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Wild boar and domestication (part two)
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Domesticated pigs in medieval Britain contrasted with the Wild Boar in that they tended to have lop ears rather than pricked and their tails tended to be curly rather than straight.
For many centuries the typical Old English hog had big slouching ears hanging over its eyes (said to make the animal more docile as it could not see where it was going), a narrow razor back, low shoulders, flat slab sides, a long rootling snout, and long strong legs so that it could range widely in its foraging and walk long distances to market. It was a large-framed, hairy animal, slow to grow, and usually a dirty yellow- brown in colour, with or without spots or belts of another colour. This was the common 'Celtic' domestic pig of northern Europe.


Wild boar and domestication (part two)

Ginger-and-white offspring from a commercial white sow bred to a 'Wild Boar x Berkshire' boar. First crosses between British breeds and Wild Boar can have a variety of coat colours and patterns but the piglets are born with wild-type stripes.



In 1870 Joseph Harris, writing at Moreton Farm, Rochester, in the state of New York, reproduced an etching of the 'Original Old English Pig', differentiated from the Wild Boar in that its tail was curled and its ears hung down. Harris said that it showed 'a decided improvement in form over the Wild Boar. It has shorter legs, shorter head and snout, heavier cheeks, a straighter and broader back, and larger hams. It will weigh more, in proportion to size, and afford more meat and less offal than the wild hog.'


Wild boar and domestication (part two)

The typical Old English pig, here a sow from the Midlands (reproduced by Professor David Low in 1842). In the 1930s the Pig Breeders' Annual rated the Old English type more highly than all the breeds subsequently influenced by imported Chinese pigs, and pointed out the similarities of the Old English with the ancient pigs depicted on a relief at the Forum in Rome.



This Old English hog was a gleaner. Under the eye of the village swineherd, it found what food it could on common pasture, on stubble and in the woodlands (this was the ancient practice of pannage, or turning out the pigs to rootle for acorns and beech mast in autumn). It fed cheaply, but it took at least sixteen months to reach slaughter weight, and that became a drawback, especially when the Industrial Revolution caused people to crowd into towns and cities and so become reliant on other people to produce their food in large quantities.

Harris also illustrated and described the Old Irish Pig, which he said was an intermediate form between the wild and the domestic animal. He quoted from Richardson (from whose work the picture had been borrowed): 'These are tall, long-legged, bony, heavy-eared, coarse haired animals; their throats furnished with pendulous wattles, and by no means possessing half so much the appearance of domestic swine as they do of the wild boar, the great original of the race. In Ireland, the old gaunt race of hogs has, for many years past, been gradually wearing away, and is now, perhaps, wholly confined to the western parts of the country, especially Galway. These swine are remarkably active, and will clear a five-barred gate as well as any hunter; on this account they should, if it is desirable to keep them, be kept in well-fenced inclosures.'


Wild boar and domestication (part two)

Joseph Harris's illustration of the original 'Old English' pig, said to be an improvement on the Old Irish 'Greyhound' type achieved merely by 'regular feeding and judicious selection'.



Harris believed that the Old English pig he had described showed that 'great improvement can be made merely by regular feeding and judicious selection; but it must be remembered that probably it took hundreds of generations to effect the change indicated in the engravings. ... the fact remains that, centuries after the wild pigs had generally disappeared from the Island, the domestic pig derived from them was still a very coarse, slow maturing, and unprofitable animal. The French and Germans, as compared with the English, have made but little improvement in the breeds of pigs, and many of the animals to be found upon the Continent are very much like the old English hog, bony, tall, gaunt, wiry-haired, and slow to fatten.'


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