Adam Henson extols the virtues of the Berkshire pig
PUBLISHED: 14:40 03 June 2016 | UPDATED: 14:40 03 June 2016
Keen-eyed fans of 'Countryfile' might spot a new addition to my livestock the next time the cameras come to film on the farm.
Since we opened the Farm Park gates to the public back in 1971 we’ve been displaying British rare breeds and explaining their importance to our heritage and to farm diversity. This year we’ve introduced a new breed to the collection; the Berkshire pig.
The name is the big giveaway for these smallish, good-natured animals. Their heritage is firmly rooted in the Thames Valley with some historians claiming that they were first recorded in the town of Reading by Oliver Cromwell’s troops more than 350 years ago. They were certainly well-established around the areas of Wantage and Faringdon by the end of the 1700s. Later on they became Queen Victoria’s pig of choice and remained a royal favourite down the decades with a successful herd reared at Windsor Castle.
But it would be wrong to think that this lovely English breed with its black-coloured skin and upright ears is a thing of the past; far from it. The modern-day Berkshire Pig Breeders’ Club has been going for 33 years and is as popular as ever. Its Annual General Meeting this year was held in Kenilworth with a programme including information on the genetics of the breed and ways to ensure breeding pairs aren’t too closely related to keep diversity in the stock. The club also has a really informative website and a quick glance at the ‘Pigs for Sale’ section shows Berkshires available to buy in Devon, Somerset, Warwickshire, Sussex and Suffolk as well as in their home county, of course. In fact it’s still an important area for breeders and a silhouette of a rather handsome-looking pig is used as the logo of the Royal County of Berkshire Show, held every September near Newbury.
If you want to know just how good Berkshires are, just ask the TV chef Gordon Ramsey; he used to keep his own herd. Another fan is Jamie Oliver who has praised the quality of the sweet-tasting, tender Berkshire pork and the crackling which is particularly good.
But despite the support of celebrity chefs and the enthusiasm of owners all over the country, it’s fair to say that we need to keep a watchful eye on the Berkshire. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) regards them as vulnerable with between only 200 and 300 registered breeding females in the entire UK. Thankfully the new arrivals on our farm are already making their mark, with this year’s piglets attracting lots of attention in the display barns.
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• Adam Henson on the work being done around the country to preserve rare animals - My latest series of assignments for Countryfile fit me like a glove. During the coming months, I’ll be travelling all over the country filming Adam’s County Breeds, telling the story of our native cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, goats and horses as well as meeting the dedicated people who keep them.