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Most people go into business to earn a living. Jane Croft did it to bring home the bacon.
The 42-year-old breeder has become something of a sensation in her native England, thanks to her unique product line: cute-as-a-button miniature pigs that never grow up.
Croft sat cross-legged Wednesday in a stall filled with straw, cradling a squirming litter of tiny little piggies that will all be going to market. They’re called “teacup pigs,” she told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry — and they’re the hottest pet sensation to hit Great Britain in years.
‘Fantastic pets’Their name comes from their size: At birth, the piglets weigh about 9 oz. and are the size of a teacup. At full growth at the age of 2, they top out at 12 to 16 inches — about knee-high — and weigh a modest 65 pounds.
“It’s about the size of a small spaniel,” Croft said. “They make fantastic pets. They’re really clean. They’re highly intelligent and just love to be loved. They give so much back to you.”
Pigs are known to be highly intelligent; they beat dogs in animal IQ tests. They’ve also enjoyed surges in popularity as pets before. In the United States, potbellied pigs were something of a fad a generation ago — but their popularity faded when their owners realized that they got rather large and hard to care for.
“People love pigs so much, but it’s almost impossible to keep a full-grown pig in the house,” Croft explained. “Now that we’ve gotten them down to this size, they’ve become extremely popular.”
Teacup pigs, which are also called micropigs, are a mixture of those potbellied pigs with the Tamworth, Kune Kune and Gloucester Old Spot breeds. When Croft first saw them, she was so smitten she gave up her day job and started breeding them at her Little Pig Farm in England.
That was five months ago. In the brief time since, demand has exploded.
It hasn’t hurt that celebrities have discovered the endearing critters. Earlier this year, Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the “Harry Potter” films, bought two teacup pigs from Croft.
Porking over cashMind you, this bacon doesn’t come cheap. The piglets cost up to $1,100 each, and Croft sells them only in pairs and only to people she feels are qualified to keep them. In Great Britain, owners must be licensed to keep livestock, as the pigs are considered to be farm animals.
“They have to reach very, very strict criteria,” Croft explained. “I won’t sell to anybody who’s going to keep one alone in a house; they have to be home all the time. They have to have a garden. They have to have company. I don’t like them going on their own. They’re only sold in pairs.”
Since the pigs are highly intelligent, she said, they get bored easily, which is why she will not sell to people who can’t be home to entertain them.
In the meantime, Croft is putting in 14-hour days trying to keep up with the demand in Great Britain. She told Vieira and Curry she’s selling five to 10 a week, “but I got up this morning and I had over 500 inquiries on the Web site. So right now, there’s going to be a long waiting list.”
Curry and Vieira asked if prospective owners need any special skills to raise a teacup pig.
“They’ve just got to be real loving and be prepared to spend a lot of time playing with them, because they just love the attention,” Croft replied.
“The more you rub them on their belly,” she added, “the more they’ll love you.”