The Endangered Large Black Pig
The Large Black Hog Is Top Choice Among Heritage Pig Breeds
Native to Cornwall, Somerset, and Devon in England, the Large Black pig is often referred to as the “dog” among pig breeds. This is because of its docile, friendly nature. Large, floppy ears which cover their gentle eyes denote their original name of “Lop Eared Black.”
If you’re looking to produce your own pork, this breed is top choice, we think. The Large Black pig is known for its large size and ability to thrive on pasture and foraging. During the late 1800s, the Large Black pig was one of the most popular among English breeds. In 1898, they had their own association formed.
In the 1920s their popularity was at its peak. They had been exported to many European countries, but also to Australia, South America, New Zealand, Africa, and the United States. The quality of meat, ease of rearing, and friendly nature made them desirable to pig farmers.
With the industrialization of pig farming following WWII, raising heritage pig breeds met with a sudden decline. Heritage breeds don’t do well on just commercial feed or in confined spaces. This meant they weren’t suitable for the commercial pig farmer.
Because of this, the Large Black pig became nearly extinct in the 1960s. Even today, it’s one of the rarest of what are known as the “British breeds.” It wasn’t until 1973 this breed was put on the Critically Endangered breed list. In 2015, the Large Black pig was moved from the Critically Endangered to Threatened status of The Livestock Conservancy.
To us, the Large Black pig is perfect for the homesteader raising pigs for their own pork. They work well for those of us who practice pasture management with livestock rotation. The feed bill is small and can be nothing if you have the available pasture and forest.
Their floppy, black ears which cover their eyes, are of a practical design. Since they’re natural foragers, the ears protect the eyes from damage while they root around in the woods. Their eyesight is of course hindered by this, but they work around it.
Some people think the hindered eyesight lends to their docile nature. They’re intelligent, entertaining creatures. I can see why it would be easy to forget you raise them for food and not just for fun.
As the name would imply, they are large. The mature boar can weigh in from 700-800 pounds on average. The sow weighs in around 600-700 pounds on average. Their average hanging weight is 180-220 pounds.
As with any creature, being overweight can cause health problems. It’s kinda funny when you think about a pig having problems related to being overweight. We use the phrase, “Fat as a pig” because they are known for their size. In reality, there is an ideal weight for them to develop the best meat and health.
The Large Black pig has remarkable maternal instincts. The sows successfully farrow and wean large litters. Her piglets have such a high survival rate because of her abilities. Only the Red Wattle and the Gloucester Old Spot pig are her rivals. Watch a video of Large Black piglets.
Even though the Large Black pig remains on the Threatened list, their numbers are on the rise. Because they do so well on pasture and foraging, those producers who have seen the increasing consumer demand for pastured, non-GMO pork, are raising them once again.
Heritage breeds have the same characteristics as their ancestors. They thrive and produce the best meat only on pasture and foraging. Their unusually lean and luscious meat is altered when treated as a confined hybrid breed. The micro-marbling of their meat makes it self-basting and uniquely flavored.
One of the things I like best about the Large Black pig is their adaptability to any environment. They are equally adept at handling cold or hot climates. Their life expectancy ranges from 12-20 years. Their lifestyle, genetic disposition, and environment are contributing factors to the range.
Hogs, by nature, are suspicious and with their eyes covered by those floppy ears, it’s a good idea to talk to them and move slowly around them. I would never try to herd them by chasing. They are large and could hurt themselves, their piglets, your dog, or even cause you to be harmed inadvertently.
Raising Large Black pigs
Contrary to what you might think, raising heritage pigs isn’t hard. They don’t require special housing or constant watch care. In fact, I find them to require less of my time and attention than any other livestock.
As long as they have a pasture and forest for grazing, a place to drink, wallowing pits, and shelter to sleep, they pretty much fend for themselves. One of the best things you can do for your Large Black pigs is to be sure they are protected from predators. A good fence around your pastures and woods is a great way to keep them in and predators out. The right guard animal, like a dog, donkey, or llama is always a good idea.
