Pigs

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

NOTE: As of 12 November 2012, we no longer keep pigs and no longer have pork available.

Berkshires are among Britain’s oldest breeds of pigs, with Parliamentarian troops quartered at Reading during the English Civil War reporting a locally bred pig noted for its size as well as the quality of its bacon and pork.

The early Berkshire was tawny with black spots, had pendulous ears, had a long, thick body and short legs, and was well boned.

The modern Berkshire was developed in the Wantage area from the 1790s, using Chinese or East Asian blood.

Today, the Berkshire is a medium-sized pig, with prick ears and black hair with white points on the trotters, snout and tip of the tail. The skin is white beneath the black hair.

Berkshires were exported to the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in the early 1800s, with the breed surviving in those countries to this day.

The American Berkshire Association, formed in 1875, claims to be the first breeders group in the world.

In Japan, the breed is known as kurobuta and the gourmet pork produced from the Berkshire is famed for its meat marbling.

In Britain, the modern Berkshire is an early maturing, traditional pig noted for its first-class pork up to 65kg liveweight, although the meat is still of a very high quality to 80-90kg.

Correctly fed, the flesh has a high proportion of lean meat to fat, is fine textured, and has a distinct flavour.

The Berkshire produces top quality pork in a relatively short time frame for a traditional breed.

A pair of weaners bought at 8-10 weeks will be ready for slaughter around 24 weeks, producing sufficient pork (two 36-45kg carcasses) for their keeper’s needs and a surplus to defray the costs.

At 28 weeks, when we slaughter our pigs, they produce a carcass of 56-60kg.

Typical feed consumption to take a porker to 24 weeks and 65kg liveweight is 215kg. (Source: Berkshire Pig Breeders Club.)

The Berkshire’s strong constitution makes them ideal for outdoor production systems in cold areas, with ours putting on condition down to -10C and maintaining condition to at least -15C.

The breed is adaptable, easily managed, and possesses an amiable temperament that is well suited to the smaller holding, croft or farm.

They are easily managed and contained by two-wire, temporary electric fencing, although a training period of a week is needed when first introducing the pigs to electric fences.

A Berkshire sow 24 hours before farrowing

Sows are productive, heavy milkers that lead to high weaning weights and good food conversion in their offspring. They also lose little condition when rearing a litter.

Details of our pedigree Berkshires can be found in the British Pig Association’s herd book. Click on the breed code BK and type our herd identifier (JDY) into the owner box.

Our registered breeding stock were:

  • Styberry Mermaid 59 (date of birth, 20 June 2005)
  • Styberry Mermaid 61 (DoB, 20 June 2005)
  • Lammermuir Namatjira 2 (DoB, 27 July 2005)
  • Dittisham Suzanne (DoB, 1 February 2006)
  • Stonehead Ambassador 38 (DoB, 2 January 2008 , on loan at present)
  • Stonehead Suzanne 40 (DoB, 2 January 2008 )

Details of birth-notified Berkshire weaners that may be for sale can be found on the BPA’s pig search page. (Set the breed to Berkshire, the region to Scotland, the county to none and the age range to “weaners 0-14 weeks”.)

NOTE: Birth-notified pigs are the off-spring of pedigree sires and dams registered in the herd book. They are intended for finishing for pork, bacon and ham. They are not intended for pedigree breeding but their meat is eligible to be marketed as Pedigree Pork. Registered pigs are listed in the breed herd books and are intended for pedigree breeding.

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Posts about our pigs

Delilah enjoys an ear rub

The Stonehead Pigs in 2011

The Stonehead Pigs in 2010

The Stonehead Pigs in 2009

The Stonehead Pigs in 2008

The Stonehead Pigs in 2007

The Stonehead Pigs in 2006

23 Responses to “Pigs”

  1. Hi! Great blog – so interesting and informative, and also just great to read about other people who value sustainable living too! Your set-up sounds great, and your pigs are absolutely beautiful!!! :-) Just a question though – how does pig manure go as a fertilizer for the garden? Do you use it much? And how? (Apologies if you have already explained this somewhere on your blog and I just can’t find it..)

