Berkshire pigs. When I first looked into keeping pigs, these were the ones for me. Roughty toughty outdoor breed, rare enough and good to eat; and best of all, wouldn’t get sunburn on my south facing, coastal fields.
3 years into keeping cross breeds and in to learning how to look after pigs, I had a small windfall and decided the time was right to invest in the pure breds I so fancied. The Berkshire Pig Breeders Club introduced me to Sharon Barnfield and I acquired Bear, aka Kilcot Peter Ladd. And quite a lad he has turned out to be. Now a bruiser with tusks and boar plates, he has sired 8 sanders in 2 years, not all planned it has to be said. His enthusiasm for his work has been boundless and no amount of electric or stock fencing has prevented him from doing what he clearly regards as his duty. Still fond of a tummy tickle and a cucumber, Bear lives in an acre paddock near my house, so near that he and I chat through the kitchen window.
I bought Edith, of the Excelsa line, from Chris Impey shortly afterwards. She is my hippy pig, a laid back lady with middling enthusiasm for Bear’s attentions. Edith is the free-birthing trail-blazer of the Swanbridge herd. (See separate blog post, Freebirthing the Berkshire Way.)
My other 3 sows are Middle White x Berkshire crosses and they all muddle along together across 8 acres of rough pasture, woodland and occasionally help themselves to another 7 acres of sheep grazing / hay field when I’m not looking.
Over the years, I have learned how to manage their feed according to the ground they occupy, using a crude rotation system through the seasons to take advantage of the acorns, grass, hogweed and so forth. Foraging now provides the bulk of their intake with supplementary milled feed from a local farm combined with a high quality commercial feed from the local agricultural suppliers.
They are fit not fat. Their vet practice has written up Swanbridge Porkers as an example of good practice in pig keeping and has supported me in maintaining a vaccination programme against Erysipelas and Parvo, for example.
This free ranging system allows the pigs to display all their natural behaviours – from building nests under trees for farrowing to dismantling hosepipes to make their own wallows… but it does bring its problems.
Ground can quickly turn sour if over used, especially in the wet winter months; and it is no fun for the smallholder trudging knee deep in mud across windswept fields, carting sacks of feed around. Making sure they get enough to eat and the right balance of minerals is also important and that is why I supplement, we have domesticated them after all.
It is also worth bearing in mind that already a slow growing breed, Berkies can take up to a year to reach pork weight when they are living off the land and scampering about all day. Delicious, dark meat with an 1” back fat is worth waiting for; and they do make a fine sausage.