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Large Black Hog | Summer 2014 Out Here Magazine

Pig breed with obvious name known for mild disposition, hardiness

By Jeannette Beranger
Photography by Jeannette Beranger

Creators of the Large Black hog back in the 1800s decidedly kept things simple by giving it such an obvious name. With adult males capable of reaching up to 800 pounds, they are indeed large; and they're Britain's only completely black-skinned breed resulting from the cross of two varieties of old English black pigs.

The Large Black is also one of the rarest breed of pig in the United States. The national herd contains fewer than 300 breeding females, placing the breed as "Critically Endangered" on The Livestock Conservancy's Conservation Priority List. The conservancy uses this list to bring attention to livestock, such as the Large Black, to connect them with people interested in becoming involved with saving a rare breed.

Back in the day, the Large Black was the perfect mild-tempered cottage pig, scavenging for dropped grain from cattle and other animals, served waste milk from cattle, and fed leftover whey from cheesemaking. Their floppy ears droop and block much of their peripheral vision, keeping them calm and enabling them to settle into new situations more quickly than breeds with erect ears.

During the last half of the 19th century, the Large Black began gaining popularity, and a group of breeders felt the animals had great potential beyond life around the cottage. A breed association was formed in 1898, which promoted the breed and eventually made it the one of the country's most numerous English pig breeds by 1900.

Large Blacks arrived in America in the first half of the 20th century. Longtime American breeder Ted Smith, of Rowe, N.M., recalls purchasing his first pigs back in 1963 from R.L. Teeter of Midland, N.C., who happened to be the president of the breed's original U.S. association and one of only about 50 Large Blacks breeders here. By 2002, Smith was the only breeder left from the original breed association. "One possible explanation is that I was the only 'kid' in the group," he says. To this day, Smith maintains a registry for the breed and continues to be a staunch supporter.

While the Large Black was once in demand for small-scale pork production in a number of countries outside of the United Kingdom, tastes changed in the 20th century and leaner commercial breeds began to dominate pork production. The Large Black slowly lost favor until, by the 1990s, it was critically endangered. Today, public interest in pasture-raised pork has once again brought some focus back on the Large Black hog and the breed is enjoying some popularity among small-scale farmers, such as Smith and the Kohlberg family of Cabbage Hill Farm in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., who also are Livestock Conservancy members.

The Kohlbergs brought more genetic diversity to the Large Blacks in the United States in 1998 by importing one boar and three bred sows from England. They offered piglets from these animals to any producer with registered Large Black pigs as a way to spread the genetics needed to invigorate the national herd. Because of its foraging abilities, mild disposition, and excellent mothering skills, this is a perfect breed for the beginner farmer interested in more sustainable, outdoor pork production.

Jeannette Beranger is The Livestock Conservancy's Research & Technical Programs Manager.