The Large Black has featured prominently in conservation discussions in Australia ever since a rare breeds group was established in early 1991. This breed remains low in numbers worldwide despite obvious suitability to smallholder farming. When and where was the Large Black breed developed and how long has it been in Australia?
A free range Large Black sow photographed in suffolk, United Kingdom in 1998.
An English breed, the Large Black was concentrated in the eastern counties and the west country. It resulted from the amalgamation of small, hardy, prolific stock from East Anglia and Sussex and large bodied specimens from Devon and Cornwall. Bryer Jones, writing in Live Stock on the Farm (1915) points out that both types were slow to fatten, were of a poor 'meat' shape and generally lacked quality. Infusions of Chinese and Neapolitian pigs - used already to improve Berkshire and Whites - introduced the commercially viable characteristics the regional black types lacked.
An Australian free range Large Black sow, 2001
"The Large Black of pre-exhibition days was long in body and on the legs, too high off the ground, too flat-sided, and furnished with ears of great size. The hair was, we believe, abundant but coarse, the meat leaner than now and the process of fattening longer". (1) When numbers of the Essex, Suffolk and other black pigs from East Anglia dropped so low as to be unsustainable, the remaining specimens were amalgamated with the west country pigs; "subsumed into the Large Black Herd Book and all examples of the breed since have been 'Large Blacks'." (2)
The Large Black Pig Society of England was set up in 1899. A trademark in the form of a shield with the initials LBP was instigated in 1902 along with a breed booklet. "There has been a remarkable development of desirable points and grading up of the poorer types, with an eye to meet all the requirements demanded by butchers and bacon curers today, viz a wealth of lean flesh free from coarseness and a wonderful length of side to yield prime interlean bacon, in other words size with quality." (3) It's important to remember that many animals had been large and coarse with a lot of bone, including thick bony shoulders. Many were also inclined to be 'gutty' with a rounded uneven back and general lack of depth.
In material published by the Australian Pig Breeders Society (undated), Hawkesbury Agricultural College is credited with importing the first examples of the breed into Australia, in 1908. Within the same paragraph the unknown author contradicts this, saying, "A Large Black Pig Society booklet published in 1902 noted that . . . a number . . . were exported to SA, NSW and Tasmania." Can we read this as meaning purebred stock were imported before the booklet's release to herd society members in 1902 or had it been reprinted a couple of years later and the Australian Pig Breeder's Society author has overlooked mentioning the reprint date? There doesn't appear to be evidence of purebreds arriving at this very early date of 1900 or earlier.
It can be substantiated that a consignment arrived late 1902 or early 1903, imported by English gentleman farmer Mr A E Mansell, setting up at Mount Vernon, Melton Moubray, Tas. Two boars and seven sows were purchased, three sows being served prior to departure, two to Royal Bodmin, a prize winning boar at the Royal North of England Show at Carlisle. Mr Mansell chose stock from the best bloodlines in England. "Three of the sows had litters on the voyage . . . numbering no fewer than 40 young pigs. Unfortunately 30 of these died on the ship owing to the want of proper nourishment". (4) Some surviving piglets were from the Royal Bodmin matings, giving Mr Marshall a considerable genetic base to work from.
Mr Mansell had been recognised as a successful breeder back in England, specialising in show quality Shropshire. With such experience behind him, it's not surprising he considered the Berkshire, the most popular breed at the time, before deciding on the Large Black. He visited Essex looking for stock because of the counties long association with the breed. "Last year I went through all the best herds in Essex and I was wonderfully struck with what I saw." What tipped the scales in the Large Blacks favour was their prolificacy, profit arising from the large numbers produced just a couple of sows. Grazing ability and fecundity were other points in their favour. Compared to the Berkshire, they were longer in the body and finer in the shoulder as well as having the longer head and lop ears. Their reputation for thriving in hot weather was a further plus. Mr Mansells experience of importing the Large Black featured as a story in the Live Stock Annual of Australia, 1903.
This book also listed the major classes and winners of the Royal Shows for 1902, an invaluable guide for finding out which breeds were either in Australia or of such numbers as to be represented at shows, as well as which were the major and minor breeds of the period. Both Adelaide and Melbourne Royals had classes for 'Black Breeds including Essex, Suffolk, etc,' at Melbourne the sole exhibitor being Worner Bros of Renrow Park, Tennyson with Essex, and at Adelaide three exhibitors vied for honours, H J Bird, J W Porter and J Eddy. The 1905 edition of this Annual again lists Worner of Tennyson at Melbourne Royal with Porter and Eddy joined by C Cant at Adelaide. No pig classes were listed among Sydney or Brisbane results and unfortunately Hobart was not included with the Royals coverage. This leaves us with reliable data that Essex specimens preceeded the Large Black by some years, and possibly were subsequently swallowed up by them. We also have proof of one of, if not the first, importation of purebred Large Blacks.
Leaping ahead to 1930, we find the Large Black claims only 1% of the pig population in Australia. The breed had followers in Vic, SA and Tas but poor representation in NSW and Qld. "There can be no doubt that this old world breed in its remarkably improved form is possessed with many valuable qualities. It has an aptitude to adept itself to varying conditions. Years ago the breed was thought to be too coarse and to carry too heavy a percentage of offal to be of much value, in fact, earlier importations of Large Black, though they had a remarkable run of popularity for a few years, did not live up to their reputation and at one time it was difficult to locate pure herds . . . Recent importations have, however, done much to regain for the breed its former popularity and it now appears its future is assured." (5)
The anticipated success was never fully realised, the breed staying close to the 1% of pig population, a rise occurring in the second half of the century and then dropping off to almost nil registrations in the 1980s. The renewed interest in the breed in the last couple of years looks promising, the rise in demand for slow food and real flavour may provide the impetus for the breeds growth and future.
Gayboy - an old fashioned style of Large Black boar from 1949 - very heavy and hairy and inclined to lay down excess fat.
Compare this to the more mordern style of boar which is longer and leaner - Endeavour 5th
Record of registrations with the Australian Pig Breeders Society:
Nocturne 67th on the left is an example of a 12 month old female from fifty years ago, an English prize winner. On the right is Nocturne 193rd, the mother of the animal on the left, a mssive deep sow at just five years old.
(1) Bryner Jones, C 1915, Live Stock of the Farm: Vol 5 Pigs and Poultry, The Gresham Publishing Company, London UK.
(2) Lutwyche, Richard 1998, 'The Large Black Pig' Country Garden and Smallholding, D and K Thear, Saffron Walden UK.
(3) Wallace, Robert 1923, Farm Live Stock of Great Britain (5th ed) Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh UK.
(4) Wright, W T, 1903 and 1905, The Live Stock Annual of Australia, D W Patterson, Aust.
(5) Shelton, E J 1929-30, 'Breeds of Pigs in Australia', Pig Breeders Annual, Govt publication, Aust.
Last updated 29th December 2001