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UK witnesses over 5 percent decline in some its rarest pig breeds

Native breeds are an integral part of both wild and domestic ecosystems in the UK and can bring new levels of environmental, economic and cultural benefit to agriculture and to rural communities. This is why it is so essential to track their numbers and preserve their genetic lines.

16 April 2020, at 10:45am

RBST works across the UK to save and safeguard rare and native livestock and equine breeds, and its Watchlist is the annual barometer of breed numbers. The publication of the RBST Watchlist 2020-21 follows Government’s pronouncement in January that conservation of native livestock and equine breeds is a public benefit set to qualify for payment under the post-Brexit ‘public money for public goods’ agricultural policy in England.

RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price says: “Government’s recognition that native breed conservation is a public benefit opens the way for many more farmers, smallholders and landowners to keep rare breeds. In doing so they can be part of the important conservation effort for some of our country’s most striking and most treasured breeds, while also assuring themselves of a new, stable income stream."

Rare pig breeds

Endangered

Remaining in the "endangered" category (100-200 registered breeding females (R.B.F.) in the UK) are the British Landrace, British Lop and Middle White pig breeds. Worryingly, this year, the Large Black breed has declined in numbers by over 5 percent.

In the early part of the 20th Century, the Large Black pig breed were widely distributed throughout the country and were frequently crossed with Large Whites and Middle Whites to produce bacon and pork pigs. The Large Black breed was also very successful in the show ring at this time. A change in demand by the meat trade and a developing prejudice against coloured pigs led to a severe decline in numbers throughout the 1960's. Today Large Blacks can be found throughout the British Isles, mainly in small herds, some of which were established well before World War II.

Vulnerable

The British Saddleback has been moved from "at risk" (300-500 R.B.F.) to "vulnerable" (200-300 R.B.F.) this year and saw a decline in numbers of more than 5 percent. British Saddlebacks are hardy and noted for their mothering ability. The breed continues to be used mainly to provide coloured dams for the production of first-cross porkers, baconers and heavy pigs. The breed is known for its grazing ability and is very hardy. Though the numbers show a decline, the breed has secured a niche in outdoor and organic production which is currently a growing requirement from consumers.

The Berkshire, Tamworth and Large White breeds remain in the "vulnerable" category, with the Berkshire and Tamworth breeds also observing a decline in numbers this year.

At risk

The Gloucester Old Spot, Oxford Sandy and Black and Welsh breeds remain in the "at risk" category, with the Welsh pig also experiencing a more than 5 percent decline in breeding females. Since the 1980’s the number of registrations has declined however the breed still provides a valuable source of genetic material for breeders following crossbreeding programmes. They make for ease of management with fast liveweight gain at low feed conversion ratio and an excellent killing out percentage in the progeny.

“Our 2020-21 Watchlist shows that the great efforts of rare breed keepers alongside our conservation programmes, over many years, are delivering real results," says Price.

"Numbers of Bagot goats have doubled in a decade and continue to grow, Vaynol cattle numbers have increased significantly this year and Border Leicesters have had their best year since they joined the Watchlist. These rare breeds, and many others that RBST monitors and supports, are in a good position to swell their numbers as interest grows in keeping native breeds.

“However, there are breeds in all our livestock and equine categories which remain at real risk of dying out. The declining numbers of Albion cattle, Large Black pigs and Hackney horses are a particular cause for concern this year. We have vital conservation programmes underway to save breeds most at risk, and we thank all those whose support and donations are making possible this crucial ongoing work.”