UC Davis graduate, Spring 2022
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
Olivia and Randy, the mini ponies, pressed their velvety noses against the fence. I couldn’t tell if they were curious about this hoofed creature who was even smaller than they were, or if they were just interested in the food she was devouring. Either way, I was impressed that the mini ponies and mini donkeys, who had just arrived at the ranch the day before, were so calmly investigating this strange little animal. Jelly Bean also seemed unphased, and she eagerly gobbled her food next to the inquisitive noses. The piglets’ lives are filled with an expanding cast of characters, which now includes horses, donkeys, dogs, and humans. This mix of different species provides ample opportunities for socialization, but also the potential for chaos.
After taking Jelly Bean back to her stall, I walked Care Bear over to the ponies and donkeys. Two young girls were standing nearby, and I asked them to help socialize Care Bear by sitting calmly while I put some pigs treats on the ground nearby. I explained that if Care Bear approached, they could try petting her belly, keeping their hands low so she wouldn’t feel threatened. I demonstrated how to do this because I had learned from previous encounters with overly enthusiastic pig admirers that it's important to be specific about how and when to pet the pigs. The girls watched and listened attentively, and then gently stroked Care Bear when she approached. Care Bear, who was enthralled in her food, didn’t mind at all. The girls were delighted, and they had given Care Bear yet another positive interaction to build her confidence and trust.
When I returned to the ranch for the piglets’ second walk of the day, I was eager to continue socializing them. My roommate had come to meet them, and I was feeling optimistic after their success making friends that morning. But when Nora brought Jelly Bean out of her stall, Bea the ranch dog (who had previously kept her distance from the piglets) rocketed towards Jelly Bean and chased her round and round in circles. All three of us humans were trying to grab Bea, but she nimbly evaded capture over and over. Finally, my roommate and I blocked Bea’s path for just long enough that Nora managed to whisk Jelly Bean back into her stall. After Bea was put in her crate, we brought Jelly Bean out again and she calmly sniffed the donkeys and ponies through the fence. I think us humans were more alarmed than she was, but in the future, we will make sure that Bea is in her crate before we walk the piglets.
Although we try to control the piglets’ world to give them only positive experiences, we don’t always succeed. Some negative interactions and setbacks are inevitable, but the piglets are resilient. Together, the piglets and us humans are learning how to navigate the dynamics of life on the ranch.
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!