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Modern European and North American pigs are descended from the European wild boar (sus scrofa), but the breeding of domestic pigs was practised in China at least 9,000 years ago from wild breeds such as the Babirusa (babirousa babyrussa) found in the Far East (particularly in Indonesia). The Wart Hog (phacochoerus aethiopius) was domesticated in its native Africa.

In Europe, the Greeks and Romans both developed semi-intensive rearing systems, but animals were still long-snouted wild boar in appearance.

But pigs were herded in Britain probably before Britain was cut off from mainland Europe, before the fourth millennium BC. For thousands of years, Britain"s climate was warmer and drier than that of today, and animals could survive more easily in the open. Winter feeding was still a problem, but animals were generally left to forage for themselves in the forest, and caught and brought in only when pork was required.

Saxon farmers preferred rearing sheep, pigs and goats over cattle - which needed either killing before, or feeding through winter. By the time of the Domesday Book, there were almost 130,000 sheep in Norfolk, Sussex and Essex, as against 31,000 pigs, nearly 11,000 goats and under 9,000 cattle and oxon - these were mainly raised as draught and plough beasts. Pigs remained popular for several centuries after the Norman Conquest, but as woods were slowly lopped away to create more arable land, in the late medieval period, they became less important, and beef and mutton began to dominate.

There modern shape wouldn"t have been recognised even in Tudor and Stuart times, as the long nose of the wild boar was still encouraged, so they could easily forage for themselves.

In the 18th century, great strides were made to improve the stock by breeding them with imported Chinese varieties. As a result medieval pigs were gradually replaced by new varieties, which varied from region to region.

But now, even many of these individual breeds are rarities - three examples being the "Berkshire", "Gloucester Old Spot" and "Tamworth"; for while the flavour of their meat is excellent, they put on weight too slowly to suit modern extremely intensive farming methods; which largely favour the "Large White" and "Landrace" varieties.

Porker pigs are slaughtered at about 70kg/155lb, those for bacon at 95kg/210lb; while heavy hogs - those breed for the making of sausages and pork pies at 115kg/250lb. See 'Pork', 'Wild Boar'

Piglet: a young pig.

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