The Potbellied Pig: An Interesting Pet
The potbellied pig is a spunky, delightfully amusing animal. They are quick to protest loudly if they don't like something, but they are also apt to enchant you with heaps of pig-talk compliments over such things as excellent dinners or a really good backscratch. Such pleasant communications add to their charm. They become fond of their owners, recognizing one person from another. If a pig doesn't trust a stranger it will quickly hide, refusing to come out until it feels it is safe to do so. It may be difficult at first to make friends with your newly purchased piglet, but patience and gentleness will be rewarded.
Female pigs make better pets, although someone who has kept a lot of pigs may get along all right with a male. Males tend to have strong odors which are completely lacking in the females, and male potbellied pigs have tusks, while females do not. Both males and females like to be outdoors, and will be happy if given dirt to root around in. Rooting is natural pig behavior and should be allowed within a designated place.
Pigs can bite, and some do. My pig (pictured above) never bit me at all, but that's not to say I've never been bitten. It only takes once before you learn that if a pig snaps at you, you need to move quickly. The old saying applies, "Make sure they bite where you used to be, not where you are." If a pig makes a noise that sounds like in inward, "Ho, ho, ho, ho" you would be wise to exit the pen until it calms down unless you've had a great deal of experience with them. An experienced potbellied pig handler (NEVER with farm pigs) can sometimes talk them into becoming more calm by using a soothing and gentle voice and a soft stroking touch. I wouldn't recommend attempting it for any newbie.
Although pigs will learn to accept treats from your hand, you will have to be very careful doing this, and again, do at your own risk. My pigs would accept a dog biscuit from my hand on a daily basis, but I had been around horses and other large animals and knew how to give a treat without being bitten. For someone that's new to large animals, I would say to put the treat into a bowl and step back. Your pig will thank you with grateful grunts and will quickly consume it and then ask you, in pig talk, if you've got any more.
Pigs like to make beds. They are skilled at this, and will spend hours arranging whatever kind of bedding you give them. Since they tend to nibble and consume bits of bedding, I do not recommend giving them blankets. Clean, fresh straw is often well received. You can also use wood shavings, but avoid cedar shavings, which are potentially toxic to many animals. Change the bedding when soiled, and clean the enclosure daily to prevent the buildup of waste which will result in an unpleasant smell that can be easily avoided. Start a compost area if you have the space, or you can also seal up the waste in a plastic bag and throw it in the garbage. Either way, a clean pigpen makes a happy owner!
Pigs need shade. It is cruel to expose any animal to excessive sunlight, but this is especially true of pigs because they have little to no protective coat and they are not capable of sweating. Make sure their enclosure has adequate shade overhead. A UV blocking dog kennel shade is ideal.
Pigs also need shelter. Small pigs do well in a large doghouse and will often root their bedding into it and then bury themselves for a nap.
Pigs will want water to wallow and bathe in, and you should change the water daily. Low, flat pans made of cured rubber or PVC are available at most farm stores, and are great for providing drinking and bathing water. Never let it get empty for even a short time, as per above need to cool during sunlight hours.
Very small pigs (under 25 pounds) are often able to be kept within a chain link dog kennel, although you will have to check it daily for breaks and mend them. Pigs are escape artists, and if your particular pig becomes too strong for its fencing you are going to have a problem, as they will quickly run to the neighbor's yard and root all the grass up. Fences can be re-enforced with such things as sections of hog panel when needed, and a responsible pig owner will be vigilant to watch for places where the pigs may try to dig under the fence. Such places can sometimes be filled with large rocks, although even a tiny pig can often move a very heavy rock with one swipe of its nose.
Besides being amusing, potbellied pigs are also great mouse chasers. Though admittedly not as good at catching mice as a cat, they can and do chase, dig up, and eat rodents. They also eat grubs and are sworn enemies of snakes, good news for any snake phobics who like piggies.
Pigs have a unique outlook on life. Being around them is relaxing, and one seems to pick up on their vibrant sense of enjoyment in almost everything they experience. Petting one is a lot of fun, because the pig gives you continual feedback in the form of satisfied grunts. Their little squeaks and other noises are delightful. They like each other's company and that of their owner. They will sometimes even "bark" at a stranger in the yard. They can learn games and tricks if you are patient enough. Learning how to deal with their sometimes volatile personality and quick temper can be a good lesson in how to weather and even laugh off similar human antics in individuals who may not have the best or most naturally even-tempered mindsets. A pig "fit" is usually very short lived, and they are quick to forgive again. They love treats, and seem to hold to the creed that "if you bring good food, you are a really good person." Often one or two treats later they have forgotten all about why they were upset (perhaps a vaccination?). And though they may not be the prettiest of pets, they do have pretty eyes.