Twinkie was only three months old when she was found wandering alone in the woods on a cold winter day, hungry and in need of medical attention. The tiny pot-bellied pig was scared and confused – rescuers were finally able to tempt her into a crate with a snack cake (thus her name). Once she was safe with caregivers at Pasado’s Safe Haven, the Pacific Northwest’s leading animal sanctuary, Twinkie showed that she loved belly rubs and snuggling with humans. So how did she end up in need of rescue?

Her age and the timing of her abandonment indicate that Twinkie was likely a Christmas present, maybe for a child or an adult that didn’t understand the level of care that pigs require. Pigs are extremely intelligent and sensitive animals that form strong emotional bonds with their caregivers. They are also, on average, the size of a giant-breed dog when they reach maturity. They need hoof care, skincare, and regular access to the outdoors (with the best fencing money can buy – they are incredible escape artists). Adding a pig to the family is like adding a child. They have intellect comparable to a 3 or 4-year-old child.

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Unfortunately, Twinkie’s story is not unique. Throughout the year, Pasado’s Safe Haven and other animal rescue organizations across the country are called to take in chickens, roosters, ducks, geese, pigs, rabbits, goats, and other farm animals that well-intentioned consumers purchase as babies. They might purchase them as an Easter basket surprise for kids, or because they want their own fresh eggs and think it will be fun to raise chickens. Or they’ve watched adorable YouTube videos of baby goats in pajamas and want their own little herd for fun and entertainment.

But those cute little babies will grow up. And when they do, consumers need to be prepared for the care they’ll need throughout their lives.

Chickens

pasado chickens

Image Courtesy of Pasado’s Safe Haven

Many urbanites have turned to chickens in the last 5-10 years as a way to dip a toe into animal farming since chickens are relatively easy to raise and don’t need a lot of space to roam. But baby chicks face a terrible, deadly journey to farm supply stores (baby chicks are mailed from factory farms through USPS at just a day or two old; very few of them survive.) It is also nearly impossible to determine the sex of a baby chick, which means the buyer is highly likely to have a rooster in the flock. For every dozen eggs hatched, six will be roosters (that 50/50 gender rule applies to all species of animals!) Roosters play an important role in the flock and should be embraced, but many municipalities don’t allow them, and consumers who don’t have experience with chickens don’t know what to do with them. As a result, many roosters end up abandoned and nearly guaranteed death at the hands of a predator.  Speaking of predators, there is almost nothing more appealing to them than chickens. If a coop isn’t 100% secure, particularly at night, predators will get in and are likely to eliminate the entire flock (family dogs can be predators, too). Lastly, chickens don’t produce eggs their entire lives. The average hen lays eggs seasonally for three years but can live to be 8-years-old. People that started a flock for the eggs need to be prepared to continue to care for hens that no longer produce eggs.

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Ducks & Geese

Skittles and Candy Corn, a pair of bonded ducks, were found wandering around a park on Halloween last year. They were rescued and brought to Pasado’s Safe Haven where it was determined their age would have made them spring babies. They were abandoned around the time they reached maturity. They likely were very cute ducklings in an Easter basket – before they grew up and needed a different level of care. Ducks and geese can be very beneficial to a homestead (they eat weeds, insects, and slugs), but they need room to roam and access to a pond or another body of water. They also need good shelter at night and during the winter. Like chickens, ducks and geese are highly appealing to predators.

Goats

pasado goats

Image Courtesy of Pasado’s Safe Haven

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Goats have to be one of the most entertaining farm animals to own. They are very intelligent and curious animals; their inquisitive nature is exemplified by their constant desire to explore and investigate – which can also lead to many unauthorized “jail breaks.” Much like pigs, goats are escape artists and can be aggressive in their pursuit of attention or food. They also live in complex social groups and need friends to play with or they can become more aggressive toward humans (the aggression is usually rooted in a desire to play). All breeds of goats need specialized vet care – including but not limited to hoof care, proper nutrition, treatment for preventing worms, and more.

Pigs

pasado pig

Image Courtesy of Pasado’s Safe Haven

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Pigs are extremely intelligent animals – but that extreme intelligence can get them into a lot of trouble. They are amazing escape artists! Pigs also need lots of attention and stimulation to keep their minds busy. They are highly motivated by food, which makes training them relatively easy, but they can learn to get into cabinets, trash cans, and the refrigerator. Baby-proofing is a must! Pigs also bond deeply with their human family. They can experience depression and act out if their family takes a vacation or they are relocated to another family. Pigs require a strict routine that they can depend on, constant guidance with a firm, but gentle hand, and positive reinforcement for good behavior. They are like human toddlers that never grow older, just bigger!

Rabbits

Rabbits get bored easily. Not only do they need space to exercise but they also need mental stimulation. Rabbits can live free-reign in a bunny-proofed room/rooms, or they can be contained within a puppy pen, bunny condo, or large rabbit cage.  If contained, their space should always be large enough so they can hop around, and they should be let out of their pen for at least a few hours every day for exercise and play. Rabbits are also naturally clean animals and wash themselves frequently. But grooming is still necessary on a regular basis as they go through shedding cycles a couple of times a year. It’s important to brush the rabbit to remove all the excess fur. Otherwise, the rabbit could ingest it and have serious digestive issues. Regular nail clipping is also important because long nails can get snagged or they can curl into a rabbit’s paw, and rabbits always need wood to chew on as they use chewing to keep their teeth filed. Lastly, rabbits are prey animals, so their natural instinct is to hide any illnesses. It’s important to make sure a rabbit is eating, drinking, pooping, and peeing regularly and normally.

Do Research, Choose Adoption

These are just a few examples of the types of farm animals that are popular among consumers, particularly in the spring. But there are many more farm animals that can be purchased as adults as well as babies and require specialized care and consideration. Horses, cows, sheep, and other grazing animals need a lot of space to roam (several acres) as well as access to specialized vet care. These animals also require some type of shelter at night – shelter that needs to be cleaned multiple times per day. Manure management can be overwhelming for beginners.

pasado cows

Image Courtesy of Pasado’s Safe Haven

Another consideration for individuals wanting to own a farm animal is what to do with these animals when out of town – finding someone to care for chickens, ducks, goats or more is far more complicated than finding a dog or cat sitter.

pasado goats

Image Courtesy of Pasado’s Safe Haven

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The bottom line is this: No animal is a good impulse buy, whether it is a puppy, kitten, chicken, duck, pig, or goat. Consumers need to do their research before taking in any animal, and be prepared to care for that animal for the long term. Farm animals require specialized care and training that is not suitable for children. It can be fun to incorporate kids into the care process, but an adult will need to do the majority of the work to take care of them.

Consumers that have done their research and are ready to bring a farm animal into the family should strongly consider adopting one from a sanctuary like Pasado’s Safe Haven. The caregivers at Pasado’s Safe Haven will be able to provide all the information needed about the animal before it goes home – including any quirky personality traits or unique medical needs. This allows people to find the perfect farm animal for themselves and their family, and reduces the chance of a sad ending for all.

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