OLD SPOT HOGS
The Gloucestershire Old Spots is a historic pig breed known for its distinctive white coat with black spots. The breed was developed in the Berkley Vale of Gloucestershire, England, during the 1800s. Its exact origins are not known, though it was likely based on two breeds – the original Gloucestershire pig which was large, off-white, had wattles and was without spots, and second, the unimproved Berkshire. Both of the old breeds used to develop the Old Spots are now extinct.
Gloucestershire (pronounced Glostersheer) pigs were selected as excellent foragers and grazers. The pigs are thrifty, able to make a living from pasture and agricultural by products, such as whey from cheese making, windfall apples in orchards, and the residue from pressing cider. These easy keeping qualities gave Gloucestershire Old Spots the nicknames “cottage pig” and “orchard pig.” British folklore claims the large black spots are bruises caused by the apples falling onto them as they foraged the orchard floors for food.
In 1913 the British Board of Agriculture announced a livestock development scheme that included the licensing of breeding boars. Farmers of the Berkley Vale realized this plan threatened the very existence of their beloved local pig breed. Subsequently, the Gloucestershire Old Spots Breed Society was formed in November of 1913 placing the breed among the oldest spotted pedigreed pig breeds known. The breed hit a high point in popularity in Great Britain just after World War 1 when the naturally large proportions of lean meat from Old Spots was perfectly suited for to the production of lean, streaky bacon that was fast becoming popular in Great Britain at this time. Old Spots reigned supreme as the pork of choice for discerning palates and in livestock shows through the 1920’s and early 1930’s. The breed became rare after World War II, when the shift to intensive pig production reduced interest in pigs that could thrive out of doors. The remaining population nearly became extinct in the 1960s, though it has increased slowly since then.
Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs were imported to the United States during the 1900s, and they made genetic contributions to several American breeds, especially the American Spot and the Chester White. The breed never became numerous in the United States, however, and was practically extinct by the 1990s. In 1995, Kelmscott Farm Foundation of Lincolnville, Maine, organized an importation of twenty Gloucestershire piglets to reestablish the purebred population in America. A breed society was founded, and the number of animals is increasing. As of 2009, there are about less than 1000 Gloucestershire Old Spots in Great Britain and fewer than 200 breeding animals in the US. The breed notably benefits from continued support of the British Royal Family who favors pork from these pigs for their table.
The Gloucestershire Old Spots pig is known for its docility, intelligence, and prolificacy. Boars reach a mature weight of 600 lbs (136 kg) and sows 500 lbs (125 kg). The pigs are white with clearly defined black (not blue) spots. There must be at least one spot on the body to be accepted in the registry. The breed’s maternal skills make it able to raise large litters of piglets on pasture. Its disposition and self sufficiency should make it attractive for farmers raising pasture pigs and those who want to add pigs to diversified operations. In 2015, the Gloucestershire Old Spots moved from Critically Endangered to Threatened status.