Three weeks ago I finished my five-week general animal care internship. My last week was spent in Piggy Paradise with all of the amazingly smart and adorable pot-bellied pigs, their wonderful caregivers, and even some goats who were learning clicker training. I have never worked with pigs, nor have I ever really been around them outside of the petting zoo capacity from my childhood, so being able to spend a week learning about them was fascinating. I had no idea that there was even a market for pot-bellied pigs, let alone a completely made up brand/breed of “Teacup Pigs.” Many of the pigs at Best Friends were surrendered because they grew much larger than their owners expected them to, had a myriad of health problems due to their insufficient diet, or were too aggressive and destructive in large part to them being under socialized single pets.
There is no such thing as a Teacup, miniature, Juliana, micro mini, dandie, or pocket pig. These are all just terms for pigs that are likely still babies under one or two years old and have been starved to deter growth. All of these brands are sold under false pretenses, usually for thousands of dollars. Pigs can begin reproducing around three to six weeks of age – still just piglets – and don’t stop growing until they are around five years old. What people see when they go to purchase a teacup pig is a litter, or farrow, of itty bitty baby piglets next to two small, but ideally proportionate pigs that are advertised as the parents. The parents are used as the guidelines to which the babies will grow up (because only full-grown adults can reproduce, right?), and uneducated people with only one goal in mind will buy the schtick. Once the money is handed over, the new owners of the cutest piggy ever are told to feed it a limited diet to ensure it stays small, and sent on their way.
Then the piglet outgrows the teacup, and the sink, and the puppy bed, until it’s 60+ pounds. Being underfed and supremely intelligent, It is always hungry and bored with the cushy indoor life, and starts rooting under the fridge for those lost cheerios, ripping up the flooring and toppling appliances. It acts out with aggressive mood swings, biting for food and to establish dominance in a herd where there are no other pigs to challenge. It shatters underdeveloped bones just by walking, it has breathing problems from being inbred, its internal organs continue to grow normally while its skeletal system is stunted, resulting in an over-stressed, extremely painful existence. The life expectancy of a normal, healthy pot-bellied pig is 16-20 years. The life expectancy of a Teacup pig averages to about five years. Thus, they end up in shelters around the country that are unprepared to care for them, and they are euthanized. Thankfully, there are now many pig-specific sanctuaries that will pull them from kill-shelters and give them the life they deserve while educating the public about the scam that is Teacup pig marketing.
This is Kit, a smiley little one-year old who is kinda shy and skittish around people, but if you have a fig newton (or 15), she’ll follow you around like you’ve been best pals forever. Despite her hesitant nature, she’s tremendously curious and will try to sneak up to new situations before they notice she’s there. Many times I would catch her approaching out of the corner of my eye, and when I turned around, she’d trot away from me with her tail wagging happily. I was able to work on some training with her, getting her used to being pet by people, teaching her to touch my hand or sit for a treat, and I even had a splash party with her in a piggy pool on one of the warmer days.
Kit’s profile: http://goo.gl/SGhYB3
Pigs are so remarkably smart, and love having lots to do – including rooting around in the dirt, playing with things that make noise, scratching on trees and cinderblocks, rolling around in puddles, and exploring new places. They are ranked right behind humans, apes, and dolphins in terms of their intelligence, and they can learn a wide variety of tricks and behaviors. Also, they are great walking companions if you have the right motivation (fig newtons, lots and lots of fig newtons).
Not only is Best Friends home to a couple herds of pot-bellied pigs, but they have a five-acre plot set aside just for two very unique pigs named Nick and Holly. These siblings are part domestic Hampshire, part feral pigs that are over 400 pounds each and have legs for days. Holly has been trained in level one of Parelli horsemanship (which I’m still not convinced isn’t magic), and really enjoys hiking and washing rocks. Nick is a seasoned collector, and will dig up whole trees, fence posts, and any other artifacts he deems worthy to decorate his room with.
Here’s Holly enjoying a short mudbath:
Holly’s profile: http://goo.gl/gCbhPp
Nick’s profile: http://goo.gl/9oU48r
Some great articles to educate yourself on teacup pigs:
Best Friends – The Truth About Teacup Pigs
Modern Farmer – Never Buy a Teacup Pig
The Dodo – What’s Misleading About Teacup Pigs