Call this a micropig? Epidemic of horrified owners whose cute litttle piglets have turned into oversize porkers


This little piggy: Melissa White with her younger sister Alice and their pet porker Henry, who they bought thinking he was a micro-pig but turned into a real hog

The terrified, tearful phone call came one afternoon in February while Margaret Smith and her husband Rod were enjoying a cruise on the Amazon.

It was from their 26-year-old daughter Emma back home in Ringwood, Hampshire, who found herself trapped in the garden shed with a hulking great, 8st, hungry and very aggressive pig.

The animal in question was the family’s pet, Pigwig, who, that morning, had followed Emma into the shed where she kept his breakfast and grabbed the bag of feed, refusing to let go.

‘Emma was cornered and just didn’t know what to do,’ remembers Margaret. ‘Pigwig was worked up and headbutting her legs. He’s huge, really strong and heavy, and poor Emma was powerless.

‘There was nothing we could do from our cruise ship, we told her to call her older brothers and get them round to help. They raced over and managed to push Pigwig away from Emma, but she was terribly shaken.’

It’s quite a dramatic tale, but what makes the story so remarkable is that Pigwig was sold to the family as a ‘micro pig’ — a tame, miniature breed supposed to grow to around a foot tall and able to be trained and live as a domestic pet in the home.

But there was nothing micro about the beast that left Emma battered and bruised.
Like the Smiths, 22-year-old student Melissa White lives with the consquences of her misguided expectations of life with a micro pig since buying Henry with her 21st birthday money in September 2009. On the day of purchase Henry fitted in the palm of Melissa’s hand, today he is nudging 10st, is 2ft tall and 4ft long and expected to grow bigger still.

He has caused several thousand pounds worth of damage to the four-bedroom, semi-detached family house and its 100ft garden in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

‘Where shall I start?’ Melissa sighs. ‘We’ve had to buy a new front room carpet, lino for the utility room and we returfed the garden. He’s chewed through pairs of shoes and attacked the hard wood flooring and charged at walls knocking out lumps of plaster.’

Walkies!: Melissa White takes her dog Tinky and pet Henry, who turned out not to be a micro-pig, out for a walk

Adorable: Micropigs are the must-have pet at the moment, but owners are being duped into buying ordinary porkers which grow into huge beasts

The swine equivalent of an Andrex puppy, micro pigs are the accessory ‘du jour’ in celebrity circles. Socialite Paris Hilton has one called Princess Piglette and Victoria Beckham reportedly bought a pair for husband David last Christmas.

Although not a recognised breed, micro pigs were bred over several generations from other specially selected small breeds and, according to the hype, they are not supposed to grow much bigger than the size of a small spaniel.

Apart from their popularity as pets, it was revealed at the weekend that micro pigs have now been identified by EU scientists as being the perfect laboratory animals to experiment on in the future, because they are ‘smaller and easier to handle’ than dogs or primates.

But for pet lovers, there are two rather big problems. First, while micro pigs may be tiny their price tag definitely isn’t. Thanks to their popularity, breeders can demand up to £1,500 each.

Second, over the past year there has been a worrying number of stories of these little piggies growing into huge great porkers, prompting accusations of fraud and false advertising.

So what’s going on? Are soft-hearted animal lovers being duped into paying scandalously high prices for bog standard hogs by unscrupulous, unregulated breeders; or is the whole concept of a micro pig a genetic misnomer — living, oinking proof that it is impossible to mess with nature?

Anyone for a bacon butty? Melissa White says when she bought Henry he fitted in the palm of her hand, but now he is fully grown he is a messy monster

Someone told Melissa White porkies: The pet owner, with her dog Tinky and Henry, is devastated she might have to part with her pet pig, but says he has turned her house upside down

According to the pig industry’s professional body, the National Pig Association, there may be elements of truth in both arguments. Spokesman Zoe Davies says: ‘While many of the breeders are legitimate, some individuals have been selling normal commercial weaners or rare breed mixes as “micros” which then grow into large and destructive pigs.

‘When you look at the mark-up — a normal pig sells for about £40 — you can see why people are keen to cash on this craze. Yet in any breeding programme there are always going to be throwbacks.’

What Zoe means is that a micro pig’s great-great grandparents may have been average size pigs and, although it’s unlikely, there is no guarantee that the supposed micro pig won’t end up being normal size.

This is certainly something the Smith family found out to their cost when they bought Pigwig in July last year. The couple, who own their own toolmaking business, got him for daughter Emma, who works as a dressmaker.

Both Pigwig and Henry were supplied by Jane Croft of the Little Pig Farm in Cambridgeshire. Jane is a 43-year-old former veterinary nurse, cab driver and City investment banker who switched to breeding micro pigs as a hobby about two years ago and turned it into a booming business.

Pictures of her adorable piglets have caught the attention of the world’s media, and she’s appeared in countless magazines and newspapers, and on TV in America and Australia.

After viewing a video on Jane’s website, Margaret, 65, and Rod, 67, ordered a little eight-week-old piglet costing £450. Margaret says: ‘Emma treated him like a baby, carrying him on her shoulder and sleeping with him on her bed. He was much easier to train than a dog, and took to his litter tray immediately. We all adored him. We have a miniature Lhasa Apso dog and were told Pigwig wouldn’t grow much bigger than him.’

But, by the time he was eight months old, Pigwig wasn’t so wee any more.
Margaret recalls: ‘He used to sleep in the sun lounge with a child gate on the door but he soon smashed his way through that and hoisted the radiator off the wall, too. We had to put a stable door on the room in the end.’

