New Jersey Ag News
Top Story, May 1, 2016
Two farmers in Old Bridge host some unusual pets
By RICHARD SKELLY
OLD BRIDGE — Many farmers keep dogs and cats on their land, but how about a pair of emus and a pet pig?
Two farmers within a mile of each other in 41-square-mile Old Bridge Township, in Middlesex County, have these pets on their properties.
John Hauser at Hauser Hill Farms said he has raised two male emus from the time they were about a foot tall. Bob and Linda O’Connell at Cheesequake Farms came across a baby pig one day in a nearby field.
O’Connell said he saw the pig one August afternoon while on his tractor, thinking it was just another groundhog.
The next day, the same pig followed him on his tractor, so he made an offering of food to the animal.
“She came running out of the zinnias, I had an ear of corn, she jumped on my leg and started eating the corn,” O’Connell said.
He called his wife Linda on his cell phone and figured somebody had abandoned the baby pig on Jake Brown Road near the farm.
“People drop off animals on that road all the time, they’re moving, you know, cats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens.”
Penelope, who has her own pen behind the O’Connell’s house, will be three this fall, Linda said in the couple’s kitchen.
The O’Connells operate two farm markets for Cheesequake Farms during the season and the couple said Penelope quickly became a hit with patrons at the farm markets.
“After that second day when the pig was following me up and down the rows on the tractor, it was an easy decision to make,” O’Connell said of the adoption.
Penelope is a completely outdoor animal, Linda said.
She said she let Penelope in the house on one occasion but she scratched up the hardwood floors with her hooves.
Penelope, who currently weighs about 100 pounds, recognizes Bob and Linda easily enough and is friendly to visitors as long as Bob and Linda are there.
“We can’t let her run around free, not with all the traffic around here,” Linda said. “We have no regrets about adopting her. She’s not like a dog or a cat. We find she’s very smart and she hears our car coming and is always happy to see us.”
The pig even has her own page on the farm’s website, cheesequakefarms.com.
Linda recalled an incident in which Penelope escaped a smaller pen at night and up on the back porch behind the kitchen. Linda heard noises on the porch, flipped the light on and saw Penelope there.
“I grabbed her by the collar and she ran off the porch and dragged me with her,” Linda said. “We ended up in a pile of mud and I limped around for four days after that.”
After that incident, the couple realized Penelope, still a baby, was much stronger than she looked. Linda’s brother, David Schulmeister, built a more spacious cottage for Penelope and painted it pink, complete with window boxes for fresh flowers. They moved her into a bigger backyard pen.
Meanwhile, about a mile away as the crow flies, John Hauser runs his apple orchards, vegetable farm and school bus company. In his backyard, not far from where many of the school buses are parked, is a big pen with chickens, ducks and a few geese. When a person approaches, they’re curious and come up to the fence.
Hauser explains the backstory behind how he and his wife Midge inherited the pair of male emus which they thought were a male and female pair. Hauser, like a lot of farmers from the area, was a regular customer at Agway in Englishtown.
“They used to sell baby chicks at Agway and the owners of Agway put them up for a raffle,” Hauser explained, “I won the raffle, this must have been 2004 or 2005. They were babies, but they were large already, and we raised them from that point on.” Unlike O’Connell’s pig, Hauser hasn’t named his emus, but they recognize him, Midge and other caretakers.
“We already had the pen there for the other birds, but we made it a little more substantial to accommodate the emus. From what I understand they’re pretty calm and happy here and they get along fine with all the chickens and ducks in the same pen,” Hauser said. Unlike chickens or ducks and other birds that have a homing sense, emus will scatter, he said adding he and his wife found that out the hard way.
“One time we got a call, one got out of the pen and the other one stayed in because the door must have swung back shut,” John said. “We were at a funeral up in West Orange. Old Bridge Police called. They said, ‘Are you missing any emus?’ and I said, ‘Not that I know of, but I’m not at home.’ They said, ‘We think you’re the only one in the area that has any.’ I said, ‘Well, please, don’t chase them, if you just stay back they’ll stay in the area. They kept shining their lights on one and he kept running from yard to yard.”
When the Hausers arrived on the scene, John said they could tell the emu was tired and were able to subdue it and wrap it’s legs together and take him home.
“Their legs are their number one defense, they have very strong legs and claws,” John said.
“Still, with all these policemen with guns and flashlights, not one of them would come in that backyard with me and my wife,” he recalled, laughing.
“They’re pretty good animals and they don’t really serve a function, they have a nice life here they get fed twice a day. They have no trouble with the chickens or the goose and other animals they’re in with,” Hauser said, “My wife Googled them and found out their life expectancy is 30 years. We realized we have at least another 15 years to go yet.”