MEET Burt. He’s two years old, likes to take walks with dogs and gets along with humans of all sizes. Those who know him at at the luxury farm-stay accommodation, 28 gates, call him smart, and sometimes, well, just plain awesome.
Burt has quite a large social media presence and you should also know he likes sweet treats, strawberries especially. So bring some along, and you and he will do just fine … Burt is a recent introduction to 28 gates, just outside of Gretna.
Walks on the 2200ha farm are part of the visitor experience: there’s a whole menagerie of farm animals to feed, night-time wildlife tours and trout to fish for. Don’t forget to ask for an explanation of the name, 28 gates.
This Derwent Valley property is a place of stories, some that go back to 1862 when the area was first farmed by the forebears of current owner, Michael Parsons The story of Burt is just the latest of them. Weighing in around 40 kilos, Burt is a miniature porker, although three times the size of the dogs with whom he shares walking duties.
“He’s a pog,” says Susie Parsons, Michael’s wife. “A pig that thinks he’s a dog. He’s been raised with the dogs, and really considers himself one of them. “We had him in a fenced area when he first came to us, and he’d watch when we went off for a walk each day. Soon enough, we let him loose and he’d join in.
He was born to it, follows us everywhere.”
An average walk is about 3km, quite a distance for an animal usually confined to one paddock or one pigsty. “I always wanted a pet pig,” says Susie, Finding a miniature like Burt was not easy – the Parsons family eventually located him in South Australia, a place called Little Pig Pen.
“He’s not going to get much bigger,” she adds. “And he’s intelligent, already very easy to manage. “We’ve made sure the fences are secure, and trained him not to do that favourite activity of pigs, to go digging in the garden. It’s taken a little while, but he knows that’s out of bounds.”
His accommodation is “absolutely outdoors” she insists, where Burt has his own spot, close to his good friends, the dogs. “Burt’s diet is anything he wants, really,” she continues. “In the main, he lives off the family’s scraps, and there’s nothing he won’t eat. “And preferably something sweet, strawberries if he can.”
How do her guests deal with having a pig around? “Well, some are scared of pigs,” she says. “I don’t know whether that’s past experience or just ignorance. But they soon work out that Burt is very friendly.”
Most of her guests can go for a walk with Burt and the dogs and, if they get his seal of approval, receive Burt’s version of a fist bump, his snout in your hand. Most recently, Burt has gained something of a taste of fame, a fan base drawn by social media. It began when Burt’s picture appeared on the 28 gates Instagram page, and there was an immediate reaction. “People would say let’s see more of Burt,” says Susie.
“I was a bit dubious… I mean, our social media presence shouldn’t be all about the pig. Right?” At this point in the conversation, I look to Burt for a comment about his growing presence on social media. But he’s busy at the moment, off with the dogs for a walk.