The British Pig
The original British pig was a large, rangy, lop-eared animal. By the late eighteenth century, a number of different types of smaller fat Asian pigs had been introduced to the country. Mixing and controlled breeding of these two stocks produced the breeds that predominated until the 1950s.
In 1955, facing pressure from the Danish, Dutch and Irish pig industries, the Howitt Report recommended that British pig operations needed to be based on only three breeds, Large White, Landrace and Welsh.
British pig breeds which became extinct included the Cumberland, Lincolnshire Curly Coated, Ulster White, Dorset Gold Tip and Yorkshire Blue.
The Position Now
The position with rare breed pigs in Britain is shown below. The classification of each breed is dependent on the estimated number of breeding sows and the trends in numbers. The classifications are those of the Rare Breeds Survival trust (http://www.rbst.org.uk/). In addition, against each breed, the number of registered females (as opposed to 'breeding sows') is shown (data extracted from British Pig Society 2007)
Rare breeds Current Position
|Endangered||(200 breeding sows)|
|- British Lop||(150-200 females)|
|- Middle White||(398 females)|
|Vulnerable||(300 breeding sows)|
|- Berkshire||(656 females)|
|- Large Black||(366 females)|
|- Tamworth||(466 females)|
|- Welsh||(353 females)|
|At Risk||(500 breeding sows)|
|- British Saddleback||(864 females)|
|Minority||(less than 1,000 breeding sows)|
|- Gloucester Old Spots||(1328 females)|
|Other Native breeds||(more than 1,000 sows)|
|- Large White||(971 females)|
|Not Recognised as true breed|
|- Oxford Sandy & Black||(373 females)|
(Note: these estimates seem to be very broad-brush, perhaps +/- 50%).
Rare Breeds Survival Trust http://www.rbst.org.uk
The pig is a chunky white pig with a dished, 'squashed-up' face with prick ears. It is believed that the Emperor of Japan will eat no other kind of pork.
The Berkshire pig is a medium-small animal, black with white points (feet, snout and tip of tail), and prick ears. It was originally a much larger breed from central England, but was crossed with Neapolitan pigs of Asian origin. Its strong constitution makes it ideal for outdoor systems. They have placid temperaments.
The Tamworth breed is red or ginger, descended from the Old English Forest Pig. Tamworths originated near Tamworth. There are various accounts of how it has evolved, some of them including Irish pigs, but it has an ancient bloodline. It has been less affected by Asian breeds than other breeds in the UK. Its long snout is typical of older British stock. The prick-eared Tamworth is active and suited to outdoor systems, being used in woodland and scrub reclamation projects, where its colour protects it from sunburn.
The Large Black was developed from the black pigs of Devon and Cornwall and the pigs found in East Anglia, which were believed to have developed primarily from Chinese breeds brought into England in the late 1800's. Conversely, the breeds of Devon and Cornwall were most heavily influenced by European breeds, primarily those from France. It is a docile, lop-eared pig, whose skin colour makes it tolerant of many sun-born illnesses and its hardiness and grazing ability make it an efficient meat producer. Large Black were used for the production of pork in outdoor operations. They were very popular at one time in Australia and New Zealand
Welsh pigs are a droop or lop-eared white breed with slightly dished faces. The lop ears meet at the tips just short of the pig's nose. They have shorter legs than most other popular breeds, but have very long bodies, especially considering the length of leg. They are also quite muscular and lean. Welsh pigs are known for their hardiness and ability to thrive under a wide variety of conditions, both indoor and outside.
As a breed, the British Saddleback results from the amalgamation of the Essex and Wessex Saddleback, two breeds which shared a similar colour pattern but differed in other characteristics. It is a large lop-eared pig with a white band across the saddle and around the legs and shoulders and may have white hind feet and tail tip.
The breed traditionally was popular and used for crossing with a white boar in outdoor systems of production, but it was replaced by other breeds as the industry favoured intensive production. In 1949, 47% of all sows registered were saddleback
Gloucester Old Spots
The Gloucestershire Old Spots are one of the largest pigs raised in the UK. They originated from the Berkeley Vale area, where it was known as the Orchard Pig, being reared on windfall apples and whey, by-products of local agriculture. Originally a very local breed, it has recently become very popular. Hardly a restaurant or butcher in the south Midlands and the South West does not have 'Glocs Old Spot' on its menus at least some of the time.
Mangalitza/Lincolnshire Curly Coated
Although the Lincolnshire Curly Coated breed died out in Britain in 1972, the breed had been exported to Austria and Hungary early in the twentieth century because it was a successful and hardy stock, capable of withstanding their harsh winters. The Hungarians had crossed the Lincoln with their 'Mangalitza' (a similar curly-coated pig).
Tony York (Pig Paradise) has imported all three Mangalitza breed lines to the UK (The 'Blonde', 'Swallow Bellied' and the 'Red'). An account can be found here, on his website, along with pictures of several of the pigs. http://www.pigparadise.com/curly.html
For local readers, news of the 2007 Heckington show, http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2007/09/13/106613/rare-curly-coat-pig-is-flavour-of-the-past.html
There are now more than 48 'Mangalitzas' in the UK. Recent births have attracted considerable media interest (usually under "Is it a sheep or a pig?")
The Lincolnshire Curly Coated was the only British pig that had to be sheared and whose hair was woven/knitted to produce an attractive series of men's sweaters.
Oxford Sandy and Black
The Oxford Sandy and Black is a traditional farmers' and cottagers' pig, originating in Oxfordshire, often called the 'Plum Pudding' or 'Oxford Forest Pig'. It was originally not recognised as a true rare breed because the offspring did not not breed true. However, sterling work by the OS&B Pig Society means that this breed is now recognised. The Oxford Sandy and Black is a very docile and attractive pig, although there are still only a relatively small number.
The breed is supposed to be sandy (light to dark) with black blotches (not spots), white blaze, feet and tassel. The ears must be lop or semi lop ('prick' ears are not acceptable).