Piggy Facts: Articles & information about Wessex Saddleback Pigs.




Some Piggy TRIVIA:

·        Pigs are very good swimmers, but in the olden days, it was thought that they couldn’t swim, because they would cut their own throats with their trotters!

·        Most animals (including humans) grow 20 to 40 times their birth weight. With pigs being the exception! An average piglet when born is approx 250gms & as an adult will weigh in at 250 – 350kgs. That’s over 1,000 times its birth weight!

·        The world’s heaviest pig weighed in at 1158kgs back in the 1930’s in America.

·        Pigs are smarter then dogs & are as smart as chimpanzees, & have excellent long-term memory recall.


·         Pregnancy lasts for 3 months, 3 weeks & 3 days.

·         Weaned at 9 weeks.

·         Ready for bacon at 16 weeks.

·         Males sexually mature at approx 7-8 months.

·         Females sexually mature at 10 months.

·         Gilt is a young female pig (heifer).

·         Barrow is a castrated male.

·         Sow is a mature female.

·         Boar is a mature male.

Young boar, as bacon or pork is fine & free from any taint by SSC, which has a tendency to affect the flavour of the meat to a varying degree. (We personally haven’t found any difference in young boar meat).

SSC - Secondary Sexual Characteristics

1.      Tusks

2.      Scutum or shield on the forequarter

3.      Strong sexual odour

4.      Thickness of skin

5.      Pronounced protractor muscle


* Information taken from LPP report by Susanne Gura 2007  

Modern farming practices since the 1960’s has changed dramatically, along with the breeds of livestock farmed. In the 1960’s in Germany a chicken was the equivalent in price to a day’s work, now in the 21st century the price of that chicken has fallen to the equivalent of an hours work. But even though the commercial/retail price for that chicken has dropped, the true cost of producing that chicken is not taken into consideration e.g. the public cost for research to develop “new breeds”, disease control, & the environmental damage done by modern farming practices.










Pigs weaned per sow per year





Lean meat %





Kg lean meat per tonne of feed





This may seem on the surface to be good faming practices & progress, but we all realise that this is not sustainable. The modern farming of pigs & the strains developed cannot be maintained at such low costs to the consumer & such high costs to the environment.

Where is the sense of breeding sows to have large litters twice a year for a very few years. Then they are culled & the process starts again. Whereas with the older traditional breeds, such as the Wessex Saddleback, the sow may well have fewer piglets per litter but she will continue to produce for a good many years longer than her modern counterpart.

Modern high intensive farming certainly does sound & look impressive with the enormous gains in feed conversion rates & higher yields, but they DO NOT take into consideration the “hidden costs”. Such as –

·         Environmental costs – water, soil & air

·         Human costs - the modern syndrome of over consumption of livestock products, obesity etc

·         Modern diseases - that increase in virulence when passing through intensively farmed, genetically similar livestock.

Artificial Insemination – Definitely has a place in modern farming, as well as in more traditional farming practices. Through this method, many breeds have been brought back from the brink, but when you get a single boar siring over 2000 offspring. That is when things are getting out of hand. One of the reasons given for this is that due to the fact that much of the modern intensively farmed pig population is too susceptible to infections to have live mating. (In cattle a single bull may have as many as 1,000,000 offspring). Some breeds of modern turkeys can no longer physically breed in a natural way; they can only breed through human interference using AI. If an animal cannot breed in a natural manner then by natural law it should become extinct, but with human intervention, sadly the reverse is happening.

Pork is the most widely consumed meat in the world, approximately 42% of global pig production is industrialised, with only 5 breeds dominating – Large White, Duroc, Landrace, Hampshire & Pietrain. With approx 66% of the mothers of European fattening pigs being hybrid crosses of Landrace & Large White. Where is the genetic diversity in these animals?

With the expansion of industrial farming globally, & the use of the same few breeds now spread to all over the world, local breeds of pigs are becoming either endangered or extinct. In the 20th century it is reported that we lost over 100 breeds of livestock. In the first 5 years of the 21st century, we have lost over 60 breeds, which mean that we are losing something like a breed per month. When the genetic diversity is gone & we are only left with the modern breeds & strains of animals, the world will be one step closer to starving itself.

That is one of the reasons all farmers look for the “hybrid vigour” in crossing different breeds, this is the only way many can bring the animals up to modern market expectations, for growth rates etc. But surely this means that the breeds themselves are weakened when they are only good commercially when crossed with another?

Many global livestock genetic companies have vested interests in the maintenance of specific strains & breeds, of animals by supplying not only the genetics to breed them, but with a division of their parent company selling the “specialised food” to feed them, & then another division selling the drugs to cure them when ill & to stave off infections that they are susceptible to, through closed breeding programs.

So in many ways you can say that these companies are self sustaining entities in themselves.  As long as we (the general public & consumers) insist on larger, cheaper quantities of food, rather than smaller portions of good quality healthy food, grown in a manner that is sustainable indefinitely. Nobody knows when & if cloning of farm animals will become commercially viable but if it does then all genetic diversity will be lost forever, as we will only have carbon copies of the same pig/cow/sheep globally.

Considering we have been farming livestock for millennia, the changes that have happened to the livestock & farming industries in the last half a century, will never be undone. The best we can hope for is to maintain what diversity we have left & try to prevent any further losses. And one of the best ways to preserve these older breeds of livestock is to consume/eat them & pay the farmers realistic prices for their produce.


The Journal of Agricultural Science (1951), 41:214-221 Cambridge University Press

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1951


Research Article


H. P. Donalda1

a1 Animal Breeding and Genetics Research Organization, Edinburgh

Article author query

donald hp PubMed  Google Scholar

Mating Wessex Saddleback with Gloucester Old Spot pigs shows clearly that the former are of the three genotypes expected if the belt pattern is primarily determined by a single dominant gene (Be). Breeding tests and measurements of belt width agree in showing that homozygotes tend to have medium to wide belts, heterozygotes tend to have medium, narrow or broken belts, while pigs homozygous for the recessive are black. Crosses of Wessex with black-spotted pigs produce black piglings with or without wide symmetrical belts depending on the genotype of the Wessex parents.

Selection of breeding pigs with narrow belts maintains a high incidence of recessive blacks. Solid blacks which are nevertheless genetically belted may occur, but if so their numbers are likely to be very small.

Evidence is given which suggests that pigmentation in the skin and hair of Wessex × Large White pigs is much reduced if the Large White parents have blue eyes.

(Received February 02 1950)


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