Dawn Camp @Camp Skipping Pig
1776 Torrey Hill Rd
Java Center, NY 14082
Harley joined us late in 2006 as one of a group of four potbellies whose owner was moving to Florida. Born in 2000, she was purchased for a young woman who wanted to have a "pig farm". Due to poor conditions at the breeder's, three more female pigs were soon purchased just to get them away from where they were, and the little pig farm had a start. Within a couple of years, though, the couple split, and the dreams were gone. For several years the husband loved and cared for the four pigs, but eventully decided that a move South was in order and the call came in to me to take them. Harley made a very bad first impression. The trailer they arrived in was divided into four plywood pens for the different pigs. Three pigs were used to living together...Harley lived alone. When I peered into the trailer there was a tremendous and angry noise coming from a pen that I couldn't look into and the question was asked,"what is that?!" Answer," That would be Harley".
Putting it mildly, Harley had anger issues. She would do whatever she could to bite and couldn't be put with the other three pigs. Because she needed separate and special accomodations, and due to a lack of space in the main barn, she was set up in a shed normally used just in the summer. A sliding door was built between two pens so that she could be shuffled from one to the other, allowing for safe feeding and cleaning. As I worked on one side she'd be trying to raise the door to come back and attack me. Getting her food dish was a challenge and I found that a portion of a beach umbrella pole worked well to drag her dish close enough to feed her. That was also attacked and dented. The shed was winterized and poor Harley spent a long winter alone with her frustrations. She would spew anger if touched and often tried to come over the gate to bite. At times she almost succeeded. I was warned that I should never try to touch her ears...it wasn't possible, and I didn't have a strong desire to try. Yes, Harley was a very unhappy pig and I had my hands full.
As the winter progressed, I tried the same methods with Harley that had worked with Snickers, but there was no improvement in her behavior. She remained very angry and dangerous...but not due to abuse, such as caused Snicker's issues. Harley remained determined to tear me apart and I was determined to get thru the winter unscathed. It was becoming increasingly obvious that I was losing the war and I started giving some thought to having her euthanized, an agonizing decision that I dreaded having to make. But there was a waiting list of needy pigs and she was taking up the space that would house at least two and possibly four easily. I had to decide if she should lose her life that several others might live and the thought was killing me. Then one day when she was especially aggressive and came within an inch of ripping my hand, I rapped her hard on the snout. When she came back for another go, I rapped her again. She seemed startled that I'd actually defended myself and backed off as if giving the change in our relationship some thought. I never strike my pigs, but we were close to the end of the road with her, and basically I just reacted. Within days her transformation began. I could touch her as she ate, and though she grumbled loudly, she only sassed and snapped, but didn't really put all of her efforts into trying to bite. Her ears still were off limits, but that was OK. At least we had a start. As the weather improved Harley was able to spend time outdoors and she responded even more. By early summer she was following along the fencelines "talking" to us and hoping for a scratch. At first we waited for her to lay down and worked as far away from her "business end" as possible, but she soon became one of our most affectionate pigs, gentle and loving everybody. She'll come out of nowhere for a scratch and now even loves to have her ears rubbed, scratched and cleaned. She affectionately rests her head on my knee to accept a hug and it's been ages since she's shown any sign of anger. I believe Harley's nasty disposition was caused by depression. Not having seen the barn she came from, I can't be sure, but I don't believe she had outdoor access at her former home. Nor do I believe that she could see out of the stall in the barn. She was about six when she came here and that's a long time to be confined pretty much full time with nothing to see or do. I have no doubt that her owner loved and cared for her, or she'd have been long gone with her attitude. But with the freedom that came with warmer weather and a large pen to wander in, Harley became a new pig and left behind her old life that almost put her on death row. She's moved in with the other two girls (Lightning and Cyclone) she came with and the three happily share two heat lamps during the winter and a large outdoor pen in the summer. Harley is one of our favorites. Another happy ending at Camp Skipping Pig.
On January 13, 2009, Harley underwent successful surgery for a benign mammary tumor. It was the size of an average peach, but barely showed from the outside. It was almost entirely internal and couldn't be seen while just observing her as she stood. I noticed it while giving her a belly rub and wondered how I might have missed a lump so large. I'd likely been missing it as it grew by rubbing the other side. Fortunately it was found and we've had a good outcome. She's healing well and hasn't "skipped a beat", other than starting to become cranky because she's been separated from her two sisters for a couple of weeks. She isn't happy being alone, but due to her large incision, I thought it best to keep her alone and quiet while it healed.
Many pigs confined to houses become angry and snappy. (It's happened with a couple of my own even though since babies they were outdoors a lot.) The sure cure seems to be even more outdoor time and a bit less attention. This move (in my case into the barn) has always been effective and the porcine attitude adjustments have always been positive. Pigs are highly intelligent and need more stimulation than house or stall confinement will ever give them. They need time away from their people to be independent and do "pig things". They need areas to wander and root, grass to graze on, things to push around, and, when possible, it's a good idea to scatter their food to make the mealtimes last longer. Hide treats under stones or put their pellets in treat balls to encourage them to move about and work for their meals. And especially important...as hard as it is not to...do not spoil your pig with excess treats or attention. Limit the food rewards and instead offer loving scratches and belly rubs. Quit before the pig loses interest and gets up and moves on. My theory is to keep them wanting more.Though pigs are more food motivated than dogs, I've found that even our snappiest pigs soon learn to enjoy affection just as a dog does. While they may not forego a food treat for a belly rub, the latter is most often the better choice for your pig and he'll learn to appreciate your attention, providing it's not excessive. When he begins to demand it and develops a bad attitude, it's time to back off a bit on both treats and attention, give him more alone time, and let him become more appreciative of the time you do spend with him. Isn't it said that absence makes the heart grow fonder?
In her later years Harley developed severe arthritis in her elbows. For a long time it was controlled with medication and she managed well but eventually the pain was too much for her and she was humanely euthanized in 2012. She was a great girl and despire her rocky start, had become a beloved and gentle member of the pig family. Though sad to see her go, it was more sad to watch her daily struggle to stand and her medications were no longer helping.
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Dawn Camp @Camp Skipping Pig
1776 Torrey Hill Rd
Java Center, NY 14082