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Super Tiny Animals
Chris Murray, who runs the award-winning Pennywell Farm in South Devon, was the first person in Britain to breed micro pigs. Now 19 years on, the adorable mini pigs are world-famous, and feature in the documentary Super Furry Animals, which looks at the ever-increasing demand for miniature pets, from pint-sized pooches to more exotic animals like mini marmosets. TV Choice spoke to Chris, who has been farming organically for more than 40 years, about his petite piggies
What’s involved in breeding miniature pigs?
Because the farm is open to the public, we needed to breed an animal that was very friendly. You can’t have animals on a farm bolting, or going bonkers — or ‘going mazed,’ as we say in Devon! So, of course you record the size they are, but it’s about their character as well. Every pig is unique, but I can’t ever guarantee what size they’ll be. The other thing was, I wanted to breed a pig that people could cuddle for a long time. Even when our pigs are a year old you can still have them on your lap, and when they’re 18 months you can still have them on your lap, sometimes. When they’re two years old they’re fully grown, although a pig never really quite stops growing, they get stouter all the time.
What’s the best thing about micro pigs?
We’ve sold them to celebrities like Jonathan Ross and Charlotte Church, but once I sold one to a lady down the road, whose son, unbeknown to me, was severely autistic. And I was absolutely thrilled to bits, because pig and child would romp, happy as Larry. Pig understood child, child understood pig. The pig had grown bigger than I would normally want, and I offered to replace it free of charge, and she said, ‘Oh no! The pig and the child have such a relationship, and the pig has got such a nice nature, I wouldn’t want to change it for the world.’
Mini pigs are fabulous. I’ll give you an idea of how popular they are. On my daughter’s 21st she had a shared birthday party, we had about 50-odd people and at three o’clock in the morning I said, ‘Look, I’ve got to go to bed.’ All these lovely young girls and their beaux were going round the animals and the most popular was the miniature pigs. And they were cuddling them in their evening gowns, and I said, ‘Girls, really, they’ll poo on you,’ but they didn’t care, they just loved it.
In Super Tiny Animals, we meet an American lady who takes in abandoned micro pigs who’ve grown too big for their owners…
But I wouldn’t do that. I’ve got to be careful because I have the heart of a farmer, and I have a slogan in my office, ‘If you use it, farm it.’ I love rearing animals — I love eating them too. I keep cows, I keep goats, I love eating goat meat, I love milking goats. I’ve got goats as pets. And I find this anthropomorphic thing a bit difficult, really, because animals are not human, if they were they’d be driving cars!
So you love them, but you don’t sentimentalise them?
No, I don’t, but I will say one thing, when the sows get older you’ve got to cull them, because you can’t have animals dying on site, and also, it’s a waste, you can’t then eat them.
Do you eat the micro pigs?
Oh gosh, that would upset people if I said yes, wouldn’t it? Yes, we do. If there are ones that we don’t want to breed from and we don’t want to sell then we’ll eat them. They taste like suckling pig. And if I get any hate mail I’ll let you know!