Not-so-little-piggy: Melissa says Henry loves to cuddle but also likes charging at walls and attacking her hard wood flooring

Big pig: Henry has destroyed owner Melissa's home and caused many arguments in her family

Not surprisingly, with Pigwig soon standing a strapping 2ft tall and still not fully grown, he was relegated to the garden where he immediately set about trashing the flower beds until the family was forced to build him a £1,000 pen with secure fencing.

‘We’d grown too fond of him to think about giving him away and, mostly, he has a lovely temperament. But I was cross that we had been misinformed by the breeder. We sought advice from Trading Standards who agreed we had a case as we hadn’t got what we paid for. In April we were refunded £400 of our £450. The £50 represented the cost of an ordinary, commercial pig.’

Pigwig is now living quite happily in the family garden, with another — non micro — pig for company.

The Smiths soon learned they were not the only ones with a hog that had outgrown their expectations. Margaret has now set up her own Facebook group called ‘the truth about mini pigs’ which has attracted 271 members, swapping pig horror stories.

When approached by the Mail, breeder Jane Croft claimed she too is a victim in the debacle, having sold on several
supposed micro pigs she’d bought in good faith from another breeder — a practice she has now stopped.

‘I sold people some pigs which grew much larger than they were supposed to. I put my hands up to that — yes, it was absolutely awful, it happened, and I feel wretched about it. But I am being labelled as a con woman and have suffered 14 months of harassment,’ she said.

‘I have done everything I am supposed to do. I offered replacements, which 98 per cent of people didn’t want, and have had to give over £20,000 in refunds. I have just invested in £10,000 worth of pedigree software which keeps a check on who is who. I run a really big operation. I am too well known to rip people off.’

Despite Jane’s continued insistence that micro pigs make suitable pets, the majority of pig industry professionals will never be convinced.

Kirsty Bayley, pig herd manager at the Institute For Animal Health, says: ‘When you see free-range pigs rooting around contentedly in groups in fields and woodlands, it’s obvious that this is where they should be. They are agricultural animals, not domestic pets.’

This little piggy might have to go to market: Melissa may have to find adorable Henry a new home as she had thought she was buying a micro-pig and not a huge porker

If the size issues don’t put people off, the National Pig Association hopes the wad of strict rules surrounding the keeping of pigs might. Owners who break them could be fined £5,000 or face up to six months in prison.

All pigs have to be registered with the Government’s Department For The Environment, Food And Rural Affairs in order to keep tabs on them should there be an outbreak of a disease such as foot and mouth.

Equally strict rules apply to transporting them. A licence is needed every time a pig — of any size — is moved from one place to another. You’d even need one to take a pig for a walk. Then there’s a 20-day ‘quarantine’ rule, banning any further movement in case a disease has been picked up en route.

They’re rules Jane Croft’s Little Pig Farm fell foul of in August when she was prosecuted by Cambridgeshire Trading Standards, and fined £2,500 with £500 costs, for several breaches of this 20-day rule — offences she admitted.

Rob Rose, who is considered the UK micro pig industry’s founder, having ‘bred down’ pigs for 15 years at his business Pigs R Us, near Lake Windermere in Cumbria, says a lot of the problems have arisen due to people’s unrealistic expectations of keeping a pig as a pet. He, too, has had a number of returnees, after pigs have grown too large for people to cope with.

‘I’ve turned people away in tears when they come here expecting to buy a 10in-high pig, having seen pictures of these cute little piglets sitting in teacups in newspapers. Ten and 12in adult pigs simply don’t exist,’ he says.

Chris Jones, 46, from Stainton in Cumbria, bought a micro pig from Rob a year ago. He paid £700 for little Nana, who at eight weeks old was the size of a small rabbit.

Now a year old, she is 2ft tall with a year’s growth still ahead of her. Chris says: ‘She regularly rubs the paint off the walls. Anything she can fit her snout under she will flip over: chairs, coffee table, water bowls, they all go flying.

She’s even chewed through the telephone wire. I was told she’d grow no higher than my knee but she’s up to mid-thigh already.’

Nana spends most of her time outside now. ‘We are lucky, we have room in the garden to accommodate her and other pigs for company. I don’t like to think of what people living in small houses or flats would do in our situation. I fear many pigs end up in the slaughter house.’

Melissa White admits that she may one day have to part company with Henry, who has been the cause of much family strife.

‘I did tons of research and presented a really good case to my parents before I bought him, but the story I sold them couldn’t have been further from the truth. Our placid house descended into chaos — suddenly we were shouting at each other and Mum was crying all the time.’

Melissa has since received a refund, but unlike Pigwig and Nana, she does not have the room or the money to move Henry into the garden with another pig for company, so he still lives in the house with them.

This, she admits, is not fair on a huge animal like Henry — in fact Melissa is so frightened of retribution from animal rights groups that she insisted the Mail changed her surname for this article.

‘He considers us his herd, and loves cuddles and attention and still jumps up next to me on the sofa. He’s always lived indoors, he would be totally lost outside now,’ she says. ‘It’s devastating to think we may one day have to part ways but, in the meantime, I’m taking each day as it comes.’

Unfortunately, one suspects, until other greedy breeders stop selling porkies to wide-eyed buyers, there will be many more ‘micro pigs’ who turn out to be like Henry and Pigwig.

source :dailymail