Micro pigs - putting our livestock at risk

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It’s heartbreaking to hear of an animal being marketed as the latest “must have” To those of us who have seen animals portrayed in this way before, it means only one thing, hundreds of animals being bought on a whim, kept in unsuitable surroundings and then abandoned when the novelty has worn off.

Up to a point, the general public has largely been unaffected by these crazes, we hear about them but then other things take over and they are forgotten.

However that all changed, when approximately 12 months ago, a farm animal with the potential of spreading a disease, that theoretically could wipe out the livestock of every single farmer and smallholder in the UK, was deemed to be the new “must have” pet and started selling in their hundreds.

The Micro Pig, a supposedly tiny pig is currently selling for up to a mind blowing £1,000 each. Marketed as the perfect family pet, the micro pig is a cross between pure bred farm pigs such as the Gloucester Old Spot or Tamworth, and a smaller pig such as the pot belly or Kunekune,

Size really does matter in this game where the majority of websites boast about breeding the tiniest pigs. Unfortunately, as it has been pointed out time and time again via forums and the media, what you actually end up with once the pig has reached adulthood, is as far removed from a tiny micro pig as you can possible achieve, this however doesn’t seem to stop the breeders who are churning them out as fast as they can to keep up with demand.

Although the size issue is bad enough, after all you pay your money and takes your choice; there is a far more serious issue behind the selling of these micro pigs and its one that should concern every single one of us in the livestock business. Many of these pigs are sold to people who have has much knowledge and respect for the rules and regulations put in place to safeguard the nation’s livestock, as a cardboard cut-out. Everyday there is new evidence of rules been flouted. Clips on YouTube and Facebook show people openly feeding their pet pigs in their kitchen, Photos of pigs eating banned products are placed on owner’s websites and blogs, and there has even been a case recently of a pig living in a flat being fed sausages. Luckily for the pig, he has now been found another more suitable home. However this is far from an isolated case, every day many many micro owners are ignoring the rules and threatening hundreds of rural livelihoods.

However, it’s not just the owners that are known to flout the rules. Recently one well known breeder was fined thousands of pounds for moving pigs, some of which were sick all over the UK without the correct paperwork, many into homes that are off the Defra radar. A worrying fact if there was another outbreak of disease.

Safety too is an issue. Some breeders are selling uncastrated boar piglets as pets into family environments, citing mutilation as a reason not to castrate. One woman with eight children, living in a suburb of London, is learning the hard way how a sexually mature uncastrated boar behaves. Unsurprisingly the breeder is refusing to take this aggressive boar back and sanctuaries won’t touch it until it is castrated.

Defra, the National Pig Association and the British Pig Association have all been taken by surprise at the sheer number of people buying these pigs, and are overwhelmed by the problem. Recently a county council contacted the NPA as they were concerned at the number of people applying for CPH’s in order to buy these pigs. In recent months Trading Standards have been inundated with people wanting advice on how to apply for refunds on pigs that have grown way beyond the owner’s expectations. Not all breeders are happy to do this though and some are currently being taken to court.

Tem Sosa in Norfolk, is one of those people whose micro pig grew and grew and at one year old is nearly the size of a Tamworth. She is taking the breeder to court after they refused to give her a refund. She tells me “I bought Maggie and Martha on the 10th of March 2010. I was promised by the breeder that they would grow no higher than 14-18 inches high, they are now a year old and Maggie is 26 inches at the shoulder and Martha is 29 inches” Fortunately for Tem and her pigs, she has plenty of land in which they can roam, but £1,500 is a lot of money to pay for what turned out to be ordinary farm pigs. Similar pigs are fetching around the £50 mark at markets.

So what can be done, it seems not a lot apart from getting the truth out there and pressuring the authorities. Trading Standards despite having overwhelming evidence to do so seem reluctant - for reasons known only to themselves, - to close those breeders down who are breaking the rules.

Most people involved with animals are aware, breeding animals down is not as simple as breeding runt to runt, it takes a genuine knowledge of genetics and many many years of experimenting to actually come up with a small pig that breeds true to type every time. So until the next “must have” comes along, all we can do is hope that micro pigs are not a source of a major disease outbreak. In the meantime micro breeders are making hay whilst the sun shines.