ADAM’S AN­I­MALS

Good things come in small pack­ages… when it comes to pigs and horses.

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

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 edi­tor@coun­try­file.com

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