About the Breed
Berkshires are very good natured, known as the lady’s pig. Like all pigs they will forage and root when kept outside. There are two types, there are traditional types that vary in size (they will follow their parents' size to some extent) and some bigger, faster growing modern strains. You can see all types in a typical County show ring.
The black coat makes them resistant to sunburn and the fat makes them very hardy.
The breed originated in the Thames Valley, possibly around Wantage, circa 1790. It began as a large tawny red pig spotted with black. The ears were inclined to be pendulous, the body long and thick, with short legs and plenty of bone. These pigs were larger and coarser than today’s Berkshire. Their colour varied from black to sandy red; they were also sometimes spotted and had variable white patches. By the early 1800's the breed had become lighter in the head and ears, shorter and more compact with less bone. Lord Barrington was thought to be largely responsible for the improvement c 1825, when introducing Chinese or East Asian blood to the breed. This resulted in the development of the Berkshire we are familiar with today. This is a smaller animal, black in colour, with prick ears, white socks, white tip to tail and flash on face.
During the 19th century the breed became very popular, enjoying patronage from the aristocracy, including Queen Victoria. During 1823 the first Berkshire was exported to the USA. Its popularity was reflected in the show ring as by 1877, Smithfield offered separate Berkshire classes and during the last 17 years of the 19th century, the breed produced 12 Smithfield champions, including pigs exhibited by members of the Royal Family.
In the 1900's, the decline in numbers of Berkshire pigs kept resulted in the near extinction of the breed in this country. With the introduction of new blood from Australia, New Zealand and the USA, the breed has made great progress in recent years both numerically and in carcass quality.
Although primarily black in colour, the Berkshire dresses out completely white and has a high proportion of lean meat to fat. The flesh is fine in texture and has a distinct flavour. The Berkshire is early finishing which means the ideal carcass is around 36-45kgs (80-100lbs).
As a crossing breed the Berkshire will suit any program whether used as the sire or the dam. When mated to a white breed the resulting progeny will be white and will inherit the Berkshire's naturally strong constitution and ability to withstand extremes in temperature and the easy level of feeding associated with the breed.
Several breeders have developed their own specialised markets for Berkshire pig meat and Berkshire breeding stock are also in demand overseas – especially in Japan – where the breed is very popular and is marketed as Black Pork at a premium price. Japanese buyers still consider Berkshires from Britain to have the best taste and flavour.
There have been six boars imported over the past fifty years from Australia and New Zealand. Semen has also been sourced from USA. These importations of new blood - all descended from the original English Berkshire – as well as grading up three female lines has helped broaden the breed’s genetic base. Today, there are seven male and nine female bloodlines available to breeders.
The Berkshire is a productive, placid breed who is a heavy milker and will lose little flesh whilst rearing her litter. Our breed enjoys and ongoing successful export trade particularly to the Far East, where Berkshire pork is marketed as a rare delicacy. Try some!