British Swine Breeds
The Gloucester Old Spot
The Gloucester Old Spot is probably the most numerous of several rare breeds of pig. It is the oldest pedigree spotted pig. It is one of Great Britain's indigenous breeds and originated in the Berkeley Vale in south west England. It has also been known as the Cottager's pig, Closter Spot, Old Spot and Orchard pig, the latter because of its prevalence in apple orchards. Smallholders of these dairy farms and small orchards supplemented their income by keeping a few pigs which, as part of their diet, fed on windfall apples and dairy products. Spotted pigs can be found in paintings from two or three hundred years ago. According to legend, the spots on the body were bruises caused by being hit by falling apples.
In 1913, the Breed Society was formed. This was much later than many organizations concerned with promoting and improving livestock breeds. In 1914, the German Kaiser bought two representatives of the breed but the outbreak of World War I prevented their delivery.
This breed is not suited to intensive husbandry systems. It is a large animal and does best under extensive, free range situations. Because of this, it lost popularity and by 1950 there were less than 100 animals left. George Styles, a Worcestershire farmer, stepped in to save the breed from extinction. For his work, Styles is sometimes cited as the 'grandfather' of the Old Spot.
For exhibition purposes, pigs should have at least one distinct black spot. The lop ears are so large they may almost cover the face. The jowl should be light. The body is broad and deep and the neck a medium length. The ribs are deep and well-sprung and the back long and level. The tail is set up quite high and the hams are large and thick. The legs are strong and straight. The coat is silky and there is an absence of mane bristles. A purebred animal will have jet black spots. Crossbred animals tend to have grey or blue spots.
Sows have excellent mothering skills and should have at least 14 well-spaced teats. Sows may produce two healthy litters yearly and breed to a good age.
The breed is docile and very hardy. When crossed with other breeds, they impart good hybrid vigour. Because of a growing awareness of the excellent flavour and quality of the meat, the breed is attracting increasing interest. Unlike most modern breeds, There are ideal levels of backfat and marbling within the muscle. The backfat often found on older breeds helps the animal retain warmth and condition when kept outdoors. When cooked, the meat bastes in its own fat, producing tender, succulent meat.
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In 1994, a Gloucester Old Spot, Foston Sambo 21, was bought for 4,000 guineas, a record at the time according to the Guinness Book of Records.
In 1999, pure bred Gloucester Old Spot meat was registered as a 'special product' in the EU (European Union). This foresight by the Gloucester Old Spot Pig Breeders' Club will result hopefully in a Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG) classification. Filling such niche markets could play a role in ensuring the survival of this attractive breed.