Conservation bodies announce project to boost declining ‘Yorkshire Pig’ numbers

A new conservation project has been announced by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) and the British Pig Association (BPA) at the Great Yorkshire Show, offering new hope for the future of the declining Large White Pig breed. 

Known internationally as ‘The Yorkshire Pig’, the rare native pedigree pig breed was added to the highest Priority category on the RBST’s annual Watchlist in April 2022 after it suffered a further significant decline in numbers in 2021.

The new project will see the RBST and BPA jointly purchase 10 pedigree Large White Pigs, selected from the most vulnerable Large White bloodlines and least related to the rest of the population, to join tailored breeding programmes at five RBST-accredited farm parks across the UK.

The project aims to ensure at least five breeding females for each these 10 key lines in at least five different herds. This action will not only secure vulnerable pedigree bloodlines to strengthen the breed’s genetic diversity, it will also improve the breed’s geographic dispersal which is crucial to safeguarding against the potential for a rare breed’s decimation through disease.

Delivery of the joint project will include three RBST members who are recent graduates of the BPA’s Junior Pig Club: Alice Newth, Oliver Lightfoot and Grace Bretherton. These project leaders will be mentored to support the farm parks, ensure that the pigs are recorded and bred according to the conservation breeding plan, and place progeny in other farms to help reach the project’s aims.

The Large White Pig has had a significant influence in the commercial pig industry and the development of the hybrid pig. It enjoyed enormous popularity in the 1950s but breed numbers declined dramatically in the aftermath of the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001.

As the pig industry has followed the poultry industry with increasing consolidation and vertical integration, the number of pedigree Large Whites in the hands of independent breeders is now at an all time low. In 1955 there were more than 7200 independent breeders of pedigree Large Whites. Today there are less than 50 breeders keeping the original bloodlines alive.

Wonderful breed

RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price said: “The Large White Pig is a wonderful breed, rooted in Yorkshire but at one time it was being exported all over the world thanks to its many attributes including hardiness, fast growth and excellence in crossbreeding.

“It is part of our rural heritage but it also has a key role to play in food and farming today and for the future. But breed numbers are sadly very low now and the pace of continued decline is really concerning. This new joint project is a key element in a package of measures we are putting into place as we work with the BPA, Large White breeders and the RBST-accredited farm parks to help reverse this trend.”

BPA Chief Executive Marcus Bates said: “The Large White Pig, exported from the UK for more than 100 years is the foundation of every commercial pig industry around the world: virtually any joint in the supermarket today will have some degree of Large White in its genetic make-up. Sadly the original pedigree population in the UK has been in decline for many years.

“Today it is teetering on the brink and urgent action is needed to ensure it has a future at all. This project will strengthen the breed’s genetic diversity and geographic dispersal around the UK, both of which are crucial for any rare breed’s future. I am delighted that three young pedigree breeders will be mentored to play leading roles in the programme, helping build the conservation skills and experience which are vital for the future of our rare breeds.”

  • Picture: Grace Bretherton with a Large White gilt bred by BPA Pedigree Breeder of the Year 2020 Ron Fieldhouse of Tadcaster, Yorks. The pig, Calcaria Primrose 11, is on display in the Pig Centre at this week’s Great Yorkshire Show.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.