    You seem pretty sophisticated when it comes to knowing the how-to of sustainable living already, but there is a really handy journal on city and country sustainable living published in Australia called ‘Earth Garden’ that often contains a heap of really good info about a range of topics, and that we recommend to everyone we know who has an interest. Some of it specifically relates to the Australian context, but more often than not it can be applied internationally. Their website is http://www.earthgarden.com.au if you’re interested!

    Thanks again for the great read!
    Cheers
    Ash.

  2. Fresh, unrotted pig manure can be mixed with straw and used in the bottom of hot beds. Put a layer of topsoil on top and the rising heat from the manure keeps things like cucumbers, marrows, courgettes and pumpkins happy while the nutrients keep them well fed.

    Otherwise, you need to build muck heaps (ours are one-cubic metre boxes) and alternate layers of muck with straw and grass. Leave for about a year in colder climates, less in warm climates, and you’ll end up with excellent compost.

    We use pig and chicken manure in this way to fertilise all our vegetables, soft fruit and apples.

  3. Ahhh, ok. We’d like to get pigs at some point in the future, but would probably use them mostly for the manure. Good to know those methods you’ve outlined – surprisingly I couldn’t find much online about it. Many thanks!

  4. I have posted details of our muck operation before, or you can just use the search facility to look up “muck”.

  5. Hey there

    I’m a Cambridge University Student doing a dissertation on what scottish farmer think about a potential reintroduction of wolves in the highlands and potentially other areas of scotland. I was wondering whether i could send you a questionnaire to fill in – it is for anybody in scotland who has livestock (irrelevant of farm size). You do not have to live in the highlands to take part
    Email me if you’re interested before 2nd September 2007
    Cheers – great blog
    Lee Ryan
    Downing College
    Cambridge University

  6. I’d be fascinated to know what farmers think of that idea.

  7. I agree with Susie about the wolf idea. The replies should be thought provoking.

  8. I can see four obvious problems with the proposal from the start.

    One, the lack of a contiguous habitat that can support both wolves and sufficient prey animals.

    Two, the lack of sufficient prey animals. A wolf needs to eat at around 2-2.5kg of feed per day to reproduce (although it doesn’t necessarily eat daily, and so will eat much larger amounts when it does have the chance to eat). While there is alleged to be a surplus of red deer at present, would they be enough to feed several wolf packs? And for how long?

    Three, the size of territory roamed by a wolf pack, which can be as little as 25 square miles for a bonded pair up to 1,000 square miles. I haven’t yet found specifics for the European wolf, but given that the whole of Scotland covers just 31,000 square miles and the Highlands is only a proportion of that, it doesn’t leave much room.

    The fourth issue is one of education. Without that, it is inevitable that people who feel their livelihood is threatened by wolves will try to kill them or drive them.

    At least one wolf pack is kept in captivity in the Highlands, at the Highland Wildlife Park. It has five wolves in area of two hectares.

  9. Love your blog and have a 90 kilo Berkshire – Bettie – back from the Abattoir tomorrow. We will prepare her for the table tomorrow night. I was a bit worried about leaving her to grow on so long and am reassured by your comments. Will let you know how she eats. Do you use Berkshire for bacon at all?

    Our first two Oxford Sandy and Blacks – Owena and Olathe – also went today with the Berkshire for pork – they will be 65 kilos so should make great pork.

  10. Anthony, the main things with Berkshires are not to overfeed them nor to give them feed with too high a level of protein. We find that by tightly rationing their feed, keeping feed protein levels around 16-18%, and keeping them on grass, we can have an 80kg pig at 28 weeks with around 16mm of back fat.

