Livestock

Choosing Your Pigs

We knew we wanted to keep rare breed pigs, not only to help protect whichever breed we chose from extinction, but also because of the superior pork and bacon they would produce.

Pigs that produce supermarket pork are bred for lean, consistent meat, fast growth and docile behaviour, and almost never for flavour. Rare breeds on the other hand take longer to grow to killing weight, have more fat, produce tastier meat and, depending on the breed, can be very active.

Like most animals, pigs need company of their own kind to thrive, so never buy one pig.

Gilts or boars?

Whether you buy gilts (young females) or boars is a matter of preference and, often, what’s available. It’s maybe better to have boars the first time, since you’re less likely to be tempted to “keep them for breeding” when the time comes to slaughter them.

Gilts are reckoned to lay down fat more readily than boars, and some folk say that meat from uncastrated boars has a “taint”. However, as far as we can establish “boar taint” is a bit of a myth; the meat from old working boars will be strong, but if they are kept away from females to allow the hormones to settle, it’s not a problem. It’s certainly not going to be an issue if you’re slaughtering at a year old or younger.

Pig breeds

There are many breeds of pig, including nine traditional British breeds. Eight of the nine (not the Large White) are on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s Watchlist. You may want to support these breeds as we did and to do that, you need to buy weaners from registered pedigree sows. The distinction between purebred and pedigree is that pedigree pigs will be birth registered, and therefore known to the relevant breed society.

If you plan to sell your pork, you should be clear about what you are buying and how that relates to your marketing – if you have Large White weaners, then you shouldn’t be marketing them as rare breed pork. Furthermore, some would argue that only registered pigs can be marketed as the specific breed. It sounds a bit pedantic but can be a source of great angst. If you are simply raising a couple of weaners for meat, crossbreeds will do you very well.

Sourcing weaners

Probably the best way to source of weaners is through the British Pig Association or the relevant breed society. Alternatively, pig breeders will often advertise weaners for sale in the local press or farming papers; the national smallholding press has many advertisements from breeders too. Also worth trying are any local farm parks or city farms local to you.

Another source of weaners is the local livestock market. Although weaners often go for low prices, I wouldn’t recommend this source as it can be difficult to assess the health of pigs in such a stressful situation.

If you are planning to breed pigs and you will want pedigree stock, contact the relevant breed society and ensure that your gilts are appropriately birth registered. Always buy the best stock you can afford.

Rosemary Champion

About Rosemary Champion

Rosemary lives on a 12 acre smallholding in Angus, in the east of Scotland, where she keeps Ryeland Sheep, Shetland cattle and assorted poultry. She was destined to be a smallholder from an early age.

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