The Tamworth Pig
The Tamworth pig is one of the oldest European breeds of pig, possibly descended from wild boars.
“Today’s Tamworth is thought to be the most typical breed descended from the old indigenous species, the Old English Forest pig. It has maintained this status because at the end of the 18th Century, when many native breeds were ‘improved’ by crossing them with Chinese and Neapolitan stock, the Tamworth was not deemed fashionable and hence left alone. It is now therefore the oldest pure English breed…” (www.thepigsite.com)
It is probable that Irish pigs were used to improve the Tamworth in the early 1800’s, but otherwise the Tamworth’s genetic legacy remains intact, making it one of the least interbred domestic pig varieties in existence. The pig takes its name from the village of Tamworth in Staffordshire, England, the region in which the breed was standardized in the mid-nineteenth century. The Tamworth was formally recognized as a breed by the Royal Agricultural Society in England in 1865.
Tamworths arrived in Eastern Canada in 1877. They quickly spread across the country to become one of the most popular breeds of pig and a fundamental part of our agricultural history. Tamworths were ideal for the small, mixed farms which characterized agriculture in Canada from the 19th to mid- 20th centuries due to their ability to withstand cold and to thrive outdoors with very little maintenance.
“Tamworths are ideally suited to outdoor production, grazing compatibly with cattle, being able to retrieve forage that cattle leave behind in the open pasture. In addition, they are very efficient at rooting for food in the forest or pasture, making them ideal for forage-based farming systems. In addition to their tolerance for extreme temperatures, they are also resistant to disease, needing little if any treatment with antibiotics and their ginger colour protects them from sunburn. (slowfood.ca)
Le Journal d’agriculture illustré, Advertisement, 1895
The Tamworth is a reddish-gold coloured pig with a long, narrow body. The meat from this breed is lean and highly flavourful, and they are reputed to make the best bacon of any breed of pig. They are a low-maintenance breed as they are expert foragers who prefer to be outdoors where they can fend for themselves. Tamworths are intelligent, friendly, and curious animals. The females produce litters of up to ten piglets and have excellent mothering instincts.
Tamworth Piglets on the farm of Stacey Boychuk and Dwight McIntyre, Herdman, QC.
Tamworths take up to 50 percent longer to mature than modern commercial pigs. Their slow growth combined with their inability to thrive in the intensive, indoor conditions of modern agriculture led to a swift decline in their numbers from the 1950’s onward. Additionally, regulations which prohibit the raising of swine on dairy farms and changes in the way meat is graded also reduced their numbers.
The Tamworth is listed as critically endangered with fewer than 35 new females registered in Canada in 2015 (with a total number of approximately 250), and possibly as few as 4000 worldwide.
Additional sources: Rare Breeds Canada (rarebreeds.org), The Livestock Conservancy (livestockconservancy.org) Rare Breeds Survival Trust (rbst.org.uk)