    However, people who’ve bought our weaners and ignored the advice—usually feeding ad lib or high protein feeds suitable for modern lean breeds—find their pigs are much bigger than ours at 28 weeks (100kg plus) and have 40-60mm of back fat.

    We have made bacon from Berkshires and it’s much better than anything you’ll find in the supermarkets or most corner shops. (Our pigs are the old cutter weight, used for both pork and bacon.)

    However, if you really want top-notch bacon you can’t beat a Tamworth or a Gloucestershire Old Spot. Large Blacks also had a good reputation as baconers, but I’ve not eaten bacon made from one.

    Berkshires, on the other hand, and Middle Whites produce the best pork. The other traditional breeds are all very good but these four breeds have the edge in those areas.

  11. Hmmm “Berkshire Bettie” has just returned from the abbatoir at 111kg and fat depth of 5cms – and yes we have provided unlimited feed because, we keep all 20 pigs in one woodland area – different sizes, different breeds. As a result of your excellent advice we will next week “carve up” their area into smaller sections for similar size pigs. We can then better control the feed uptake.

    Oxfordshire Sandy and Blacks “Orin” and “Orace” killed out at 85 kg and 65 kg, both with 18/20 mm of fat. All three are stretched out on the kitchen table ready for a local butcher to come after work to give us some training.

    Our Tamworth “Tabitha” will “brim” in two weeks time – it will be our first attempt at AI -wish me luck!

    Large Black pork tastes great but I prefer Barkshire.

  12. martin wilkinson Reply 23 May, 2009 at 07:47

    would it be possible to order 4 weaners from you we live at rashiewells premnay. we have kept middle whites before but now would like rare breed.

  13. So this year my husband and I are raising 12 pigs to butcher- some for us some for friends. Anyway the farrier was over yesterday for our donkeys and he said his dad used to put used motor oil on the pigs to help with the itching. Ours itch themselves but I never thought it a problem. But then I got to thinking, why motor oil? I am thinking it was due to mites. The farrier made it sound like his dad just did this. I want our pigs to feel free to itch themselves but if they need to be oiled I will do it- maybe not motor oil. Is itching bad?

  14. Ours always seem to have an itch somewhere—despite being free of mites and lice. I turn it to advantage by giving them scratches several times a day, which gets them used to being handled and makes life easier when I need to give them an examination. I also have a horse comb and all the pigs regard a good combing as a major treat. I use this as a reward for good behaviour.

    The main thing to watch out for is repetitive rubbing/scratching against the same spot on their body. Our senior boar has worn a patch of hair off his shoulders from regularly rubbing against the door of his hut. I rub a little baby oil into every few days, which he enjoys enormously, but he still keeps rubbing the same spot.

    • Dear Stonehead.
      Great information above. I was just reading your conversation with Anthony about fat levels. We reared 5 Berkshire gilts for pork last year and are planning to to the same this year. I felt that there was to much back fat on the pigs, approx 30mm. We kept them to 30 weeks feeding them on a 17.4% protein based food. We followed a feeding regime recommended by a pig keeping course we attended. The dead weight of the whole pig was 78kg. What feeding regime do you use to keep the fat levesl to 16mm of back fat. Any advice would be gratefully received.
      PS. the pork tasted great

  15. Thank you- I will keep an eye out for any bare spots. Great idea with the comb. We plan to butcher all of these since we have a friend who has the boar and the sow- no need for us to at this point. Baby oil seems much better of an option than used motor oil too! What about diatomaceous earth we use it for a dust bath for our chickens, not sure how I would get it on the pigs, just an idea.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cerdo Berkshire « El granjero novato - 19 April, 2009

    [...] Mucha de la información recogida en este post, está recogida del siempre interesante: http://stonehead.wordpress.com/pigs/ [...]

  2. Farrowing: a long day’s work « Musings from a Stonehead - 7 August, 2010

    [...] The Pigs [...]

  3. How not to sell your pigs « Musings from a Stonehead - 3 September, 2010

    [...] The Pigs [...]

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