Pint-sized pigs are growing in popularity, and one Queensland family has turned their passion for mini porkers into a breeding operation to meet the growing demand for pet pigs.
The Turner family run their miniature pig operation on 4 ha at picturesque Mount Marrow, about 20 minutes west of Ipswich.
Skye Turner said although the family has been on acreage for five years; but not only were they not farmers, they had no farming background.
“We simply prefer to be able to smell the fresh air, not have neighbours within arm’s reach, and have plenty of room to do the things we like to do,” Skye said.
“And have room for our kids to run and make plenty of noise and get dirty — and keep a menagerie of pets,” she said.
The Turner farm is characterised by black soils that become typically slippery during wet seasons — a haven for the pigs, a bit of a hassle for the gumboots.
“Where we are, we get the cold winters and the very hot summers and at the moment we have not had decent rain for months and everything is very dry,” Skye said.
“Over the course of a year, our dam will usually slowly dry out and then re-fill come the wet season in December and January,” she said.
So how did this vibrant young family come to be one of the few genuine miniature pig breeders in Australia?
Well it all started as a harmless search for one of the tiny trotters as a pet for their own five children.
Skye said their vision for Mount Marrow Mini Pigs was born after they had gone through two very bad experiences trying to buy their miniature pig.
“Our first experience was when we turned up to a property to choose a piglet and the seller said to us ‘whichever one you manage to catch will be yours’.
“Well after finally managing to catch one, we drove home to pen the piglet and then left to go to the produce shop for supplies and on our return the piglet was gone,” Skye explained.
“It had broken through two lots of dog proof fencing and was never seen again. We were left with crying children and a broken pen.
“Our second experience came when we saw an ad on gumtree advertising a ‘fully grown mini pig, very friendly, pet only’ so we set off to pick her up.
“The pig came home and she was lovely, but she kept growing, and growing and growing and in the end she was so big and strong we simply couldn’t keep her anymore.”
After the two false starts, Skye did some research and came across a handful of certified miniature pig breeders.
“I thought this would be something we could do ourselves — provide a positive experience for families wanting a pet pig.”
And the journey began.
Skye said their business is founded on their determination to ensure all their piglets are very well socialised by six weeks and are fit and healthy and head to homes that understand what is required to own and care for a miniature pig.
In order to become breeders, the family went about pig-proofing their farm and ensuring they had the right infrastructure and environment to create a pig paradise.
“When we bought the property it was extremely rundown so we have put much effort into clearing and cleaning up,” Skye added
“It was originally a horse property and has a beautiful old barn with six stables on either side,” she said.
“This barn is now used for farrowing and is proving ideal — the stalls are fully enclosed, safe and clean and have heat lamps to keep the sows and piglets warm.
“They also have a purpose-built outdoor nursery area where mums and piglets can enjoy the grass and sunshine.
“We also had another existing free standing stable on the property, which we have used as a shelter for my ‘girl paddock’ and it is filled with bedding straw for the pigs to sleep in.
“This paddock houses three to five sows at any one time and is around three quarters of an acre. We have used a high tensile dog mesh type fence for the perimeter.
“We also run a hot wire strand about 30 cm from the bottom (just for extra peace of mind) but we only run the hot wire to keep naughty boys and naughty girls apart.
“The pig housing is replicated for the two boars and paddocks are rotated to allow for grazing on fresh pasture and to reduce the risk of parasite burden and promote hygiene and land regeneration.
But Skye said for most families looking to introduce a pet pig, a range of low-cost set ups can be utilised.
“In a pet situation, the housing scenario is very different. A pig will happily cruise around a farm or acreage block with dog companions or humans and will even sleep in a kennel with a dog,” she said.
“Or inside given half a chance — some even sleep in their owners’ beds.
“And they will very quickly learn how to open the back door,” she laughed.
Mount Marrow Mini Pigs has six sows and two boars. Each sow has just one litter per year as the family is committed to ensuring their breeders have plenty of time ‘just being pigs’.
Since establishing the business, which is booming thanks to social media and Facebook, Skye said the family had learnt some valuable lessons and continued to look for ways to improve their business.
“Running a breeding program is not as easy as it may seem, especially with pigs,” she said.
“In our first two years we were constantly coming up with new fencing ideas to keep boys and girls apart and have dealt with a handful of unexpected medical cases arising from breeding activities.
“And there is always the sad times when we may lose piglets or treat them if they become sick.”
Mount Marrow Mini Pigs sells all pet pigs de-sexed which Skye said provided more consistent behaviour.
She believed just about anyone can make a good owner, but there are a few checks and balances put in place by the business to ensure the correct match between pig and purchaser.
“We will not sell to anyone on less than one acre: we are very strict about being responsible breeders and for a happy pig and family, a pig needs room to move as they spend most of their day grazing on grass.
“If they run out of grass they will become bored and get destructive and, sadly, this is what happens too often and it results in many families who don’t have the appropriate space looking to re-home their pig,” Skye said.
“I always get people to check with their local councils too, regarding keeping a pig as a pet. Every council has its own rules and regulations and it’s always best to be sure, rather than making an assumption.”
Skye said when people enquire about miniature pigs the first thing they all ask is: ‘How big will your pigs grow’?
“My answer is this: our pigs will grow to be around the size of a fat Labrador but on short legs.
“Around 55 cm high and can weigh between 50 and 70 kg. Even though short, they are very stocky and strong.”
According to Skye, miniature pigs are highly social, extremely intelligent, can be trained like a dog, love the company of dogs and humans, can be toilet trained and are very clean.
“A piglet is a bit like a puppy: they require minimal vet care but a basic rule of thumb is an annual vaccination (we use PLEvac a 3 in 1 that protects against Parvovirus, Leptospirosis and Erysipelas), worming (we worm with Dectomax 6 monthly for internal and external parasites) and foot care.
“Hooves will normally wear naturally, however if trained while young, you can file your piglets trotter with a rasp as you would a horses hooves,” she explained.
“Males may or may not develop small tusks (our pigs are extremely domesticated and do not get the huge wild boar tusks that so many are familiar with) but these can be trimmed by a vet if needed.
“Pigs can also be bathed just as you would a dog, using a baby shampoo or very mild wash as they can have very dry sensitive skin.
“Mount Marrow Mini Pigs sell for $600 including de-sexing, worming, vaccination, ear tagging, NVD pig pass, harness and lead, and information handbook.
And — Skye added — these pigs can fly as piglets can travel via road or air all over Australia.
But of all the reasons to consider a pet pig Skye said for her it was the sheer joy of being around the animals.
“Our pigs provide us with lots of laughter and love and will bring the same to any individual or family for at least 10 to 15 years,” she said.
Despite what most people think Skye said they don’t eat like pigs, needing a controlled diet to avoid overfeeding, which is not good for their short little legs.
“Along with fresh fruit and vegetables, we feed ours a cracked mixed grain and oaten chaff,” she said.
“For example, an adult will have around two cups of grain morning and night and two cups of fruit/vegetable mix morning and night.
“Ours also get some lucerne during the winter when grass is not very abundant.
“Right now Mount Marrow Mini Pigs is experiencing a boom in demand, but there are no plans to get big just yet.
“At this point in time we are slowly expanding,” Skye said.
“I have a beautiful new boar coming very soon and my wait list grows with Christmas fast approaching.”