Saturday, April 10, 2010

The British are Coming! The British are Coming!

Well, British hogs that is...and well, they've already arrived!

Do you think it would to obvious to call her 'spot'?
The Gloucester Old Spot Hogs have arrived at Whitmore Farm!

Thanks to Rich Tilyou, a breeder and real champion of this rare English breed of hog for providing us with breeding stock for what we hope to be the epicenter of rare breed hog-dom in Maryland.

Check out Rich's home page featuring his excellent Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spots (from hereon to be referred to as GOS's) at

Commonly called the orchard pig, they were often finished on fallen fruit and other agricultural byproducts like whey. Old-time farm stories from Britain describe their black spots as bruises from falling apples.

The breed originated around the Berkeley Vale in Southwest of England and is thought to have been derived from the original Gloucestershire pig (a large white pig with wattles) and the unimproved berkshire (a sandy colored, prick-eared pig with spots), both of which forms are extinct at present.

Old Spots are hardy and do well on pasture, are known to have an easy disposition, and at one time, came close to extinction. The breed hit its high point in popularity in Great Britain just after World War I when its lean meat was preferred.

This is how we raise our pork...on pasture as nature intended it! Here we have our herefords from December and our new stock of GOS's.

Old Spots continued as the pork of choice for discerning pork-ophiles and in livestock shows throughout the 1920’s and early 1930’s. However, after World War II, the breed became increasingly rare with a shift to intensive pig production and reduced interest in pigs that could thrive out of doors. The remaining population nearly became extinct in the 1960s, though it has been increasing slowly since then, thanks to the work of people like Mr. Tilyou. Even now, the genetic pool is quite shallow especially in the United States and breeders in this country look to introduce new genetics from the U.K.

Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs were first imported to the United States during the 1900s, and they made genetic contributions to several American breeds, including the American Spot and the Chester White. The breed never became numerous in the United States, however, and was practically extinct by the 1990s when twenty Gloucestershire piglets were imported to reestablish a purebred population in America. A breed society was founded, and the number of animals in the United States is increasing.

As of 2009, there are less than 1000 Gloucestershire Old Spots in Great Britain and fewer than 200 breeding animals in the US. The breed notably benefits from continued support of the British Royal Family who favors pork from these pigs for their table.

The Gloucestershire Old Spot pig is known for its docility, intelligence, and prolificacy. Boars reach a mature weight of 300 lbs (136 kg) and sows 275 lbs (125 kg). The pigs are white with clearly defined black (not blue) spots. There must be at least one spot on the body to be accepted in the registry. The breed’s maternal skills make it able to raise large litters of piglets on pasture. Its easy disposition and self‑sufficiency make it an attractive hog for small farmers raising pigs on pasture.

The pigs are so darn friendly...its impossible to get a good picture! They love to be scratched and talked to...

The Gloucester Old Spot is listed as critical by the American Livestock Breeding Conservancy, an organization dedicated to the preservation of rare breed livestock animals.

As with many other areas of the world economy, the consolidation and industrialization of agriculture has led to a move towards monocultures of livestock. This has proven to be disastrous for traditional and landrace varieties of livestock, many of which developed over many centuries and created unique qualities, disease resistance, or traits that are not easily recreated if lost.

Much as with wild animals, the ALBC and heritage livestock breeders work to protect these unique lines of animals from extinction. That is one of our goals at Whitmore Farm in breeding rare breeds and educating farmers as to the many advantages they have over industrial stock.

Oftentimes, the ONLY disadvantage they have over commercial livestock is they don't perform well in confinement, cages, and other unhealthy environments that have become the norm for factory farms.

This is how we raise our animals...fresh air, sunshine, shade on hot days and a natural wallow. The wallow (a mudpuddle) allows the pigs to coat themselves with mud which protects them from biting flies and a sunburn.

What the heritage breeds DO typically excel at are traits like:

1. Extreme hardiness to cold, bad weather and other adverse conditions.

2. Good natural resistance to disease.

3. Strong maternal traits.

4. Calm disposition making them easy to work with.

5. Excellent flavor.

6. Good feed conversion on pasture and an ability to survive on relatively 'thin' rations (i.e. poor quality grass for example).

7. A sense of what the French call terroir, where unique foods come from unique places. Think of the vidalia onion or a coney island hot dog.

This sense of terroir is one of the things that make foods exciting and interesting. We are happy to be working to protect this breed in the United States and look forward to offering our customers a 'bit of Old Spot' pork in 2011 and onwards.

One of our areas of interest is smoking and curing our own meats. We are currently working to perfect our first year of Maryland proscuitto!

It is a beautiful sight to see animals on pasture!

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