Although if old paintings are to be trusted, there have been spotted pigs around for two or three centuries, the Gloucestershire Old Spots has only had pedigree status since the early 20th century.
They had been set into type for some time and were very popular in the Berkeley Vale of Gloucestershire where they were known as the Orchard Pig. They grazed in the apple orchards, clearing up the windfalls as well. They lived outside throughout the year being tough and hardy although also quiet and easily handled. These qualities are prominent today.
The Gloucestershire Old Spot is a large meaty animal with a broad and deep body and large hams. Its white coat has large clearly defined black spots. A few years ago fashion called for only one or two spots but today breeders have decided that if you are going to have a spotted pig, then it should have more spots. The spots should, however, be clearly defined and black but not blue. Their legs and feet should be strong and straight and their ears should be lop ears covering their faces and coming down to their noses.
They are ideally suited to an outdoor system. Provided they have a warm and comfortable hut they will thrive outside all the year around, better on land that is reasonably dry so that it does not become a quagmire. This the pigs wouldn’t mind, but it would become difficult to get round to look after them.
Leading breeder George Styles recalls the occasion one winter when he had Gloucestershire Old Spots sows in outdoor farrowing huts that were well insulated. “The snow drifted around them and was about a foot deep between January 1st and March 1st. Seventeen sows farrowed and we weaned 173 pigs. It was a wonderful sight to see the little pigs playing in the snow and suckling the sows that were lying in it. Tough as old boots.”
“Over some 30 years we carried out a concentrated programme of recording and testing. All gilts were ultrasonically tested and boars were tested by PIDA and then MLC at their testing stations. It is interesting to note that several boars had very high testing results and at one stage were the highest of all breeds.”
The Gloucestershire Old Spot pig today has a very fine carcase and produces top quality meat for all purposes be it pork chops, roasting joints or sausages. Meat of this quality is in demand by the more discerning public and many butchers are now specialising in it. This is, of course, the breed’s future. It is interesting to note that from being a very small breed some 40 years ago, it is now the largest numerically of the pig breeds listed by The Rare Breeds Survival Trust and it is going from strength to strength. The breed currently has 4 male and 15 female lines.
Courtesy: The British Pig Association