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Gloucestershire Old Spots

Posted 11/11/2014 11:09am by R Heritage Farm.

Meet Bella and Bryna – the new purebred registered Gloucestershire Old Spot sows that were gifted to us recently. Both were born in 2011 and come from the same litter so they are full sisters (they are about a year younger than Pig Pig) and they’ve each had 4 litters of pigs. Bella has more spots on her than her sister Bryna; in the photo of them standing up Bella is on the left and in the photo of them laying together Bella is closest to me.

Bella is more laid back and friendlier than Bryna, but neither are nearly as friendly as our other sows (Miss Pig Pig, Tinkerbelle, or Annabelle), but we raised those girls from the time they were babies. Bella and Bryna aren’t really sure what to make of us yet because I keep bothering them by trying to give them belly rubs which they clearly aren’t used to. Both kind of growl at me when I touch their bellies, so that’s something we’ll have to work on. It’s important to be able to touch them and gain their trust (it’s a two way street by the way) because sows can move like lightening, have big teeth, and enough weight and power to inflict a lot of damage if they’re scared or feel threatened. You have no idea how fast they are!

Both are due to deliver babies in December/January but we don’t know who’s due first or the exact date. (I’m guessing Bella is first.) I’m not comfortable sitting in with them yet because they haven’t earned my trust. I’ve never seen a pig have a tantrum before but the other night Bryna had a major fit. Long story short she got so upset she started growling and grabbed Bella’s feed bowl and started shaking it like a dog does with a toy. (It all started because she spilled her own food.) She grabbed that feed bowl with so much force she flung the food all the way out to their water trough in the outside paddock and it was raining feed in their stall. Ben and I just looked at each other like “wtf was that!?” A few minutes later she was fine, but I don’t do temper tantrums (only I can have those ;)) NEVER experienced that before, so she definitely needs some more time to settle in. Will keep you posted!

Posted 11/7/2014 2:46pm by Monique Russ.

It’s not every day you get a call from a farmer who is retiring and get told they have a herd of pigs they want to donate to your farm, but it just so happened to us a few weeks ago! Whaaat?? No waay! You’re serious? What an amazing opportunity for us! A retiring farmer just graciously gave us some free pigs to help grow our small farm…and not just any pigs either... Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs!!

Gloucestershire Old Spots (pronounced Gloss-ter-sheer) aka Old Spots aka GOS are another heritage breed of pig, but they are considerably more rare in America than Berkshire pigs.They are listed as Critical on the The Livestock Conservancy's Priority Status List which means there are fewer than 2,000 GOS pigs worldwide. (Berkshire's aren't as rare in the U.S. as the GOS is, but in most other countries the Berkshire is listed as critical on that country's conservation list.) GOS pigs nearly went extinct globally in the 1960's, but a recovery effort has slowly increased their numbers.

Among the numerous pigs donated we were given two pregnant sows which are due to have babies in the next couple of months. (exciting!) These pigs have only been on our farm for less than a week but already Ben and I really like this breed because they are quiet (so far) and are very docile and relaxed. They are absolutely adorable to look at too because they are white pigs with big black spots and giant floppy ears. We love our Berkshires though so we have no intention of switching breeds – we will offer the GOS pork in addition to the Berkshire pork.

We haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this pork yet, but we do know a few people who have and they said it was fantastic. Many chefs say it rivals Berkshire because it has many of the same qualities; beautiful marbling, tenderness, moisture, texture, deep color, etc. Not only are we adding another wonderfully flavorful type of pork to the menu we’re also helping to conserve another rare breed and help bring the GOS back from the brink of extinction.

In early 2015 we will offer wholes and halves of the Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, and add it to our CSA Program. Once the farmers markets start back up we’ll begin selling it at the markets too. (We love our Berkshires so we are not switching breeds - just introducing another one.) Having never raised this breed before we’re not sure how long it will take to raise the GOS pigs to market weight. Our purebred Berkshires take about 8 -9 months on average and from what I’ve found the GOS are similar but only time will tell. Back in the day in the UK these pigs were known as the ‘Orchard Pig’ because they were used to clean up windfall apples in the orchards and they were easily fattened on the fruit and dairy products. They are supposed to be excellent foragers and fantastic pigs to raise on pasture as their caloric needs are supposed to be less than most other breeds. The Gloucestershire Old Spot is also said to be a smaller pig so there will likely be a learning curve in determining when they’ve reached a desired butcher weight.

For now the GOS sows are housed separately from our Berkshire sows as we have some pretty large girls who could easily inflict injury if they all didn’t play well together. We also maintain a closed herd to prevent disease on our farm so all new pigs are quarantined from the existing herd for a minimum of 30 days to observe them. This period of separation will also allow us to get to know the sows and build a foundation with them without the existing sows getting jealous and chasing them away from getting pets. I can say we have a lot of work to do with these sows – it doesn’t appear they’ve really been trained to respect personal space and they also don’t seem to understand what belly rubs are yet. They’re still learning our routines and trying to figure out who we are and why they’re on our farm, so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.      

Stay tuned!


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