Do You Know Pigs?

Continuing on with our blog series on other species of animals and their unique needs, Dr. Jim Pottebaum wrote this article about Micro-pigs. Dr. Jim has been a large and small animal practitioner in Winterset since 1988. He has had many clients from around the state seek out his veterinary services for micro-pigs. Thank you Dr. Jim for your blog this month.

Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the nation, raising 1/3 of all pigs nationally. 48 million were raised in 2018, and $40.8 billion dollars in revenue for Iowa producers last year. 

Now, what about pigs for pets?? Mini, Micro, pocket, or teacup pigs have surged in popularity in the last few years. Micro pigs are cute, intelligent, affectionate, and easy to train. They are hardy and mostly disease free. They provide the owner with a connection to a grandparent’s farm or rural life, while living in the city.

What you need to remember is that they are a PIG, not a dog. Some cities have zoning restrictions against farm animals, and will not allow you have pigs within the city limits, even if they are pets. 

It is important to see both parents. Sometimes breeders show pictures at a young age and not full grown. Pigs that grow to big are the most common reason for surrender to animal shelters.

Feeding mini pigs should be easy. They are omnivores and need a balance of protein, fiber, fat, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Pelleted feed is available, and pigs enjoy a variety of veggies and fruits in their diet. They enjoy people food, but be aware this can cause digestive upsets. It is important that they receive pig pellets to ensure vitamin and nutritional requirements are being met. Information on the internet can be misleading about feeding recommendations. Feeding a reduced level each day to keep a pig small may lead to starvation and develop health issues. Each pig should be maintained specifically to its size and needs. 

A book called, “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs”, is a great resource for anyone that is considering having a pig for a pet.

Pigs can adapt to living indoors or outdoors much like a dog, and are usually tolerant of other pets. They are curious and enjoy an environment to explore, root, and manipulate objects.  Without opportunities to act normally, pigs will become bored and create their own fun in the house like getting into cupboards, bumping or pushing over furniture, etc. Pigs love outdoors with space and obstacles. When outdoors, they need shade from the bright sun. A child’s swimming pool or pig wallow (shallow mud pit) is heaven because it cools them on hot days. They don’t sweat, so water/mud acts as insect repellent, sun screen, and skin conditioner.  Appropriate fencing is important. Pigs are very strong and can uproot or push thru many fences. Fences add protection from predators such coyotes or dogs.

This little pig at the airport was flown its new home!

Spay or neuter your pig early. Intact males can be aggressive. Intact females will be vocal and moody for a period of time every month. Healthy micro-pigs can live at least 6-8 years, and 10 to 12 is not uncommon. Micro-pigs can be very enjoyable and provide years of love and entertaining memories. Call your local veterinarian for advice concerning breeders and care of your micro-pigs. It would be wise to find your veterinarian before getting a micro-pig for a pet since not all veterinarians are willing to see pigs. Pigs do need routine hoof care and sometimes the male’s tusks need to be filed down. It is important to have a veterinarian that is able to do these things for you. If you plan to travel, please consider where they can stay?  Not all boarding facilities are willing to board micro-pigs. These are important things to consider prior to getting a pig for a pet. Micro-pigs offer great companionship and entertainment. They are a special kind of pet that has unique needs.

Have goats, will travel.

I would like to thank Aaron Steele the founder of “Goats on the Go” for his contribution to the Winterset Veterinary Center’s blog. Aaron also began a podcast called Farm Dog recently that our readers may enjoy following as well. You can click on this link and it will take you to Farm Dog.

In 2012 I was at a weird crossroads. My family was enjoying living the rural life on our Story County acreage, but it seemed a bit artificial to live there without being involved in agriculture at least a little bit. It seemed wasteful to mow and care for our 3.5 acres as a giant lawn, but it was still too small to be farmed in the traditional Iowa sense. My wife and I were also raising three young boys who we felt would benefit from having some chores to do (character building, as my dad would say). And finally, my 9-to-5 office job was slowly killing me with boredom and lack of purpose.

So, we did what anyone would do. We bought goats! Six of them, in fact. The plan was to buy them in the spring and sell them in the fall with the hope of quickly recouping our investment and avoiding winter chores and feed purchases. But something happened along the way. We became enthralled with our goats. We wasted a good part of that summer sitting in lawn chairs next to the pasture watching their antics. Even antic-free moments were great therapy, as we found ourselves unwinding while they ate and rested. I loved pretending to be a farmer for a summer, and I started to wonder if I could raise meat goats as more than just a hobby.

That thought kicked into overdrive when we started to run out of pasture for the goats in that drought stricken summer. I’d read that goats would eat weeds and brush, so out of near desperation I enclosed a quarter-acre patch of weeds with portable electric fencing and moved them from their clean grass/alfalfa pasture to the brambles. We were astonished at the results. The weeds simply disappeared! The only evidence that remained of the weed patch was the most fibrous main stems of some of the plants.

Light bulb! What if I could raise more goats without investing in more land by feeding them on other people’s nuisance vegetation? And…what if they would pay me for it? It all sounded too good to be true, but in 2013 we set out to do some demo projects to prove to ourselves that the concept would work. It did. In fact, our little demo projects generated some buzz among the press and the public and the phone began to ring!

Before Goat Grazing and After

In those first few years, Goats On The Go® could only serve the area within about 45 minutes of Ames, but people from all over the U.S. (and beyond) had been reaching out to us wanting to start their own goat grazing businesses where they lived. In 2016 we began building a network of independent goat grazing businesses that all share the Goats On The Go® brand. These affiliates get access to training, support, and a bunch of other benefits as well. We now have 33 of affiliates across the U.S. plus one in Canada and one in Tasmania, Australia. (Shameless plug: Our affiliate serving the Winterset area is looking for a partner to keep up with demand!)

