My pigs are purebred Tamworths. Tams are a rare breed, listed as “watch” by The Livestock Conservancy. Watch status is given to somewhat rare breeds that have between 1,000 and 2,500 individuals registered annually, and a total population of less than 10,000 worldwide. Tams are holding on, but they aren’t really a part of the modern pork industry.
The breed originated in Ireland as a land-race, or a native breed that just sort of evolved to fit the local conditions. In 1812, the local Irish pigs impressed Sir Robert Peel (future Prime Minister of Great Britain), who had them imported to his estate in England. He called them “Irish Graziers” and was struck by their ability to grow on pasture rather than richer feed. He imported some of the Irish pigs to his estate near Tamworth, England, and crossed them with the local pigs. The resulting pigs were long, lean, and did very well rustling their own grub.
Up until about 1950, pig breeds were classified as “bacon hogs” or “lard hogs.” Most remaining breeds in America started as lard hogs….pigs bred to get very big and very fat in a very big hurry. When lard was both a key cooking ingredient and a vital industrial lubricant, fat pigs were very desirable. Lard hogs were created to turn corn into grease as quickly as possible. Bacon pigs were bred differently, mainly to make bacon (duh) as cheaply as possible. Bacon breeds tend to be long, slower growing, and produce lots of babies.
The only remaining bacon breeds in America are the Yorkshire, which has been bred to emphasize babies over bacon, and the Tamworth. I love Tams because they excel at getting out into a pasture and rustle their own grub. Compared to other breeds I have had, Tamworths will eat about 50% less purchased feed and make up the difference by finding good stuff in the pasture. They remain pretty true to type, and haven’t changed a great deal in the last century.
The fact that Tamworths haven’t changed a lot from the range pigs of the 19th century also means that they are still bacon pigs…long, slow growing, and producers of the finest bacon I have ever had.
And isn’t great bacon one of the most important reasons to pick a pig breed?