Pot Belly Pigs History and Facts

By Joanne Rowe / February 16, 2014

Pot Belly Pigs are the most famous pet pig there is. This is the breed that started off the craze of pet pig keeping in the late 80s and early 90s. The British Micro Pig owes a lot of its ancestry to its Pot Bellied parents; they were used in the breeding of the first generations of Micro Pig, and are routinely bred with the Micro today.

History of Pot Belly Pig

The Pot Belly Pig has probably the longest and most well documented history out of all the common pet pigs. It’s an Asian swine breed (known as Sus Scrofa in Latin) and is believed to be a descendant of the Chinese pigs that were domesticated around 10,000 years ago. Chinese pigs have a similar appearance and shape – they have perky ears, straight tails and a straight back.

Pot Belly Pigs were routinely kept by Vietnamese families to provide a regular source of food and fat. Around 50% of a potbelly pig’s body is fat; whereas a modern farm pig’s body fat is usually between 5-15%, depending on the breed.

Demand for pigs with large fat reserves has reduced steadily over the last sixty years; this has resulted in modern farm swine replacing the Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig in their home countries.

Modern farm pigs produce more meat, less fat, and are cheaper to raise. Today they have pretty much replaced their Potbellied cousins in their native countries: it’s believed the original potbellies are practically extinct!

Sometime during the last 100 years the Vietnamese Potbellied pig was brought to Europe. In the mid-80s the first potbellies were shipped to Canada by a man named Connell, where they were destined to be used in lab experiments. Laboratories favoured the pig because of its small size when compared with common farm hogs. The original Potbellied pigs weighed approximately 200lbs (90 kg), most farm hogs can weigh upwards of 800lbs (362 kg). The small size of the potbelly made them far easier to keep and handle.

During the late 80s the first of these Connell pigs made their way into a zoo in the USA. The zoo bred these pigs and sold their offspring to the pet industry. This was the start of the first Potbellied pig craze.

During this time several other groups of smaller pigs were imported into the USA. Breeders also started crossbreeding their pigs with smaller farm hogs and feral pigs. Around this time the first registries were setup and they proceeded to track the imported pigs and their descendants. The first potbellied pig associations were founded around this time

Competitions and pig shows also sprang up during this period and top prize winning pigs were being sold for thousands of dollars. But it didn’t continue. The fad quickly faded – the registries closed, the competitions stopped, and more and more Potbellied pigs ended up in animal sanctuaries, or they were simply abandoned.

As the years moved on the different blood lines were bred with each other. Almost all the Pot-bellied pigs in the USA today are a mix of these original lines. The different variations of potbelly pig (such as the Swedish White and Juliana) are thought to have been completely combined with the other potbelly breeding lines. It is thought that there are no pure bred lines of the Swedish White and Juliana pigs left in the USA today.

The only registry collecting data on these breeding lines closed in the mid-90s, so there is no way to accurately trace the ancestry of these pigs after that point. If you come across breeders in the US who claim to breed pure Juliana and Swedish White pigs their claims are likely to be false. Any legitimate breeder of these strains must have kept their own records since the closure of the original registry in the 90s, this would be only way to backup such claims.

Appearance of the Pot Bellied Pig

The modern potbelly pig has many different variations. Most of the modern pigs are smaller than the original Connell lines. Some are quite tall, growing up to 26″ in height, whilst others are on the smaller side (90-100lbs, around 16″-22″ in height). The modern potbelly also comes in a variety of colours including: black, white with black/red spots, silver, or red. All of these coloured pigs are potbellies and are equally good as pets.

Pot Belly Pigs in the UK

During the late 80s and 90s it is thought that various groups of people imported these pigs, and the other variations (Juliana and Swedish White), from Europe. However, due to the lack of a UK-based potbelly register, there is no way to trace the movement or the breeding of these pigs. Just like in the USA these pigs have been crossbred with other breeds to produce different variations.

Do Pot Bellied Pigs make great pets?

Potbellied pigs make a great pet – it’s friendly, enjoys the company of humans and has a tendency not to root. There are plenty of websites, books, and clubs all dedicated to the breed.

Also, due to it being the first ‘real’ pet pig, there’s more information about keeping them as pets than any other breed. The great thing is that this wealth of information and advice can be used to help your pet pig, regardless of its breed.

About the author

Joanne Rowe

Joanne and her family live on a 140 acre farm in Lancashire. Joanne's family have been in farming over 120 years - they breed a wide range animals including pigs, cows, sheep, and chickens.

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