METHUEN, MA — Life for the eight adoptable pigs at the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen just got a lot more fun with today’s unveiling of a new enrichment program that lets the animals explore, root and play in exchange for food and treats, encouraging natural behaviors that pigs love to express and that keep them physically and mentally sharp.
The program was piloted in January and is the brainchild of Isabelle “Issy” Cless, intake and adoption coordinator at Nevins Farm who has an affinity for pigs and their extraordinary intelligence.
“Many people don’t know that pigs are thought to be as cognitively complex as dogs and, when given the option, prefer to explore and ‘find’ their food vs. eat from a trough,” said Cless, who started the program—which now runs five days per week—to give pigs more opportunities to engage with the world in ways that are similar to their non-domesticated kin.
Toys, Puzzles and Games!
At the heart of the enrichment program are custom-made puzzles and toys—some that sit on the ground and others that hang from fences—all of which encourage pigs to use their wits to find and release the treats inside. One game, called the “pizza-roo,” includes compartments for treats such as carrots and fruits, and the pigs use their snouts to turn the cover and uncover the treats.
Cless (and the pigs) rely on a fleet of volunteers who slice and chop the vegetables and fruits that fill the various containers before the animals dig in.
Other toys resemble bird feeders—long plastic cylinders with openings of various sizes through which fruit, vegetables and grains can be teased out by hungry snouts. “The pigs absolutely love the stimulation and fun that the toys bring to feeding time and we love seeing them engage with their food in such a healthy way,” said Cless.
Making Pigs More Adoptable
One of the primary benefits of the enrichment program, which also includes “click for treat” positive reinforcement training often associated with dog training, is that it makes the pigs more attractive to potential adopters.
“Adopters love knowing that animals may come home with new tricks picked up during their time at Nevins Farm, such as the ability to sit for a treat or roll over on command,” said Ellie Monteith, manager of the equine and farm animal program at Nevins Farm, who oversees the staff and volunteers that prepare the various food items for the pigs.
“The adopter base for pigs is much smaller than it is for, say, cats or dogs,” added Monteith. “Not everyone has the time, space or skills to care for a pig, and that will always be the case. But there’s no doubt that pigs who know some basic commands, and are made happier and more content through activities that enliven them, will ultimately spend less time with us and more time in permanent homes.”
The MSPCA-Nevins Farm is always in need of adopters to step forward to bring one or some of their adoptable pigs home. A full roster of adoptable pigs can be found on the MSPCA-Nevins Farm Website and questions about specific pigs can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(NOTE: The above press release is from the MSPCA.)