Breeding Domestic Pigs
A tough and most adaptable animal, the domestic pig is able to live in a wide range of conditions, and will forage for fruit and nuts (below) and dig for roots and grubs, as well as eat the occasional small dead or living animal.
Most of our present day domestic pig breeds have been moulded into their present forms Within the last 90 to 100 years. The ancestors of all our domesticated swine are thought to be the European wild boar and the wild pig of south-east Asia.
The domestic pig still retains many of its wild relative’s characteristics. Its bristly hide is nearly as tough as armour-plating at the shoulders, and a fearsome full set of teeth, including the adult boar’s incisor tusks, equips the pig to defend itself with ease.
A pig has cloven feet like cattle and sheep, and though its legs are short it can run fast over short distances. Its hearing is acute, its eyesight adequate and its snout, excellent at smelling, is also an ideal implement for digging and levering. In some places in Europe pigs are trained to sniff out the potato-shaped fungi called truffles, which the owner then digs up for food. Colour varies between the different breeds but in the British Isles it is predominantly white. Coloured pig breeds can tolerate hot sunshine but the white breeds suffer from acute sunburn if no shelter is available.
Clean or dirty
Many people label pigs unfairly as dirty animals. If pigs, which in the wild live in stable family groups, are allowed to choose their preferred living conditions in mixed woodland country, they make a clean semi-covered nest of grass, leaves and branches. The nest is rarely soiled and dung and urine are deposited well away from the nesting site. It is only when pigs are kept in intensive, crowded conditions that they foul their living and sleeping areas.
Greedy as a pig
Pigs have hearty appetites and a remarkably fast growth rate. Their ability to thrive on a wide range of foodstuffs is one reason why man finds it economical to keep them.
A pig has a simple single-stomach digestive system. Unlike the cow and the sheep it does not have a rumen and normally does not eat grass. Pigs root for grubs and worms, but eat many other foods as well including all sorts of vegetables, acorns and nuts, the leaves of bushes and trees, and small animals, either living or as carrion. They also devour any scraps and left-overs from the kitchen.
The modern pig is an omnivore, but the majority of breeds are reared in special pig houses and given ‘balanced’ diets based on ground cereals such as barley and wheat for energy, with added protein ingredients such as fishmeal and imported soya bean meal, minerals and vitamins.
A well-nourished sow is ready to breed by the time she is six to seven months old, and produces litters of piglets regularly for four to five years. The pregnancy period varies from 112 to 120 days, depending on the breed or cross, and a sow in good condition can produce two litters of young each year. Litter numbers vary, although 10 is usual and up to 15 not uncommon Most farmers allow their domesticated sows to suckle their young for a period varying from one to eight weeks.
Pork or bacon?
Pigs are reared for the production of pork meat, bacon and the manufacture of sausages, ham, pies and packed and tinned foods. Each breed of pig is to some extent a pork, a bacon, or a dual purpose type. The Large White, the Landrace and the Welsh are the major bacon breeds. The Berkshire and Middle White, being shorter, wider and smaller in size, give good pork and useful small bacon cuts. Other breeds can be reared for either purpose, depending on the farmer’s management and selection. Crossbreds are reared on many farms.
Indoor or outdoor housing
The types of housing used for pigs have developed rapidly over the last 20 years. Although Saddleback, Large Black, Tamworth and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs—and their crosses—thrive on free range farms with simple huts for shelter, most of the British pig breeds are housed all the year round. The simple draughty sty with a restricted and often dirty outside run, is now replaced by larger, well-insulated buildings, or open fronted houses with a complete roof. So-called intensive methods have to be well run by a good stockman, and if suitable warmth, food and clean housing are provided, pigs thrive just as well under cover as in more natural conditions.
However, modern pig buildings are extremely expensive, and some farmers have reverted to cheaper outside methods in parts of the country where the soil and climate suit the system. Free-range sows are now a common sight on free-draining land in the Thames Valley, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. The free-draining sandy land in East Anglia, and Norfolk in particular, is ideally suited for running breeding sows and piglets outside. Pigs live happily outside in warm weather but a variety of simple huts are usually provided to give protection against wind, rain and snow.
An early maturing breed, this pig is reared for pork. It was the first modern breed to be developed, although today it is used mainly to produce crossbreds, as the progeny are good bacon pigs.
A breed that is a smaller, neater version of the Large White, although the face is more heavily dished. It is used for producing pork, either directly or by crossing it with other breeds such as the Berkshire.
Gloucestershire Old Spot
These pigs survive mainly in their native county where they can live on windfalls in the orchards that are found in the Severn Valley, hence their other name `Orchard Pig’.
The Large Black is a dual-purpose breed.
This breed owes its name to the colour of its hair, not to its skin which is not heavily pigmented. This very docile pig
A breed that more closely resembles the wild pig than any other breed of British pig. Although slow-maturing, its long, smooth side, neat shoulder and firm flesh make it very suitable for bacon.
A most popular dual-purpose pig, the most numerous breed in Britain. It is a hardy breed and usually trouble-free in rearing, growing and converting food efficiently. It is suitable for outdoor breeding as well as for indoor management.
This breed is developed k largely from Landrace pigs imported from Sweden in 1949 and 1953. Although its long, lean build gives excellent bacon, the breed is today reared for pork as well.
A hardy, dual-purpose breed, able to thrive and give good results under a wide range of conditions. There is a growing demand for Welsh pigs, due to consistently good performances in breeding, rearing and quality of meat.
A breed noted for its hardiness, several herds being run in completely open-air conditions. The breed seen today is a result of the merger between the similar Essex and Wessex Saddleback breeds.
Hampshire pigs are now firmly established as a British breed. Introduced from America, where they have a long record for high quality lean meat, they are suitable for all types of pig farming.