Good things come in small packages… when it comes to pigs and horses.
The story of animal husbandry has mostly been about breeding bigger, stronger and more productive livestock. But in 2018 that isn’t the whole story. There’s now increasing interest in keeping and breeding miniature livestock; true scaled-down versions of established types.
The first most of us heard about miniature livestock was in the 1990s when the trend for ‘micro’ pigs began. These miniature potbellied pigs descended from the original Vietnamese potbellies, and for a while it seemed as if they were never out of the newspapers, often pictured in the arms, or the handbags, of their celebrity owners. It sparked a big debate about keeping such animals as pets but, whatever the rights and wrongs, the image of a tiny pig sitting in a teacup is hard to forget.
Twenty-five years later and the breeding of miniature livestock is more varied and taken much more seriously. Among the most common miniature animals in the UK at the moment are horses with the popular breeds including Falabellas and miniature Shetlands. To help distinguish them from ponies there are a set of rules, and a horse can only be classed as a miniature if it measures 34 inches or less at the withers (usually the highest part of an equine’s back).
MINIATURE IS MORE
But why would anyone want their horse to be a smaller version of a well-known breed? Well, some people who love the idea of horse riding simply can’t handle a fullsized animal. Very young children and some disabled riders prefer miniatures while others may lack the space that’s needed for keeping a large horse. In fact, things are going even further in the Yorkshire town of Northallerton where a miniature is even being trained as Britain’s first guide horse for the partially sighted. Digby is a friendly American miniature colt who stands a full 30 inches and accompanies his owner, Katy Smith, on shopping trips in the town centre. In about 18 months’ time he’ll be paired with Mohammed Salim Patel who has a degenerative visual impairment but can’t have a conventional assistance animal because he has a phobia of dogs.
In this country the British Miniature Horse Society (BMHS) oversees the breeding and well-being of the animals as well as organising events, shows and auctions. One of the key aims of the BMHS is to promote miniature horses but it’s also there to offer help, advice and support to owners and any horse lovers who have an eye to buying their first animal. I think that’s crucial in making sure owners stay within the law and that the horses are kept to the highest animal welfare standards.
THE BEST WITH THE BEST
The idea of cross breeding livestock to create an animal with more desirable traits was pioneered as far back as the 18th century by Robert Bakewell. His techniques in animal breeding – to put the ‘best with the best’ – revolutionised farming and the result can be seen just about everywhere today. Of course, nowadays we can add genetic knowledge, the science of DNA and artificial insemination to the process to improve our herds and flocks, but Bakewell’s basic principle remains. Ask Adam: What topic would you like to know more about? Email your suggestions to email@example.com