They love a tummy rub, are eager to please, don’t snarl at the postman and are far more intelligent, and easier to train, than dogs.
Is it any wonder that pigs are fast becoming a favourite among British pet owners?
Many celebrities have fallen for their charms: Elizabeth Hurley, the Beckhams, George Clooney and Charlotte Church are among those who have been — or still are — proud pig owners.
But before you start going gooey at the thought of those cute little piggies, some words of warning. Little pigs grow into big pigs — very big pigs — and many of them end up weighing up to 50 st, as some hapless owners have discovered. Even so-called miniature pigs can be 10 st, and cause havoc in a family home.
Claire Muirhead, 44, is a stay-at-home mum who lives in Herefordshire with her husband Paul, 50, who owns a building company, and their four sons aged between 12 and 20. They have four pigs — Percy, Pablo, Kiwi and Elmo
Many people don’t realise that micropigs — also referred to as ‘teacup’ or ‘mini’ pigs — are not a recognised breed and are the product of selective breeding. This means they are bred generation by generation, selecting the smallest each time to create a pig that’s the perfect size for a house pet.
They’re marketed with the promise that they’ll grow to be no bigger than a small dog. But selective breeding is far from failsafe, and there have been countless cases of owners being caught out when their cute little piglet has grown into a porker.
Also, keeping a pig as a pet comes with an equally weighty list of rules, and there are strict laws concerning their keep, registration and diet. Four women tell SADIE NICHOLAS why they choose to live with swine…
Poppet’s got a penchant for profiteroles
Karen Patterson, 50, is a GP’s receptionist who lives in Colchester with her husband John, 54, a mechanic. She has two grown-up children and a pig called Poppet. She says:
Although I’m an animal lover with four dogs, I’d never considered having a pet pig until John and I were clearing shrubs from the garden of our three-bedroom semi in late 2016.
I looked around, saw all this space, and joked: ‘We’ve got room for a mini pig now!’
Two weeks later, I went to view a litter of micro pigs at a nearby farm, which is where Poppet, then a tiny piglet, stole my heart.
‘Sometimes, when I get home from work, I clock 18 st of pig charging towards me, and I fear I’ll be literally knocked off my feet,’ said Karen Patterson, pictured with Poppet
Her parents were the size of small Labradors, so — not unreasonably — I imagined Poppet being the same, and eagerly handed over £650 for her.
The paperwork was quite a slog, but we applied for a licence and herd number from the local council. She arrived at our house in a cat basket and was so tiny that she could wriggle through the cat flap in the back door.
Then she grew, and grew, and grew. She’s still only 18 months old, not fully grown, and weighs 18 st.
With one flick of her snout she can upend everything from paving slabs in the garden to the coffee table in the living room and stools in the kitchen. The cuddly toys that she loves to play with last mere minutes, and she wrecks flowers and planters in the garden.
‘None of her mischief is malicious. She’s just a typical piggy,’ said the mother-of-two
She’s caused several hundred pounds worth of damage by chewing through fencing, smashing down the side of the shed where we keep her food, and lifting half-a-dozen paving slabs that had to be re-cemented.
She’ll eat anything except green beans, and has a penchant for profiteroles and cake as a treat to supplement her pig feed.
She used to sleep indoors, either on the sofa or with the dogs on their beds, but she’s far too big now, so has her own sty in the garden with a double-glazed window so that she’s warm in the winter and it can be opened in summer. And my goodness, is she fast. Sometimes, when I get home from work, I clock 18 st of pig charging towards me, and I fear I’ll be literally knocked off my feet.
I’d need another licence if I wanted to walk her, but I won’t be applying for one. She’s so big and powerful, I don’t think I could handle her!
But we all love her. None of her mischief is malicious. She’s just a typical piggy.
They hate the vet, but love cuddles
Tanya Bridgeman is a lecturer, event rider and coach. She lives near Lincoln with her husband and two pigs, Paloma and Olaf. She says:
After nodding off on the sofa one night, I woke up thinking that my husband had cuddled up to me, only to discover that I was actually being spooned by Olaf, one of our pigs.
Both pigs had been owned by friends who’d bought them as tiny piglets destined to be no bigger than a small dog.
One of my friends was moving house and her new home wasn’t suitable for a pig, and the other hadn’t bargained on Olaf raiding her kitchen cupboards once he’d grown to the size of a small dog. So we agreed to adopt them both.
Tanya Bridgeman with her two pigs, Paloma and Olaf – and her other pets. ‘They live in a sty in the summer and a stable in the winter, but seize any opportunity to get into the house to steal food, such as peppermints and cakes,’ she said
Coming to live with us was a greater shock for Olaf than Paloma, as he’d been used to living in a house and being dressed in chenille jumpers and sailor outfits.
As we tried to wean him from being an indoor to an outdoor pig, my husband would feel sorry for him and let him back in to snuggle up in the dog’s bed.
Both pigs now weigh around 18 st and are around the same size as our Shetland ponies.
They live in a sty in the summer and a stable in the winter, but seize any opportunity to get into the house to steal food, such as peppermints and cakes, even breaking through the reinforced fencing if they spot the back door open.
Both pigs had been owned by friends who’d bought them as tiny piglets destined to be no bigger than a small dog
Paloma has also been known to get drunk — yes really! In autumn, she regularly gorges on windfall apples that have started to ferment in our garden. It’s quite a sight to see her stumbling around, sloshed, before flopping to the floor and spending several days grumpy and hungover!
