Clicker Training

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Today, Connor the animal behaviourist was at the farm doing clicker training with Derek the Donkey. Derek is a young donkey and was particularly skittish when he moved to Spitalfields. Connor has been working with him over the last year, using the technique to help Derek assimilate to his new surroundings, while also providing mental stimulation and exercise. Most commonly used with dogs and horses, clicker training shapes animal behaviour through positive reinforcement. As the animal performs the desired action, the clicker is pressed and the animal is given a reward, such as food. Soon the animal equates the sound of the click with the treat, and is encouraged to carry out the new behaviour.

SamanthaSweeting_Derek_clickertraining_3SamanthaSweeting_Derek_clickertraining_2To further aid Derek’s desensitisation to unfamiliar sounds and objects, various colourful items have been placed around his paddock and stable – including an easel because Derek likes to paint. (More posts about this soon, I hope).

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Via these interactions, Derek has formed a close bond with Connor, and brays every time he arrives or leaves. I recorded one of his calls today, then, out of curiosity, played it back to him on a speaker. Derek became quickly excited, possibly distressed, before letting out the loudest, most animated ee-aw I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, I did not record this one and didn’t have the heart to repeat the experiment.

The noise of the clicker reminds me of the sound I intuitively mouthed when making my performance video She Wants It, She Wants It Not with Gina the Donkey in the Pyrenees some years ago. Gina was the guardian for a flock of sheep, and used to bray each time I called her name. She epitomised donkey strength and pathos. I was very fond of her and, in an expression of empathy, I made a mask for myself in her image.

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For live demonstrations of clicker training, equine hoof care and donkey rides, come down to the Spitalfields City Farm on Donkey Day, Wednesday 8 May, 12-3pm.

KuneKune pigs.

I have been seeing a lot of KuneKune pigs lately. There were some at a farm I visited in Oregon last month, where my brother buys his eggs. They also have a pair at ZSL London Zoo. And here are Watson and Holmes, on the Spitalfields City Farm.

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KuneKunes “fat and round” pigs come from New Zealand, though their origin is believed to have been China. They are a small domestic breed that are hairy and have wattles (pire pire) hanging from their lower jaw. I am told that sometimes when they are piglets, they mistake the wattles for teats and bite them off. I am assured that this is not as painful as it sounds.

They are friendly and intelligent pigs that enjoy human company. Thanks to a breeding program initiated in the 1980’s, they no longer face extinction, with breeding societies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Farm Tales

I have just begun my 4 month artist residency at the Spitalfields City Farm, where I will concentrate on making a sound archive of animal noises and oral histories. These will be developed into psycho-geographic audio tours of the farmyard and gardens, interweaving stories from the farm, with memories, myths, fairytales, and observations. In addition, I will make a series of photographs and short narrative films, recording the daily running of the farm.

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