Posted 24th Dec 2012
We meet a Norfolk family who are working hard to rear a rare breed of pig indigenous to the local East Anglian area
Tucked behind a hedgerow in the shadow of the majestic National Trust property Oxburgh Hall in West Norfolk you will find a sight that would melt even the coldest hearts... a field where cute-as-a-button black piglets run and play with each other while their proud mothers look on from their wallows. This field, known as Scotts Field, is home to Rob and Sarah Simonds' collection of rare Large Black pigs.
With its lop ears and long deep body, the Large Black pig is Britain's only all-black pig. Despite being extremely docile they are also hardy creatures who are ideally suited to outdoor rearing. Here at Scotts Field the sows and their piglets enjoy living in large pens in a spacious paddock where they can snuggle down in their arcs or loll around in their deliciously muddy wallows. Born and reared outside these lucky pigs and free to roam, which encourages their natural behaviour. The sows make excellent mothers, they're prolific and they are also good milkers.
Spending so much time outdoors, especially during hot sunny days is a lovely life for a pig but it means that in summer sunburn can be a worry for regular ‘pink' pigs. However, thanks to their black colouring these pigs don't need to slap on the factor 30! In fact their hardiness and ability to withstand sunburn made the Large Black suitable for a wide variety of climatic conditions and by 1935 they had been exported to well over 30 countries worldwide. Described by Parkinson in 1810, he said of the breed ‘They are distinguished by their gigantic size, they are the largest of the kind I have ever seen, and as perfect a make as possible in pigs ... their heads are large, with very long ears hanging down on each side of the face, so they can scarcely see their way.'
According to The Large Black Pig Breeders Club, the Large Black is one of the UK's oldest pig breeds, and had its origins in the Old English Hog of the 16th and 17th centuries. By the late 1800s the main strongholds of the breed were in East Anglia and Devon and Cornwall, and two distinct types of pig were produced. The founding of the Large Black Pig Society in 1889 led to an increase in the exchange of stock between the breeders in the two localities. In the early part of the 20th century Large Blacks became more widely distributed, and were frequently crossed with the Large Whites and Middle Whites to produce both porkers and baconers.
The breed was also very successful in the show ring at the time outnumbering all other breeds at the Royal Show in 1919. In the same year the Smithfield supreme champion sold for 700 guineas (equivalent to around £35,000 today).
Read the rest of this feature on p.48 of the January/February 2013 issue...
By Anna-Lisa De'Ath