So how does targeted goat grazing work? We used portable electric fencing and a solar powered fence energizer to enclose the goats on concentrations of our customers’ nuisance vegetation. This might be poison ivy, multiflora rose, honeysuckle, wild parsnip, giant ragweed, or a mix of these and others. Sometimes our customers want to eliminate invasive plant species to promote native landscapes, but often they just find the vegetation to be annoying. We’ve worked on residential properties and acreages, parks and trails, golf courses, retired landfills, detention ponds, campuses, farms, and more.

More Before & After Photos:

It’s common for us to put 30 – 40 goats inside an enclosure that is a half-acre to one acre in size. Typically our goats can complete an acre every 4 – 5 days. If a project is 10 acres or larger, we shift into big project mode and use 200 or more goats to pick up the pace.

We’re often asked if we worry about our goats eating poisonous plants. We do, and we’re careful about a few particularly dangerous ones (yew, a common landscaping shrub, is a bad one), but we’re amazed at the goats’ ability to select what’s good for them and avoid what isn’t. And, what’s good for them is usually in abundance on our projects. Some of Iowa’s most common nuisance plants are very nutritious, and goats are the only livestock animals that can make use of them. We rarely have to provide any nutritional supplements other than water and a simple mineral block.

So, is this a good way to raise goats? Yes, but it definitely has its challenges. I couldn’t provide better nutrition for my herd by feeding them hay and conventional Iowa pasture at home. The stuff they get on our projects is ideal goat food. But, it’s really hard work to maintain a mobile operation that changes “pastures” every few days. We have to install our own fencing at each property, and customers typically don’t pay for goats to eat in places where a lawn mower could do the work with less expense. We’re working on steep slopes, in the woods, often around dangerous — or at least very annoying — vegetation.

It’s hard work, and I sometimes think, “I could be sitting in an air conditioned office right now.” But being outside and helping people manage their land without chemical pesticides or machinery is really rewarding. And, of course, can you imagine better coworkers than a herd of goats?

Goats On The Go® provides portable, sustainable weed and brush control
By Aaron Steele, Goats On The Go® Founder

Mini Silky Goats

I would like to thank Grace Davidson for her contribution to Winterset Veterinary Center’s blog. Grace has been a long time client of ours and we are so glad she was willing to share her Mini Silkies with us.

It is love at first sight when meeting a Miniature Silky Fainting goat. The mini silkies sweet disposition and beautiful soft hair makes them great for showing and/or pets.

I got my first mini silkies from a breeder in Kansas in 2008. I would add a few more with each passing year and eventually started raising and showing them locally. I now travel to 2-3 shows a year and have been all over the Midwest showing and even into Texas and Virginia. I use natural breeding, but many have gone to AI which means artificial insemination.

Good quality goat feed is needed along with goat minerals, baking soda (to prevent bloat), a good grass/alfalfa hay mixture, and clean fresh water daily. Required immunizations are CD/T and a preventative external and internal parasite program. Trimming hooves is an important procedure to prevent joint issues. Your veterinarian can assist you with other health needs as things arise.

Their long silky hair hangs straight from the body in a range of colors and patterns. The goal is to have a full long skirt, long chest and neck hair, full beard, muff on the face and bangs. Bucks (male goats) are more likely to have bangs and have thicker, fuller coats than the does (female goats) are. There are varying degrees of coat and coat placement. They can be snowy white, raven black, shades of brown, or a combination of these colors. The height limit for a doe is 23.5 inches at the withers and the male is 25 inches. The male weighs between 60-80 lbs and the female 50-70 lbs. Their smaller size makes them more manageable to work with. The lifespan is usually 10-15 years. The oldest buck I have is 9 years. His name is Breeze, and he is retired now. He probably misses the life of a show goat. He had many friends at the shows.

Their coats need to be kept clean and free of tangles and burrs. I use a good human shampoo and conditioner to bathe them the day before I travel to a show. I then bathe them again at the show. We have even been known to offer an oil treatment if a goat’s coat is dry or course. How a coat is cared for depends on the color of hair and type of coat the show goats have.

The goats are judged on conformation, body condition, and length, evenness, and silkiness of coat. The four main divisions are Junior Does, Junior Bucks, Senior Does, and Senior Bucks. Each division are further divided into different classes. If you get 1st or 2nd place in your class, you qualify to return to the ring and a Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion are selected from the division. When all 4 Grand Champions are named, the judge will choose 1 Best in Show. If a goat has won 3 Grand Champion ribbons, it gets a title of Master Champion. I had my first home bred goat earn that title about 4 years ago. Through selective breeding the Silkies have developed better conformation and coats, so the competition is tough.

Fainting goats do not actually faint. There is no pain involved. Some will continue to chew their cud during the spell and after a few seconds their muscles relax, and they jump up like nothing ever happened. This condition is called Myotonia Congenita. This is a genetic mutation. The muscle fibers stiffen for 5-30 seconds and the goats collapse. If the goats are startled or even excited about treats or mealtime these spells can occur.  Myotonia Congenita can be found in other species of animals as well like horses, dogs, and even humans.

September 11-12, 2021, at the Madison County Fairgrounds, we will be holding the Covered Bridge Silky Show in Winterset, Iowa. All are welcome to come and see some of these lovely goats up close. The show draws breeders and goat owners with their Silky Fainting Goats from several states.

If you are looking for more information about these special creatures, please use the website www.msfgaregistry.org.  The Miniature Silky Fainting Goat Association is always looking for more goat fans!  Come check out our show and see for yourself if it is LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.

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