British Swine Breeds
The Tamworth pig is the oldest pure English breed and is one of Great Britain's native livestock breeds. Its attractive red-gold colour makes it easily recognised and accounts for its other names of Sandy Back, Tam or Ginger Pig.
At a time when many breeds were being crossed with Chinese or Neapolitan breeds, the unfashionable Tamworth was ignored, hence it is less 'contaminated' than many. The Tamworth is sometimes crossed with wild boar to give a more 'gamey' taste to the pork. It has come down from the Old English Forest pig, an indigenous species.
The Tamworth was very popular with cottagers and land-owners, in fact anyone who kept a pig or two such as hotel-keepers. When dressed, the carcass was white-fleshed with long sides and fleshy hams. They were, and are, excellent 'ploughs', clearing blackberry and bracken with ease.
The counties of Northampton, Warwick, Leicester and Stafford in the Midlands of England were all home to the Tamworth which is named after the village of the same name in Staffordshire. It is the only indigenous breed which is red and it also has the longest snout. Standardisation of the breed took place in the early to mid 1800s. The breed was formerly recognised in 1885.
Numbers fell dramatically after the Second World War as the Tamworth did not adapt well to intensive husbandry methods and was not particularly fast-growing although it flourished on low energy feed. Their traditional use was as a 'bacon' breed. Because of its fine bones, carcass yields are up to 70%.
It is fortunate for the future of the Tamworth that there was quite a bit of trade during the 20th century. Imports and exports have helped avoid potential inbreeding problems. During the early part of the century, imports were mainly from Canada then, in the 1970s, from Australia. Australian Tamworths were seen as being a preferred lighter shade than the Canadian animal. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust was one group which imported Tamworths from Australia in the 1970s and 1990s.
The head of a good Tamworth should not be too long. The jowl is light and face slightly dished. The Tamworth is wide between the ears and has large, erect ears which are inclined slightly forward. The ears are of thin skin and finely fringed. The neck and shoulders are light. The back is long and slightly arched while the flank is thick with well developed, firm hams. The legs are of good substance and strong with firm pasterns. Being rather long-legged, the Tamworth copes well with covering a sufficient range to meet its foraging needs. The tail is set high and has a good tassel and a natural curl.
The coat is abundant with the colouring varying from a distinctive golden to cherry red. Black hairs are frowned on for show animals. The skin is flesh-coloured and free of wrinkles. The colour gives good resistance to sunburn.
The sows have excellent maternal instincts and plenty of milk. There should be at least twelve evenly spaced teats. The teats should start well forward. Sows are docile but protective.
Overall the Tamworth is adaptable, hardy and tough. It is equally at home under pasture conditions or foraging in rough country. Tamworths have a part to play in scrub and woodland reclamation but are not so suited to intensive, confined conditions.
Dry-cured bacon from Tamworths is now considered a gourmet product and commands high prices. However the breed is suited to both pork and bacon production.
Currently there are more Tamworths in the USA than in Britain. The first Tamworths went to the States in 1882 when Thomas Bennett of Illinois imported some. The American Tamworth Swine Record Association was established in 1887. Canada imported many of the breed after 1888 and the Dominion Swine Breeders Association Herd Book accepted the Tamworth in 1893.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has classified the Tamworth as 'vulnerable'. Their status in Australia is 'critical'. They have a role to play as they impart hybrid vigour to other breeds. They cope with harsh climatic conditions without needing expensive housing or supplementary feeding and are resistant to disease. The breed is ideal for smallholders.