have to conform to my expectations either.

Well as the saying goes - "If you can't beat 'em join 'em" and my animals approach to life does seem to be much more exciting than mine.  

So as my stray, feral farm cats (that were supposed to live out doors) became tame and trusting indoor pets.............,

and the notoriously broody Silverlaced Wyandotte decided to become a serious egg laying career girl.............,

and my "non rooting" pig decided to plough up all my pasture...........,

and the lamb that was initially declared dead by the vet.......had other ideas.  ( much to the delight of his mum!)

it would seem that their Black and White world is only skin deep.

So for all of you who find change and transformation a little unsettling and the unpredictability of life makes you anxious. Just remember that although life may not always be Black and White....,sometimes it's richer and all the more colourful because of it.    

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The School for Naughty Piglets

As a regular contributor on a number of livestock groups I often find myself reading posts from exasperated owners of pet pigs appealing for help with their piggies bad behaviour. Many of these naughty pigs are Kune Kune so I suppose it's no wonder that I occasionally get asked "Are Kune Kunes naughty pigs?"

How could anything this cute possibly be naughty?

The answer of course is no. Kunes are very docile, friendly pigs and in the most part are much less determined and destructive than many other breeds of pig. Kunes are however a popular choice of pet pig and their confident and intelligent nature means that they can learn bad habits as quickly and easily as they can learn good ones much to the delight or distress of their owner.

Kunes like all animals learn by association and just like dogs they will work out very quickly just what they need to do to get our attention and our foodie treats. Once they have discovered that sitting nicely, begging  or squealing hysterically results in you throwing a tasty morsel their way then they will, rather sensibly, keep doing it.

Who me?

Ideally the best approach is to reward good habits and discourage bad ones but this can be tricky if your piggies bad behaviour has been allowed to continue well into adulthood as old habits die hard. 

The most common bad habits that I come across when visiting other people's pigs are, nudging and nipping, shoe biting and my least favorite, using me as a scratch post. If you take the time to observe your pigs you will notice that these behaviours are not ones that the pigs subject each other to, so why should they do it to you?

The answer of course, because you let them! 

Young growing piglets are very receptive to training and respectful of those who are bigger and stronger than they are so this is the best time to teach them the lessons that you want them to remember for life. I teach my piglets a number of verbal commands one of which is the word "no". Now pigs don't speak English so for them "no" is not a word but a sound and I use this sound to deter them from anything that I don't want them to do.  

Sitting nicely always gets a reward of affection

When they are small they are cute and inquisitive and it can be easy to find things like watching them nibbling your shoes or unfastening your laces quite endearing but as they grow this behaviour could result in a fall or a painful foot injury for you so it's wise to nip it in the bud. In order for piglets (or pigs) to recognise the "no" sound as a deterrent I combine it with the physical sensation of gently but firmly squeezing the ridge on the top of their snout.

By bending my first finger into a hook shape and placing the flat of my thumb on top I make a soft pinch point which is more than sufficient to discourage a little Kune from unwanted behaviour. Before using this on your piggie pals however, try it out on yourself by pinching the soft pad of skin at the base of your thumb on the palm of your hand. By increasing the pressure you will get an idea of how much you need to squeeze to make your point. Your aim is not to harm your pig or inflict pain and suffering, just simply to squeeze with enough pressure to make your pig stop what he or she is doing. As soon as he stops, release the pressure and reward him with affection and kind words softly spoken.

Make sure to use your deterrent word or sound at the same time as your pressure pinch and your clever piggies will soon learn to respond to the word without the pressure on their snout. The other side to this type of training however is to initiate and reward the behaviour that you do want to encourage. So once your little piggie has dispensed with his shoe biting in response to the "no" command you can praise him, stroke his head, scratch his back or rub his tummy. This will teach him to see you as a source of comfort or affection but not something to be chewed or knocked over whenever he has an itch.  

A chin rub is a preferable alternative to shoe biting - well for me at least!

It may seem like tough love to teach your piglets this way but when they are big strong adults capable of biting through your boots and knocking you over in the mud you will be really glad that you took the time to train them when they were young and impressionable. 

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