The Welsh; a breed apart?

The modern Welsh Pig can be traced back to an indigenous, white lop-eared breed that has been kept in Wales ‘for as long as records exist’

Of course. They all have… Cynical? Moi?

It’s a long, lean, slow maturing pig, with an almost pear-like shape found throughout the southern and western counties of the principality and known for its hardiness in outdoor farming.[1]

The breed was first mentioned in the 1870s, and is the third most common sire in the U.K. after the Large White and British Landrace. Despite that, the Welsh, for some reason doesn’t rank as large an export “model” as the others and despite the fact that they produce some very good bacon.

Some of the earliest references to a Welsh pig come in the 1870’s, from when there was a considerable trade in Welsh and Shropshire pigs into Cheshire, for fattening on the milk by-products from the dairy trade centred around there.

“The Welsh pigs are generally a yellow-white, but some are spotted black and white. The (Cheshire) dairymen depend more on these Welshmen and proud Salopians than on breeding. The cross of the Manchester boar with the Shropshire and Welsh produces a larger and coarser breed than the small Yorkshire.”

Increased demand for pork and bacon during the First World War — when for obvious reasons, imports were perforce restricted to those from Canada and the USA — led to the creation of the first pig breed society in Wales, with the Old Glamorgan Pig Society being established in 1918. Volume One of their own herd-book followed shortly after, in 1919. Harking back to comments I’ve made before in earlier notes that “breeds” can be a bit of a misnomer, especially in their early days, similar types were also bred in Cardigan, Pembroke and Carmarthen. A meeting was then held at Carmarthen in 1920 resulting in the foundation of the Welsh Pig Society for West Wales and their first herd-book was published in 1922.

These two then amalgamated in 1922 to become the Welsh Pig Society with offices setup in Camarthen at Shire Hall. In 1923 Volume 4 of the Old Glamorgan Pig Society Herdbook and Volume 2 of the Welsh Herdbook were published separately. Things got closer to a full union when Volume 5, published in 1924, was the first to be issued under the banner of the Welsh Pig Society. In 1952 the Welsh Breed joined the six other pedigree breeds already represented by the National Pig Breeders Association, now known as the British Pig Association. The first NPBA herdbook containing entries for Welsh Pigs was published in 1953.

The Welsh breed prospered after the period from 1947 when increasing supplies of animal feed led to a dramatic increase in the size of the national pig herd. The number of government licenses issued for Welsh boars increased from 41 in 1949 to 1,363 in 1954, making the Welsh the number three sire breed in Great Britain, behind the Large White and Landrace. A similar picture existed for pedigree sow registrations, which rose from 850 in 1952 to 3,736 in 1954.

The already (infamous) Hewitt Committee went on to spotlight the Welsh as one of the three breeds on which the modern British pig industry should be founded. 

“It is from these three breeds we would hope to see developed, through intensive progeny testing in the coming years, the improved bacon pig which would provide boars for use by nearly all commercial breeders for bacon and pork.”

Nucleus herds of Welsh pigs were being established as part of the national testing scheme which meant that throughout the 60s and 70s’, the breed was the third most numerous in these testing programmes. The 1974/75 Pig Improvement Scheme Year Book shows performance figures on a par with the other two Howitt Committee recommended breeds. During this period the Welsh breed was widely used in commercial herds. At the same time breeders with a slightly different type of Welsh pig were winning awards in the show ring. At Smithfield and other prime stock shows the breed enjoyed numerous successes in both the pork and bacon sectors.

The Welsh pig is white, with lop ears meeting at the tips just short of the pig’s nose. It has a long level body with deep strong hams and legs set well apart. George Eglington acknowledged as the founder of the modern Welsh breed described the perfect Welsh pig as “pear shaped” when viewed from either the side or from above. They are still known for their hardiness and ability to thrive under a wide variety of conditions, both indoor and outside.

Since the 1980’s the number of registrations has declined however the breed still provides a valuable source of genetic material for breeders following crossbreeding programmes. They “make for ease of management with fast live weight gain at low feed conversion ratio and an excellent killing out percentage in the progeny”.

By 2005, they were considered a rare breed.

The modern Welsh has quite a wide head with lopped ears and a straight nose. The shoulders are flat at the top supporting a strong back. The skin and coat are generally white in color covering a thick torso supported by strong short legs. Boars are generally 123 to 138 kg (271 to 304 lb) in weight and sows range from 123 to 138 kg (271 to 304 lb).

In the nineteenth century, the Welsh was described as having rather long legs and to be a razorback whilst being a slow maturer and coarse-haired. Its ribs are quite well spread across the stomach and its tail is thick. The loin of the Welsh is very muscly and in general the pig is lean and strong.

Key Characteristics:

Size: Medium/large with sows ranging from 150-200kg and boars up to 250kg

Looks: Long, lean, lop-eared white breed with well-developed hams and a minimum of 14 teats.

Litter Size: The Welsh is the most commercially developed of all the traditional breeds producing good sized litters with an average Litter Size of 11.24 (2009 data) and the sows make good mothers.

Crossing: Welsh boars are excellent crossing sires for rare breed sows producing leaner, fast growing offspring with improved conformation.

Meat: The Welsh is ideal for both pork and bacon production with carcases remaining lean at heavier weights.

References

1. McDonald-Brown, Linda (2009). Choosing and Keeping Pigs. Firefly Books. ISBN 978-1-55407-469-3.

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