We run a breed of our own creation called the Welsh Black which is a mixture of the traditional Large Black and the Duroc so we get a bigger loin eye and epic marbling, whilst still keeping all the benefits of the Large Black like intra-muscular fat, Great natural ability and a pig that does well outside and on forage.
The Large Black is Britain’s rarest pig there are only 200 breeding females left which is less than Siberian tigers so we are really proud to be supporting this breed. Rare breed pigs and particularly coloured ones fell out of favour after the war due to their slow growth and fat levels. The commercial industry focused on three fast growing white breeds of pigs. The two aspects that were lost in this were eating quality and pigs suitable to an outdoor system as everything was moving inside and focused on quick efficient production. The rare breed pig population really suffered and we lost a coupe of native breeds in the 1970 but thanks to some great work by the RBST we managed to save a lot of them and their population number have been climbing ever since thanks to hard work by some farmers and smallholders.
In a commercial setting a slow growing slightly fat pig would be a negative but to us its great! It means a tastier pig due to longer growth and by putting down more fat. Fat brings flavour and moistness to the meat. A Large Black has a big long frame and very big black lop ears which makes them super chilled and their black skin means they don’t get sun burnt. Perfect for an outdoor system. Although they have slightly smaller litters they have great natural ability and rarely lose any piglets. By having more fat they remain super milky all the way up to weaning and it’s very rare that we see a lean Large Black. Much to their delight.
The Duroc is a pig of American origin although many say that Christopher Columbus brought it there from England. It’s a red pig that’s reasonably hairy to protect from the elements whens its living its best outdoor life. The Duroc has great shape and size to it and a hell of a trump which is drum roll please….. Marbling ! Out of all the breeds it has the best intramuscular fat (marbling to you and me), which means that your meat stays tasty and moist. They have good-sized litters but are really protective of their piglets, which is great for them but bad for us so we just leave them alone.
Our pigs live outside their whole life which in my opinion is how it should be. They have lovely snug arks that are filled with straw that keep them nice and warm throughout winter. We feed our pigs some special pig food that has the right nutrients and minerals to give what they need but in addition to that we provide them with as much forage as they can eat. We do this by sowing special pigs grass that is really deep rooting and hard wearing but also palatable and full of good stuff for the pigs. By letting them eat forage they can display their natural behaviour’s and give them the health benefits too. Our pigs get up to 25% of their feed from natural forage such as grass, roots, and nuts such as hazelnuts and acorns, which adds a unique flavour to our meat. Through low stocking rates and frequent pen rotation we can keep our pigs healthier and manage them without antibiotics. It allows us to look after the land better too, by resting it, which allows the woodland and pasture to regenerate and produce more forage for the next group of pigs to enjoy. Our pigs live outside in woodland, and out on pasture, so they can express their natural behaviours such as rooting, making wallows, and foraging, which keeps the pig and the farmer very happy.
So there’s this one sow Ariel who is a Mangatam half Mangalitsa and half Tamworth who is very close genetically to a wild boar and she’s taught me so much and has shaped our breeding system. We bought her and she was accidently in-pig so we kept her as a breeder she showed amazing natural instincts and would throw all the straw I lovingly gave her in her ark out to make her own natural bed comprised of a layer of holly then fern then grass by the end of it it was about 2 ft high Any pig book would say you only want the straw bed 10cm high but Ariel knew what she was doing so I left her to it and she raised her piglets without losing any. She has now had 7 litters and hasn’t lost a single piglet which is incredible. One time she had 11 piglets and one out of that was so runty and tiny I said to her this is the first one you’re going to lose Ariel. But to my surprise I saw Ariel on day 2 take this tiny piglet to the edge of the pen and feed it by itself which is just unheard of. When a told a fellow pig farmer this he was utterly amazed and said “we’ve done something wrong with the breeding in the industry to lose this type of natural ability’ Before this we were very much in the essence of farming trying to control nature. But after this I figured out that you know what they know they are doing more than me and as long as you give them the resources they require you can run them pretty much how they would in nature. So we decide to research what they did in the wild and with the experience we’ve had run them as close to nature as possible. So we have breeding groups of 5 sows that will stay as a group their whole life which minimises the stress of mixing them with different groups we then put them in a pen with 5 farrowing arks and just let them get on with it. They will separate themselves away from the group about a day before they farrow then nurse their piglets separately for about 2 weeks after that they will group up so they can share piglet care duties. By being as one group it means the piglets operate as lets be honest a mob of trouble which means that they have mixed so by the time weaning comes they all know each other well and there’s no additional stress at weaning which would happen of you kept litters separate and then mixed at weaning.