Caring for our Vietnamese potbelly pig, Fiona, is fairly simple most of the time. However, every twenty eight days, when she comes into heat, managing her becomes quite a challenge. On a good day, Fiona goes about her life with one main objective; to find food. Her morning begins with a meager handful of pellets, (carefully formulated for potbellies), that she scarfs down quickly to get on with the task of searching for more food. Next, she is off to the barn to clean up the stray bits of grain that certain horses have flung out of their feeders while eating their own breakfast. Fiona consults her nose and a mental map that provides her with the exact location of the scattered grain. With a grunt and a squeal she pushes her way into stalls where horses are browsing on hay and grain. The horses, for the most part, ignore these greedy intrusions.
After many hours of foraging, Fiona makes her way back towards the house and the gate that keeps our four small dogs fenced in and safe during the day. With a hefty shove from her snout, the gate pops open and Fiona enters the dog's domain quickly before the gate latches with a clatter behind her. Up the the three steps to the back door of our house she drags her belly, now full from her completed mission. Grinding her snout on the freshly painted dark green door, receives instant attention. Immediately, she is let into the house. Finally, Fiona ambles to her bed and cozies up for a long afternoon nap.
Shortly, before Fiona is due to come into heat, however, the daily routine begins to change. Rod and I have to monitor her constantly for any sign that heat is imminent. Keeping track on the calendar is helpful, but it can't pinpoint the exact arrival of estrus.
Why all the fuss? Well, once Fiona comes into her strong heat, she has but one mission in life; a mission so intense that it rises in priority above the desire to eat. As a result of this mission, Fiona takes it upon herself to leave home. Yup, leave the one place where meals and all the comforts of living a pretty good life exist. Where is she headed? I can only assume to a place where hopefully, a boar might live! If we are not paying attention, Fiona will simply begin her journey on hoof, down the driveway and out onto the road. Eventually, we catch onto the fact that she has vanished from the property and with the use of our motorized sport vehicle, we are in quick pursuit; following her shallow cloven tracks that suggest she is in a hurry. Frequently, we find her at Adirondack Woodcraft Camp, our neighbor, half a mile or more from the end of the driveway. Once, she was discovered jogging out to the main road! Luckily, we have always found her and have been able to coax her back home where she is immediately locked up in the backyard until it is evident that her heat is waning and our homebody big has come back to her senses.
Fortunately, there is one sign to look for just before Fiona comes into heat. That is nesting behavior. I am not sure what the significance of the behavior is. Even if Fiona was to be successfully bred, she would still be close to four months from delivering her piglets, so why she is compelled to build a large comfy nest prior to breeding is a mystery. Regardless, the behavior is fascinating to watch because it is performed with such determination and purpose. Fiona has successfully built nests of grass, ferns, and moss. During the winter months she will nest indoors by gathering dog beds, blankets and any laundry left unattended on the floor. She carefully drags these items into her own bed creating quite a mass of textiles. To protect these items from destruction, I replace them with old saddle pads that I leave strewn about the floor so that she can collect them and place them in the nest herself.
Living with a female potbelly pig in the house is difficult to compare to any other pet. She is very different in all aspects, but she adds a dimension of character that is her very own, endearing her to us for as long as she lives.
|No, that's not a crop circle! Its the chosen sight of Fiona's current nest.|
|This month she has chosen to assemble a bed of ferns. First, she must excavate a large area with her snout.|
|Next, she gathers ferns for the bed.|
|Then, she carefully spreads the ferns....|
|...and fluffs the ferns... into a large mattress.|
|Then, she adds some more.|
|Spread, Fluff, Add, Spread, Fluff, Add. The whole process takes a couple of hours and requires total concentration.|