Send them out — Gloucestershire Old Spots

Give them shelter from the weather but let them out to roam across the fields & pastures…

The Gloucestershire Old Spots (also “GloucesterGloucester Old Spot, Gloster SpotGloucestershire Old Spot[2] or simply “Old Spots[3]) is a predominantly white with black (not blue) spots breed, named after the English county, although Wiseman in his “A History Of The British Pig” (op. cit.) has more than a little to say about the problems with using this exact geographical naming convention with any breed. Be that as it may; the breed as it exists now is clearly defined and recognised.

[And another old wives-tale suggests that their black spotting was the result of fruit falling and bruising them as they roamed the fruit orchards they commonly foraged in. Probably not…]

Like most pigs, it’s renowned for its docility, intelligence, and profligacy with the boars reaching a mature weight of up to 600 lbs (272 kg) and sows around 500 lbs (227 kg). Its disposition and self sufficiency make it particularly attractive for farmers & small-holders raising pasture pigs and those who want to add pigs to diversified operations.

History

The Gloucestershire Old Spots (GOS) Breed Society was formed in 1913. The originators of that society called the breed ‘Old’ Spots because the pig had been known for as long as anyone could remember. The first pedigree records of pigs began in 1885, much later than it did for cattle, sheep and horses because the pig was, as noted elsewhere, traditionally a peasant’s animal, a scavenger, never highly regarded in the same way as a prize stallion or bull might have been.

No other pedigree spotted breed was formally recorded before 1913, so today’s GOS is recognized as the oldest such breed in the world. From the British Pig Association: “Although if old paintings are to be trusted, there have been spotted pigs around for two or three centuries, the Gloucestershire Old Spots has only had pedigree status since the early 20th century.” Similar pigs were to be found in and around Staffordshire in the 18th Century and it may also have had some antecedents in the (extinct) 19th Century Oxford Dairy pig, also light coloured with dark blotches.  

Gloucester Old Spot painting

Gloucester Old Spot painting

Origins and development

Besides its formal title and variations as above, the breed is also known as the “Orchard Pig”[4] and “The Cottager’s Pig”. And rather ironically (at least to this republican), despite these humble origins, both The Prince of Wales and The Princess Royal keep GOS pigs on their respective Gloucestershire estates. Like most such pigs for the small holder or peasant, they were commonly raised on waste agricultural products of the area such as windfall orchard fruit and whey.

One other notable contributor is the Lincolnshire Curly Coat, a pig that has since gone extinct. The Old Spot is also genetically and characteristically similar to the extinct Cumberland pig and is presently being used in its attempted recreation in the UK. These breeds were regarded as thrifty and excellent foragers, supplementing their feed with roots and vegetation. Additionally, the GOS gene pool has contributed to the American Spot and the Chester White. Additional commonalities among these breeds include excellent maternal instincts and an even temperament, as Old Spots tend to be very calm, good-natured animals. The females tend to be very devoted mothers, while the males seldom pose a threat to piglets.

Gloucester Old Spot

Gloucester Old Spot

GOS is currently on the “Critical” List of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy,[5] meaning there are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and estimated fewer than 2,000 in the global population. In the UK the Old Spots is listed as “Category 5, Minority” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as there are fewer than 1,000 registered breeding females.[4][6]

An application was made to gain European Commission Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) status for Old Spots pig meat[7] which was granted on 29 July 2010 [8] to the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club.[9] The Club actively pursues traders who mis-label meat and try to pass off produce as being GOS which does not come from purebred, pedigree GOS pigs [10] A number of small breeders exist for those interested in ordering real GOS pork which I aim to encourage via this blog.[10]

Breed characteristics:

A large breed, white in colour with a minimum of one distinct black spot. It has lop ears which will almost cover the face of a mature pig and hang towards the nose.

A good example of an adult GOS sow

Head: Long length with a slightly dished nose. The ears should be well set apart, dropping forward to the nose.

Body: The shoulders should be fine but not raised. A long level back with well sprung ribs and a broad loin are desirable. Deep sides, with a thick, full belly and flank from the ribs to hams are standard.

Hams: Large and well filled to the hocks.

Legs: Straight and strong.

Skin and Coat: Skin should not show coarseness or wrinkles. The hair should be silky and straight.

Teats: There should be at least 14 well-placed teats.

Objections:

Ears: Short, thick and elevated.

Coat: A rose disqualifies. A line of mane bristles is objectionable. Sandy colour may disqualify.

Skin: Serious wrinkles. Blue undertone not associated with a spot.

Legs: Curved.

Neck: Heavy jowl objectionable.

Cultural references

The Uley Brewery,[11] a small independent based near Dursley in Gloucestershire, offers excellent ales such as Old Spot Prize Ale, Pig’s Ear, Hogs Head and their strongest, Pigor Mortis. The labels feature an illustration of a GOS pig.

Another alcoholic beverage featuring the GOS is Pig’s Nose Scotch Whisky from Spencerfield Spirit of HillendFifeScotland. According to the label

“Tis said that our Scotch is as soft and smooth as a pig’s nose”

However, it is noted that the pig featured on the label does not have standard GOS ears which droop downwards towards the nose.

A GOS boar helped the British war effort in 1914. The German Kaiser had ordered and paid for one of these fine specimens in 1914 but the First World War broke out just before it could be exported and so it was never sent. There was no record of the payment being returned…

The most expensive pig in Britain according to the Guinness Book of Records was Foston Sambo 21, a Gloucestershire Old Spots, which sold at auction in 1994 for 4,000 guineas (£4,200)

There is a public house on the outskirts of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire called the Gloucester Old Spot that specialises in serving rare breed pork and preserving the atmosphere of the historic pub.

Gloucester Old Spot by John Miles. BBC 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.

Breeds of Livestock — Gloucestershire Old Spots Swine

Oldspots.com

a b RBST Watchlist

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy — Breeds Information

Rare Breeds Survival Trust watch list accessed May 21, 2008

Written Answer given in the House of Lords, March 15, 2006: Column WA236 accessed at Parliament.uk July 25, 2006

Andrea Tosato, The Protection of Traditional Foods in the EU: Traditional Specialities Guaranteed (2013) European Law Journal [1]

[Full details http://www.gos-tsg.com www.gos-tsg.com]

cooking with GOS pork

Uley’s Brewery

Further reading

Briggs, Hilton M. 1983. International Pig Breed Encyclopedia. Elanco Animal Health.

Mr Richard Lutwyche, Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club, Cirencester, Gloucestershire.

Mason, I.L. 1996. A World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Types and Varieties. Fourth Edition. C.A.B International.

External links

British Pig Association Gloucestershire Old Spots U.K. registry

Gloucestershire Old Spots of America Website Gloucestershire Old Spots of America, Inc.

Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders Club

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