When Raleigh Hager takes her pet, Fergus, on a walk in her neighborhood, she gets some funny looks; a few people even stop to ask about him.
Fergus is about 3 months old, weighs about 10 pounds and has a very adorable nose. He's also a pig -- a micro mini pig.
Fergus is a part of a growing trend of miniaturized versions of farm animals making their way into urban environments. Miniature horses, donkeys, pigs and goats are now living in Austin backyards, and bunnies are becoming popular companions for condo and apartment dwellers.
Some owners are looking for an unusual pet. Others are allergic to cats and dogs but still crave companionship. Still others want miniature goats because of the milk they provide.
The city of Austin treats miniature livestock much differently than their full-size counterparts, and as a result, minis are allowed in many backyards. It's important to check your city's rules, your lease agreement and for any homeowner's association restrictions before considering an alternative pet.
Raleigh, 11, talked her parents into getting Fergus after they lost a bet.
"When I wasn't all that good at wake surfing and I just found out about pigs, I asked if I get a place in the (Wake Surfing World Championships) can I have a (miniature) pig, not expecting me to be good enough to place," she said. "Then I got a lot better and I did place. So then, they have to keep their promise, and they gave me a pig and I was happy."
Fergus, who was purchased from Texas Tiny Pigs (www.texastinypigs.com), a breeder in Waco, sleeps in a pen in Raleigh's room and is trained to use a litter box. She still takes him on walks and even has a stroller for when his little legs get tired.
"Pigs are really smart," she said, adding that Fergus quickly figured out how to undo the latch on his pen, which is now padlocked.
Fergus is considered a micro mini pig, which usually top out around 15 inches tall at the shoulder and range from 10 pounds to 55 pounds as adults, according to information from his breeder in Waco. He's been a welcome addition to the family, said dad, JB, and mom, Erin. He's very clean and gets along well with their two dogs.
Price: Texas Tiny Pigs start around $600 and can be more than $1,000
Life expectancy: 15-20 years
Equipment: Pen with bedding and litter box
Diet: Pellet pig food, fruits and vegetables
Upsides: One of the most intelligent pets available; waste makes good fertilizer if on a vegetarian diet
Potential pitfalls: Do your research before buying. Some breeders advertise micro or teacup pigs that might grow to more than 100 pounds to 200 pounds as adults. Ask to see the adult parents and grandparents of any potential pets. Pigs should have an outdoor space to root around.
On a small farm just outside Austin, Cynthia Wickliffe tends a small herd of Nigerian dwarf goats and has sold many of them as pets to urban dwellers and as milk goats for those interested in a backyard food source.
"A Nigerian produces around half a gallon of milk a day," said the owner of Harlequin Dairy Goats (www.harlequingoats.com). "They have high-quality milk with a good amount of butter fat and protein."
Not bad for a goat that's smaller than most dog breeds. The Nigerian dwarf usually tops out at 60 pounds and is shorter than 23 inches at the shoulder.
Most Popular Stories
- Slow Week Ahead of December FOMC Meeting
- Hispanics Seek to Grow School Board Members
- U.S. Companies Eager for Iranian Business
- 'Knockout Game': Myth or Menace?
- Questions Remain in Jenni Rivera's Death
- Banks Fret as Volcker Vote Approaches
- Bitcoin Used to Buy Tesla Car
- GM Bailout Saved 1.2 Million U.S. Jobs, Report Says
- Paul Walker Fans Pay Respects
- Entrepreneurs' Next Creation May Be New Laws