Thursday, March 04, 2010

Three little piggies

This year will be our fourth of keeping pigs. We buy weaners to grow on during the summer months and slaughter in the autumn. We’ve no plans to start breeding pigs as that would be so much more complicated and we quite like the reduction in husbandry duties at the end of the year, whilst looking forward to welcoming new weaners the following spring.

The first year we had a pair of Kune Kunes. Three Gloucester Old Spots followed and last year we had a pair of Berkshires (photo shows one of ours enjoying a muddy siesta). Kunies hail from New Zealand and both the Gloucesters and the Berkshires are British old breeds. We favour older breeds of pigs over the modern white farm pig for several reasons: we’re not looking to produce the biggest pig in the shortest time; our pigs need to be adapted to outdoor life and we think it important to help keep viable breeding populations of different varieties. As we live in France, we thought we ought to make the effort to get hold of some French rare breed pigs this time. Curiously, it seems easier to source British rare breed pigs (born in France) than a French old breed.

Through talking to friends and, of course, trawling around the Internet, we found an association that occupies itself with trying to keep the Bayeux race going. If I’ve understood correctly, it seems that it’s one of the last six French old breeds. It has suffered from the commercial success of the Large White/ Pietrain cross modern farm pig. Back in 1996, there were only 15 boars and 51 sows left and, it’s true to say, with the introduction of Pietrain blood, very few pure race Bayeux remain. (Info sheet on the Bayeux, in French. Downloads as a PDF file)

Originating in the Calvados region, the Bayeux is a old cross between the French Blanc de l’Ouest and the English Berkshire: porky entente cordiale! Crossing a white pig with a black pig makes the Bayeux … a white pig with black spots, much like the Gloucester Old Spot with which it also shares floppy ears.

Towards the end of French lunchtime (Midday – 2pm) I telephoned Monsieur Thierry LERROUILLY of the Syndicat des Eleveurs de Porcs Bayeux. He wasn’t immediately interested when he knew that we just wanted a couple to fatten up (he is, after all, trying to promote new breeding pairs throughout France) but I explained that we were serious about old breeds and that owners of this rare pig will inevitably produce animals that aren’t desirable to keep as breeding stock and so we’d be helping the process by buying such animals. He warmed to the idea and gave me a couple of phone numbers of breeders, unfortunately not too close to us. “Ahh” he exclaimed, he did know of “un britannique, name of Lloyd, who lives in Finistère who he helped obtain a boar and two sows. He was sorry that he didn’t have his number but he gave me the number of someone who might.

By coincidence, we bought a couple of our Ouessant ewes from a Mike Lloyd back in 2007. I remember him showing me some piglets that had recently been born tearing around a little wooded area like a gang of street urchins (see photo). Happily, it’s the same guy and, knowing how he keeps his animals (and he is correctly registered) we could confident of buying happy and healthy animals. He had an uncertain start, with the boar turning nasty and one sow barren, so for the moment, he has had the remaining sow served with another English rare breed, the red-haired Tamworth. He’ll be able to sell us pure Bayeux next year. In the meantime, check out the black-spotted orange piglets that we’ll be welcoming here just after Easter, when they’ll be nine weeks, old, weaned and ready to go out onto pasture.