Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 April 2018

I have my heart set on a cute and sociable pet for the parlour

A Kunekune pig on Ear To The Ground. Photo: RTE
A Kunekune pig on Ear To The Ground. Photo: RTE
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

We are thinking of getting another pet. But what?

I love dogs. They were an integral part of our lives growing up. My husband, Robin didn't have the same connection and, indeed, even when he was farming sheep, didn't work with a dog.

A couple of years ago, the girls wanted to get a dog. Along came Timmy. We all think our ducks are swans but, if a certain beer company did dogs, Timmy would be the ideal template.

He is a rescue dog of unknown provenance but obviously a terrier of sorts. Some people who are more knowledgeable than us about such things suggest there is some Patterdale in him, others that there is Jack Russell; so we dubbed him a Patterjack.

At the outset, Robin was determined that Timmy would sleep outside. But Timmy didn't like the idea of being taken out to the stable at night. So we got a dog bed and put it in the hall. That too proved unsatisfactory. Now it's as much as Robin can do to squeeze in alongside Timmy on the sofa where he (the dog, that is!) sleeps.

Timmy is a fantastic companion. Always up for fun, he loves to give and receive affection, is a great walking buddy and broadminded confidante. Sure it's scientifically proven that dog owners are healthier and happier.

Now that we thinking of getting a new pet, another dog is the obvious choice. But we are open to other possibilities.

When we first got hens around five years ago, the girls were big into playing with them. But the current crop, which we got a month or so ago to replace those killed by the mink are, to use livestock terminology, negatively docile.

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A cat would, of course, be the other obvious choice. Unfortunately, while Timmy totally ignores the hens when they are out around the yard, on the appearance of a cat (we have some feral ones), he kicks into ratter mode. For that reason, and also because we have no appetite to nurture a domesticated version of any species we see as pests on the farm, rats, mice and rabbits are out!

Farm livestock have become very popular as pets. So are sheep great company or are they a b-a-a-ad idea? They need to be properly fenced and also grow out of their lamb-y cuteness very fast. A bit like a reformed smoker, Robin totally refuses to entertain the possibility, saying the only place he now likes sheep is on a plate.

The popularity of goats is likely linked to their mischievousness. As a child, my dad got me a kid and I was mad about him, even after he pucked me over the hitch of a trailer - but not so much when he reappeared after a two-year jaunt around neighbouring farms as a highly-scented, heavily-bearded, puck!

One of the big problems about sheep and goats is that they are almost impossible to housetrain. I have heard of people putting nappies on them (and cutting out a hole for the tail) but I'm not eager to start changing nappies again and there is certainly no way I am going to take it on for a sheep or a goat.

That leaves pigs.

Apparently they can be house-trained and we are actively looking at something like the kune kune, (pronounced koo-knee koo-knee) a small, cute, sociable breed, which originated in the Polynesian islands.

"There's no way I'm having a pig in the house," was Robin's response when we informed him of our ongoing deliberations. That's exactly what he said about the dog.

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