Pets from the Farmyard to the Backyard

A new trend in pet ownership is sweeping the nation, from Hollywood to your backyard. People have discovered that some farm animals make great pets! If you have a good-sized yard and an interest in raising chickens, miniature horses, or a pot-bellied pig, a farm companion might just be the perfect one for you.

It’s no secret that dogs love walking, and they especially like walking in the company of other dogs. Socializing is an important part of dog life, from sniffing and greeting to romping around with new friends. Help your dogs expand their mind by introducing them to new smells, new people, and new canine companions.

Before you get started, it's important to determine if you have the right habitat for the pet you're interested in. Many pot-bellied pigs can live in the house, but they also have special needs--room to play, water to wallow in, and plenty of loving care and attention. Chickens can live happily with less space. Even in the city, people can comfortably keep hens (no rooster). But make sure you're prepared to do what it takes to keep your country pet happy at your home.

Dog walks have plenty to interest people as well. Aside from the fun and healthy benefits of walking, you’ll see tons of dogs, maybe even breeds you’ve never spotted before. Many dog walks include special contests like Frisbee throws, races, look-alike contests, and best trick contests. There might be a fair with pet-related vendors and snacks for humans and canines. Even if you don’t have a dog, you’ll probably be welcome at any dog walk.

Homes that keep a farm animal or two in the yard are called hobby farms, since taking care of the ducks or goats becomes a fun hobby for the family. The first key to starting up your own hobby farm is to start small with just one type of animal at a time. If you want to have miniature horses or mini donkeys, you'll want to get used to caring for them before you introduce peacocks or hens, for example.

Your local library will have books on raising animals of all different types, and they'll even explain what kind of food and housing you'll need to provide. Assuming you've already built the pen, coop, or small stable and decided where you'll buy hay, grain, or chicken feed, you're ready to start. If you know what kind of animal you want but aren't sure what exact variety to get, you might take a trip to your county fair. There you can interview farmers and 4-H kids who have first-hand experience at raising goats, chickens, or ducks. They can tell you the differences between the breeds and whether they get along with each other.

The fair is also a great place to learn about handling your animals or activities you can do with them. For instance, people with miniature horses often train for cart-pulling competitions, freestyle shows, and other contests. You can learn about collecting chicken or duck eggs and which breeds make the best layers. And you might even catch a goat or sheep milking demonstration with an explanation for how to make your own yogurt or goat cheese. If you enjoy spinning and knitting, you may be interested in angora goats or angora rabbits, or you might be looking for a particular type of wooly sheep.

Pot-bellied pigs are beloved by their owners for their intelligence, loyalty, and affection. These pigs are much smaller than farm pigs, and many top out at the size of a large dog. Some, however, can grow to 300 pounds, so be sure you're prepared for your piglet to grow up! These pigs are adorable, especially when they're small--cute enough to melt any heart. Pot-bellied pigs can be trained to walk on a leash (with a harness) and to use a large litter box. But because all pigs like to root around in any loose material, it's very important that you pig-proof your house before introducing your pot-bellied pig, the way you would get your house ready for a toddler.

Miniature horses, donkeys, and goats are small versions of their full-sized cousins. Although a mini horse might look like a pony, it's actually more like a horse, just with a small stature (less than 38 inches at the withers). Mini horses are friendly, gentle, and companionable, displaying all the traits of big horses--except it doesn't hurt so much if one steps on your foot! It's important to know that miniature horses cannot be ridden, even by small children, since that's very harmful for their backs. They are great cart-pullers, however, and they'll happily pull an adult in a driving competition. Mini horses live a little longer than full-sized horses, at 25-35 years.

Chickens are surprisingly fun to keep. If your space is small, you might consider raising a small breed, like the beautiful Bantams. Some breeds, like Araucanas, are called Easter chickens because they lay multi-colored eggs in shades of blue, green, and pink. Adults and kids alike can find hours of entertainment watching a group of chickens interact, discovering the origin of sayings like "pecking order," "fly the coop," "stick in your craw," "home to roost," "hen pecked," and "spring chicken." Their social hierarchy and culture is quite complex and fascinating.

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