The Tamworth pig is the first animal we ever farmed, and it is from its distinctive copper coat that we get our name. England has a rich heritage of regional speciality when it comes to pigs, not only in how the different breeds developed but in the wealth of ham curing recipes which spring from this. These regional ham specialities have sadly all but died out, as the proliferation of the Wiltshire cure took precedence over more traditional methods.
Heritage breeds have declined a great deal in the 20th century, as post-war industrialisation paved the way for heavily hybridised animals, and modern techniques were introduced to produce large quantities of cheap meat. However we have some of the few remaining pure bloodlines at Grange Farm, and as well as the Tamworth, we farm Gloucester Old Spot and Berkshire pigs – and each breed has its own characteristics.
Because, as an industry, we have arrived at a situation where very few bloodlines of breeds exist, it is essential that we cross some of our pigs for meat production. Where our breeding stock is comprised entirely of pure rare and native breeds, a lot of the meat we sell is an FI hybrid, meaning it is the progeny of two purebred but different parents. This allows us to maintain the quality and characteristics of our traditional breeds, without narrowing the gene pool – and we never use the resulting piglet crosses as breeding stock. Among the more popular of these crosses is a Tamworth (ginger) boar over a Berkshire (black) sow, producing lovely little piglets with a ginger coat and black spots – a traditional Victorian cross known as the Plum Pudding pig. We also utilise the British Landrace in order to ensure good-sized litters where native breeds alone may not do so well.
Our piglets are weaned at four to eight weeks, and are kept in their family groups until slaughter – a pig that is kept with the piglets it recognises is much less likely to fight. The pigs live outdoors (with each family having its own shelter), and have constant access to food to avoid the stress and competition associated with set meal times. They live on a natural diet of homegrown cereal, with a protein content of around 12% to ensure they grow slowly and steadily. They reach slaughter at around 24 weeks, while a more intensively reared animal can be killed at around 17.