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VIDEO: Mum’s 88-strong herd of guinea pigs have 265,000 Facebook fans and rake in over £40,000 a year

Sophie Mason, 31, of Lincoln, who quit shop work to care for her piggies says it is one of the best things she has ever done

A mum who quit work to care for a herd of 88 squeaking guinea pigs is quids in after they gained 265,000 fans on Facebook  – raking in over £40,000 a year.

When former shop worker Sophie Mason, 31, of Lincoln, first acquired six little piggie sows – or females – just before her honeymoon with RAF serviceman Mark, 45,  four years ago, the couple decided half a dozen pets was plenty.

But one ‘sow’ was actually a boar – or male – so the newlyweds and their sons, Joshua, now 10, and Jacob, eight, soon had a muddle, or herd, of 16 guinea pigs to care for.

And their numbers continued to grow, until Sophie was so busy looking after  her expanding family that she quit working in shops in October 2018 to devote herself full-time to her unconventional domestic duties.

She laughed: “I adored the piggies and they took up so much time and attention.

“But it turned out that giving up work was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Sophie’s guinea pigs are treated to oranges. (Collect/PA Real Life)

For, when Sophie created a Facebook group in August 2018 where she posted pictures, videos and news of her posse of pets, caring for them and maintaining their online presence become an eight hour daily vocation.

Now her Facebook group has had more than 20 million views and she devotes 80 minutes a day just to chopping up the piggies’ vegetables  in front of a live webcam.

Supporters first began paying to subscribe to Sophie’s site for exclusive additional content in October 2018.  Then, last summer, her site reached a level of popularity where Facebook granted her star status.

Sophie and her husband Mark. (Collect/PA Real Life)

This means people pay for Facebook’s virtual stars and when they choose to “award”  one to Sophie  she receives the money, like a financial gift. Working like a voluntary donation instead of just a like,  it meant the piggies started paying for themselves.

Additional funding also came from Facebook when it began using Sophie’s site to place its own adverts for all sort of products.  In total, Sophie’s income rose to an average of £3,500 a month from last summer, enabling her to fully finance the pigs.

But anyone believing that owning a herd of guinea pigs is a goldmine should think twice, as the overheads are enormous, according to Sophie – who spends more than £20,000 a year on her pets.

Sophie’s piggies enjoy a banquet. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Her vegetable bill is around £7,000, while her vet bills are eyewatering.

She said: “From the beginning of March to the start of April our vet bills were £1,500.

“Guinea pigs are classed as exotic pets, which puts up vets’ prices.”

Sophie’s pets cost her more than £20,000 a year. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “When they get ill,  it seems to be outside office hours, too – at evenings and weekends, which adds to the cost!

“One piggie called Primrose had to have her eye removed recently, while a group that were handed to us had an infection, which had to be treated –  and, obviously, we have to neuter our males.

“Then there’s hay, additional food, heating, washing the pigs’ towels and other costs.”

Sophie in her big enclosure. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Moving around to different RAF housing can also be very expensive, with a herd of guinea pigs in tow.

Sophie said: “We had to build a triple-level enclosure and now the RAF needs us to move to another house nearby, so we’ve had to buy a massive new shed.

“Fortunately, people appreciate our Facebook content and choose to help contribute to our upkeep, or we could never afford to do this.”

Pigs’ eating time. (Collect/PA Real Life)

While she does not run an official guinea pig rescue, Sophie’s home has often been treated as a sanctuary – where people can bring the rodents to be rehomed.

She said: “Around half our pigs were taken in by us after they’d been in horrific situations, or their previous owners said they could not look after them – and some have then been re-homed to new owners.”

Caring for the piggies is very much a family affair.

Sophie Mason with one of her beloved piggies. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Sophie said: “Mark and I do it as a team.

“And the boys absolutely adore them, too.

“Every morning for the past four years when Josh has left for school he has said to me,  ‘Make sure you look after the piggies’.”

Sophie lets the pigs eat their veg off her. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “We also recently got a miniature dachshund dog called Paige that thinks the guinea pigs are puppies.  She loves being with them and sits eating their carrots with them.”

Sophie is also overjoyed that, through social media, her pets bring other people so much joy.

“When we started, we felt guinea pigs were a misunderstood pet, seen as a first pet in preparation for a dog or cat,” she said

Sophie’s guinea pigs graze in the garden. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “But they are unique. They have lovely personalities if you take time to get to know them.

“You get ones that scream at you, cheeky ones, ones that like to be cuddled. I know the names of all of them.

“For our subscribers I put on a live webcam with my phone while I’m chopping the veggies and you get the cheeky pigs slapping the camera, ones who butt it with their noses, some try and eat it and others have managed to turn it off.”

Feeding time for the guinea pigs. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She continued: “I think we are helping change how people view guinea pigs around the world. People are spending more time with them and seeing how wonderful they are.”

Meanwhile, Sophie says that living with the piggies and posting about them online every day makes her feel like she is starring in a real life soap opera.

She said: “People take a real interest if one of our piggies is unwell –  like when Primrose needed to have her eye removed.”

Sophie with one of her pigs. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “We also had to inform people when a group that were brought into us  died due to the infection that no-one was aware of.

“Thankfully, the trips to the vet normally have happy outcomes.

“But it’s all a bit like being in a soap opera.”

Sophie’s pigs love their veg. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She concluded: “The latest instalment is that our house move has been delayed.

“It’s a bit of a saga, but, hopefully, it will have a happy ending for us and the herd, without too much drama.”

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