Life With Pigs: Giving farm animals a second chance at life

There’s a place in town that has the best pigs in a blanket — and we’re not talking about food.

Life With Pigs Animal Sanctuary is giving a second chance at life to farm animals from bad situations. Currently, it’s the home of three pigs, a handful of chickens and turkeys and two calves.

Ryan Phillips, co-founder of Life With Pigs, said he and his family had originally adopted a couple of pigs to save them from going to the slaughterhouse.

“It kind of opened our eyes in a lot of ways to how amazing pigs were,” Phillips said.

Getting tired of carrying the two pigs down three flights of stairs every day, the family moved out of their condo and into a house with two acres in Norge to start an animal sanctuary in October.

“So it’s to both give (the animals) an amazing life and to help people see how amazing these animals are,” Phillips said. “I know from living with Jenna, the first cow we rescued, she’s so much like living with just a giant puppy. Like she wants to run in the house she goes right to the fridge and wants carrots fed to her.”

The second cow they've adopted is Winnie. Philips said Winnie was born with two dysfunctional back legs which causes her to drag her back legs behind her and hop around.

Phillips said she’s been looked at by Tidewater Equine and the Oaks Veterinary Clinic Equine and Farm Services in Smithfield.

“The vet out at the Oaks was pretty confident that something could be created to carry her weight for her so she would be able to comfortably keep carrying herself,” Phillips said.

“It seems like it’s something that can’t be corrected surgically and it’s more something we’re looking to get around comfortably and hold that weight comfortably so she can have as normal a life as possible and run around with her big sister Jenna, who’s a Holstein calf.”

Now, Phillips said he’s in contact with an organization called Animal Ortho care, which has built braces for animals as big as elephants.

Angelia Boncz, lead certified technician at Animal Ortho Care, said while animal braces are a fairly new concept, they are becoming more popular.

“People are starting to put more money into their animals and realizing there are other options rather than putting them down or some expensive surgery,” Boncz said. “What we want to do is just support the animals as much as we can and keep them happy and comfortable,”

While Boncz said braces for an animal Winnie’s size would cost about $1,800 for both legs initially, they do need to be replaced over time.

“With the bigger animals they’re a lot more destructive — they’re outside in barns rubbing on things or whatever, so it just kind of depends on what we’re dealing with,” Boncz said.

“It’s not a one pair (of braces) for the rest of their lives type thing. Straps will have to be replaced, there’s a lot of different variables on what could go wrong with them.”

However, Boncz said it’s hard to determine what a true solution would be for Winnie because she’s only seen a video of the calf so far.

“(Winnie) seemed happy, like she wanted to live a life and be comfortable,” Boncz said. “She needs a lot of correction and support.”

Whatever the solution, Phillips said it could cost a lot, especially over time. Because of this, the sanctuary is looking to the community for help through donations.

“Also, if people happen to know someone that might be able to help with designing something, if they make bicycles using wheels and lightweight metals, could potentially help us create something that could bear that weight for her, that would be great, too,” Phillps said. “We’re really open to any way of helping.”

Want to help?

You can make a direct donation to Life With Pigs on its facebook page or its webiste

Visiting hours for the farm are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Sunday, and 2-5 p.m. Thursday at Life With Pigs Animal Sanctuary, 195 Maxton Lane. Phillips asks visitors to message them to let the sanctuary know they are coming. If those hours don’t work, you can also email them at to set up a different time.

“Jenna is always happy to meet new people, and Winnie is coming around because she trusts her big sister,” Phillips said. “And the pigs … run over to greet you.”

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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