When we got the pigs, my main concern was whether they’d dig up our fields. I could never have envisaged the chaos they’d cause, or how much we — and everyone who visits — would adore them.
The only human they hate is the vet, who got a surprise when he once had to tend to Paloma’s trotters. She was so cross that she knocked him over, head-rammed the bumpers on his car, then attacked a broom, stormed off and ‘spoke’ to none of us for days.
35st Mavis is a really big flirt
Ali Marriott, 37, owns day centres for disabled adults. She is separated and lives in Bedfordshire with her sons Reed, five, and Oakes, seven, and a pig called Mavis. She says:
When I got Mavis from a local breeder in 2009 for £200, she was the size of a Jack Russell, but is now as big as a kitchen table and weighs a whopping 35 st.
My boys love Mavis — she’s like their very big sister. Reed loves to ride her like a pony, and although she’s not as agile as she used to be, she still entertains it.
Ali Marriott said of her piggy pal Mavis: ‘When she’s in season she has a thing for red-haired men, including our poor farrier who has to put up with her flirting by leaning hard against his legs.’ Also pictured, Ali’s sons Reed, five, and Oakes, seven
She’s my fifth pet pig and I named her after my late gran because I loved her so much, and I adore my pig, too!
She wasn’t supposed to get this big, but it’s a lottery, as some pigs grow bigger than others.
Many unsuspecting people have been duped by the so-called ‘teapot’ pig market, not realising that these cute piglets won’t stay the size of a teapot or that even a small adult pig may still weigh 15 st.
Mavis lived indoors for the first two years and loved to sleep by the fire or climb onto the sofa to watch TV.
‘Despite her size, Mavis is so cute and clever. She rolls over on command and during stressful times I get great comfort from lying with my head on her belly, listening to the rhythm of her snoring and her tummy rising and falling,’ said Ali
But she got so big that she’d get stuck in doorways and struggled to turn around in the corridors. So now she’s got her own house outdoors at my parents’ home in the next village, where their three acres of land dwarfs the garden of my four-bedroom home. But she’s still very much my pet pig, and the boys and I see her every day.
Despite her size, Mavis is so cute and clever.
She rolls over on command and during stressful times I get great comfort from lying with my head on her belly, listening to the rhythm of her snoring and her tummy rising and falling.
But she can also be a bit of a madam and if she wants something, she won’t let anything stand in her way, including the wheelbarrow she overturned the other day to get past me to some feed.
And when she’s in season she has a thing for red-haired men, including our poor farrier who has to put up with her flirting by leaning hard against his legs.
She’s always up to no good, tipping plant pots and buckets over, and spinning around in the kitchen, which knocks all the bins over. She once locked me in the feed room by flicking the latch with her snout. I had no way of getting out, so I had to kick the door until the bolt came off!
She’ll eat anything she can get her trotters on, including banana skins, bread and cakes, so we have to keep the pantry door closed.
In fact, during the summer if my parents’ back door is open and we spot Mavis making a dash towards it, there’s a collective cry: ‘Quick! She’s coming! Shut the door!’
Elmo has even slept on my bed
Claire Muirhead, 44, is a stay-at-home mum who lives in Herefordshire with her husband Paul, 50, who owns a building company, and their four sons aged between 12 and 20. They have four pigs — Percy, Pablo, Kiwi and Elmo. Claire says:
As if I didn’t have enough on my plate with four boys, in the past two-and-a-half years I’ve acquired four mischievous male pigs.
After housesitting a friend’s pigs in 2016 when they were on holiday, I was mesmerised by them. I scoured social media, found a local breeder with piglets for sale, fell in love with brothers Percy, who’s pink, and Pablo, who’s black, and paid £25 each for them.
Claire Muirhead, who owns Percy, Elmo and Kiwi, said: ‘All of them lived indoors at the start, but when they got too big I turfed them out to their sties, though they’re always sneaking into the house’
Although they were tiny at the time, and their mum was only the size of a small Labrador, their dad was a Gloucester Old Spot, a breed that’s notoriously huge.
The girl who sold them to me did say: ‘Just to warn you, I really don’t know how big they’ll get . . .’
So I was aware they could end up being whoppers, and when the vet last saw them he estimated they must each weigh around 25 st.
But far from putting me off, I adore them and got my third pig, Kiwi, the spotty one, as a six-month-old rescue at Christmas 2016, followed by Elmo last summer from a friend’s litter.
All of them lived indoors at the start, but when they got too big I turfed them out to their sties, though they’re always sneaking into the house.
Percy grunts at strangers, eats everything from melon to porridge, puts his head on my leg when he wants love, and cuddles up to me on the hammock in the garden in the summer.
Pablo’s an alpha male who bosses the others around. Kiwi’s the most chilled out of the four, and will sit on command for a piece of food.
Meanwhile, Elmo is the cheekiest, cutest and most pampered. I even let him sleep on our bed once soon after we first got him. He’d been sleeping by the side of my bed every night, but that particular evening he looked up at me from the floor and his face was so cute that I couldn’t resist picking him up and laying him next to me.
Paul was asleep and when he began to wake the next morning, I nonchalantly mentioned that Elmo was on the bed. I don’t think Paul would let me do that again, even though I’d love to.
Elmo and Kiwi love being naughty together, and if I inadvertently leave the larder door open, they’ll charge in, pinch a bag of potatoes each and run out of the house to eat them.
Paul and our boys do get annoyed when the pigs make a mess in the house or the garage but I think they secretly love them as much as I do . . . although I’m not sure they’d approve of my latest daydream to open a rescue centre here for lots more piggies.