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Pig basics (part three)
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Most domestic pigs have curly tails, though wild pigs and many Asian domestic pigs have straight tails. The most obvious characteristics that differentiate the various pig breeds are the carriage of the ears, the shape of the face, the colour of the skin and coat, and the general conformation - body shape and size.

Ears range from 'prick' (upright) to 'lop' (falling over the face), with a range of semi-prick and semi-lop in between. Snouts range from long and tapered, typically seen in the Wild Boar, to dished, snubbed and squashed in breeds influenced long ago by Asian imports.


Pig basics (part three)

Prick ears and a good long snout for rootling.



Skin and coat colours include white, black and shades of red, brown or sandy, either all the same colour or with patches or spots of other colours. Coats vary in thickness and texture: some pigs are sparsely haired, some lushly; some have fine hair, others thick and wavy hair, or coarser bristles. Some even have fleece-like curly coats. Oriental pigs often have wrinkled skins, like a Shar Pei puppy, and their wrinkled snouts are apparent in Britain's Middle White breed.
These obvious visual differences are the badges that define each breed. Pigs can also differ in the roles for which they are bred: to produce rashers of lean bacon, for example, or to produce pork. Today commercial breeds are less likely to be specialists, and the British pig industry has depended very heavily on white breeds, above all the Landrace and the Welsh, though coloured sires are increasingly used to make more robust litters for outdoor rearing.


Pig basics (part three)

Prick ears and a squashed face typical of the Middle White breed.



These three commercial whites apart, all of the other British breeds are now minor or very rare, despite often having been exported in considerable numbers to many parts of the world (there is British blood in many breeds in Europe, Australasia and North America in particular). Most of today's minor British breeds number only a few hundred each at best, nationwide, and come under the watchful eye of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. The coloured breeds that were once ubiquitous have almost vanished. There were good commercial reasons for concentrating on the whites, and the pig industry in Britain has built up a remarkably successful record since the first of the big pig-breeding companies was formed in the early 1960s. But efficiency is not everything, and many people are saddened at the loss of colour in the world of pigs. Some of the character seems to have been washed away with the colour.


Pig basics (part three)

Loop ears falling over the face in the Large black.




Pig basics (part three)

Smallholders experiment with crossing breeds to produce meat for the home table and for farmers' markets, achieving a variety of coat patterns and types. This free-range herd is based on a Large Black boar and assorted sow breeds, including Gloucestershire Old Spots, Tamworth and Large White.



Pig basics (part three)

English market scene in the 1940s, with a good assortment of breeds.



Once upon a time every county boasted its own breed of pig, and even the occasional town, village, duke or prince did too. Today that close local identity has disappeared, and a host of once familiar breeds are extinct. Something of Britain's heritage has vanished with them.


Pig basics (part three)

A pandemonium of pigs at the Royal Show, 1997, including Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spots, Middle White and Large Black.





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