Biggest of the Whites.

The Large White

In 1981, there were nearly 4,000 Large White registered in England, making them the largest by number of the breeds. It’s also easily the leading world breed, especially considering that the breed called “Yorkshires” in the US & Canada are direct descendants of the Large White. Virtually every pig-breeding country in the world has imported the Large White. The BPA Bloodline Survey of 2011, showed over 1,200 registered sows in England; the Large White isn’t a rare breed by any definition of the word 🙂

Large Whites are distinguished by their “picturesque” bearing, erect ears, slightly dished faces, white colour, pink skins, and long deep sides. And whilst it almost doesn’t need saying, they’ve been valued for their bacon production since their very inception. Oh, and as their name kind of suggests, they are “characterised by their large size”. Note that like a lot of the breeds with that dished face, this points to a certain amount of cross-breeding with Chinese counter-parts, whatever their fans and breed books would like to say to the contrary.

The breed originated in Yorkshire but as always the history is difficult to pin down with any degree of accuracy. The existing large, coarse-boned and leggy white pigs of the region were crossed with other breeds. Davidson, in “The Production and Marketing of Pigs“, has suggested that among these were the Cumberland, Leicestershire and the Middle and Small White. Specimens of the new breed first attracted attention at the Windsor Royal Show in 1831.

The Large White is regarded as a rugged and hardy breed that can withstand variations in climate and other environmental factors. Their ability to cross with and improve other breeds has truly made them a factor nearly everywhere commercial swine are produced. They have been known for decades as a favorite market animal where high quality bacon and pork are sought. Their tendency to grow and not lay down excess fat have made them favorites, not only when swine are marketed at relatively light weights, but also when they are carried to heavier weights.

Large Whites are known for large litters, heavy milk production and for having excellent maternal instincts. They are not only lean and active, but are also quite sound in feet and legs. They carry their considerable length with ease and grace. Their extra height, or length of leg, helps them to remain active and have long useful lives in the breeding pen.

While the Large White was originally developed as an active and outdoor breed, they do very well in concentrated or confined conditions. They and their descendants, the Yorkshire, are to be found in practically all crossbreeding and rotational breeding programs using two or more breeds, not just in England but worldwide. The sow component of such commercial programs usually has half or more of their bloodline. While the sows of the breed have an enviable reputation as dams, the boars are not to be overlooked as sires. Their genes seem able to stamp uniformity and quality into a pig crop from almost any breed or type of dam. While the majority of such pigs may go to market, the best young sows are most likely to be selected as mothers for the next generation of market pigs.

The Large White has been registered since 1884 since its establishment, at the National Pig Breeders’ Association, and is now headquartered at 7 Rickmansworth Road, Watford Herts WD1 7HE.

The Large White was developed in Yorkshire during the 19th century from the local white breeds. The first herd-book for the Large White was published in 1884 and by the end of the 19th century the breed was attracting a great deal of interest with breeders exporting stock worldwide.

During the 20th century the breed continued to grow in popularity and it was one of the breeds (along with Landrace and Welsh) recommended to form the basis of the UK pig farming industry in the 1955 Hewitt Report (op. cit). The growth in performance recording and the increasing specialisation of the world pig industry led to further demand for the Large White and the breed became known as “The World’s Favourite Breed”.

Key Characteristics:

Size: sows 260-300kg, boars 350- 380kg

Looks: A large, lean white breed with distinctive prick ears. Pigs should have excellent conformation with good hams.

Uses: Indoor pig production, outdoor pig production, crossing.

Hardy: The Large White is widely used in outdoor systems and is hardy enough to cope with most conditions.

Litter size: Decades of performance recording and rigorous selection has made the Large White more prolific than most rare breeds. Average litter size is around 11-12 piglets/litter. Sows are milky and make for good mothers.

Indoor Production: The breed is known for having an excellent FCR (feed conversion ratio) and pigs are capable of achieving high DLWG (daily live-weight gain).

Crossing: The Large White can be used in a crossbreeding program in a variety of ways – as a terminal sire on rare breeds which produces a lean, fast growing pig more suited to the commercial market. As a maternal sire on Landrace or rare breeds where the Large White adds prolificacy, leanness and conformation to a maternal breeding program. Finally, as a commercial sire line – there are strains of Large White that have been specifically bred and selected to be terminal sires for intensive systems. This latter process I fundamentally disagree with but…

Meat: The breed is well conformed with little fat. Which again, to me, is a major down-side but others tastes have yet to catch up.

Before the end of the 19th Century, British Large Whites were already establishing themselves all over the world. Breeders, such as Sanders Spencer of the Holywell herd near Huntingdon, were exporting breeding stock as far afield as Australia, Argentina, Canada and Russia as well as most countries in Europe.

Holywell herd Huntingdon Holywell herd, just outside Huntingdon

In the early 1970s the development of modern performance testing programmes led to an increase in world-wide demand for Large White breeding stock from the United Kingdom. In the first three years of that decade more than 8,500 pedigree Large Whites were exported to all parts of the world. Once again in the early 1990s, the switch in the USA from payment on live weight to payment on lean meat percentage led to another great wave of exports of Large White genetics from Britain.The leading British breeders of today have followed in the footsteps of their Victorian predecessors with exports to over 60 countries around the world justifying the Large Whites’ undeniable claim to be the World’s Favourite Breed.

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