Pigs, by nature, long to root around unhindered. Because they don’t know about property lines or trespassing laws they need boundaries. Even if you have a large tract of land to free range them on, without strong boundaries, they’ll follow their nose right on to neighboring land rooting and eating as they go.
If your animal gets on someone’s property and causes any harm, you’re responsible. If they’re killed on someone’s property you are responsible. Your animals are your responsibility alone. This makes homestead fencing is a must for livestock.
I watched a farm series from Britain and they showed how the stone fences were built and used by local farmers for confining livestock, especially pigs. They also taught the same thing with wattle fencing and natural hedgerows. It’s fascinating to learn to work with nature in every area of life and not at odds with it.
Electric fencing works well for pigs, as do hog panels (also known as cattle panels), barbed wire and any combination of these. You just have to remember hogs are burrowing animals so the fencing must be low to the ground and go up as high as the largest animal might be.
Pigs are omnivores so they eat plants and animals. Truthfully, pigs will eat almost anything. My Granny kept her slop bucket outside the back kitchen door. Anything the chickens or dogs didn’t get, the pigs got. I’ve read in history books people used to dispose of bodies by feeding them to the hogs.
Pigs are rooting animals. They’ll root around for all manner of insects, worms, larva, and any creepy, crawler. They eat grasses and grains, roots, fruit, almost anything. One of their favorites is acorns. Where I’m from, farmers turn their pigs to “fattening” in the fall when the acorns fall.
I was taught by Papa, you don’t have to feed pigs commercial feed. Slop and foraging are all they need. The necessary minerals are obtained from the food and dirt they get rooting around.
Commercial farmers and those who don’t raise heritage breeds will say, “You have to give a pig corn.” No, you don’t. Corn will cause your pig to fatten quickly, but they aren’t getting nutrition, just fat. This makes a nice selling weight, but not a healthy pig and meat. Free ranging and foraging is the best way to raise natural, healthy pigs which makes the healthiest, best tasting meat.
A wallow is a hollowed out, man-made or pig made, area with a water source. Pigs need wallows because they don’t sweat. Shady areas are often the natural places of choice for their wallows. If you provide a water source for them to bathe as well as drink, they’ll be fine.
Wallowing coats them with mud. The mud dries, acting like a shield from bugs and the sun. I know our tendency is to give our animals a bath, but pigs are the one we can leave dirty and feel good about it! The dark color of the Large Black pig offers them some natural protection from the sun, but as dark attracts heat, a wallow is necessary especially for them.
There’s an old-timer who offers her pigs a “shower”. She has an overhead sprinkler set up outside their shelter. The small pump runs on solar power. The timer turns the system on when the day gets hot and turns itself off when the sun starts down. The pigs love it! I think a regular ole garden sprinkler would work too.
While pigs will sleep just about anywhere during the day, they like to have a clean, dry shelter to lie in at night. If you do a quick internet search, you’ll see people house their pigs in everything from elaborate pig stalls and shelters to dog houses. As long as the shelter provides protection from the elements and predators and offers them a clean dry place to lie down, they’ll be fine.
It’s important to note, proper ventilation of any pig shelter is necessary. This is no different from any other livestock housing. I just wanted to be sure I mentioned it.
My husband was averse to getting hogs because of his childhood memories of his grandfather’s pig pen. He said, “They stink too much!” My grandfather taught me if the livestock poop is a stinky problem, then I’m mismanaging.
Pigs who are confined and aren’t provided a healthy environment will smell. Any animal will. Pigs, believe it or not, are actually clean animals, as far as animal cleanliness goes. When given the choice, pigs will choose a corner of their area to be their bathroom. This is where they’ll go. All you have to do is muck out their stalls.
If free ranged, they’ll poop as they go. The elements will handle the manure. As they root and poop the soil is aerated and fertilized. This is a win-win for the pigs, the soil, and the farmer.
If you would like to learn more about Large Black pigs. I’ve included some resource links here in the article for you. If you missed them, here they are again.
Do you raise Large Black pigs? We’d appreciate you sharing your experience and skill with us in the comments below.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack
Originally published in 2017 and regularly vetted for accuracy.