Guest Post | The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Charity
We've recently started working with our friends at the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Charity, whose mission is to conserve this rare breed of pig and educate first-time pig-keepers. They've kindly written a guest post for us explaining what makes the Oxford Sandy and Black pig so special.
What is the Oxford Sandy and Black pig?
The Oxford Sandy and Black pig - also known as the Forest pig and, most fondly, as the Plum Pudding pig - originated between 200-300 years ago. It has been a breed that has been greeted with both curiosity and scepticism on genetic structural authenticity.
Vast amounts of time and research to authenticate its identity and place in the indigenous pig breed populous of the UK has been accomplished, and we find the breed gracing the lands of the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands.
In the mid 1980s, the start of the gathering of all Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs took place, with the methodology to start a breeding programme and to authentic the breed, its genetic make-up and the purity of the breed.
Bloodline numbers from both boars and sows were established as well as breeders and geographical locations. Today we see the breed as being recognised with the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST).
The RBST recognises breeds with six generation pedigree or with 40 years breed history, DNA testing and blood sampling to test for purity of the breed.
Currently the breed is categorised as "At Risk".
Oxford Sandy & Black characteristics
The size of the OSB is regarded as medium to large, with the colour ranging from a dark rust to a light sandy colour, but it is important that the colour is even and not two toned.
- The pig also has black patches and not spots, hence the name Oxford Sandy and Black.
- The underline (teats) is very important. The teats must be so when the gilt/sow lies down the teats are at five to one (clock face) meaning that when she lies down the teats on the bottom are also pointing outwards, therefore, enabling piglets to suckle easily from the bottom as well as the top.
- Oxford Sandy and Black Pigs are also noted for their white points; white socks, white tip to the tail and a white blaze (white patch/stripe between the eyes). To have some of these white points is acceptable, to have all of them is a mark of excellence to which all breeders strive for.
- Legs must be straight and not knocked knee. The ears are to be lop or semi loped, not pricked, their backs are not to be straight nor have a dip, but have a nice curve to the back end.
- The face is not to be too long in the nose, nor should the face be too dished (squashed looking).
The OSB breed standard can be found on our charity website.
Oxford Sandy & Black breeding
Their maternal instincts are second to none, caring and nurturing their young and being very attentive and gentle. Through research, we have noticed that the average sized litter has grown, numbers have been averaging at 8, but today's research shows that the mean average is 14.
The largest live litter born ever recorded was 22 in the 1980s by Mr Brickell of the Chasewoods Herd in Oxfordshire.
Over the years we have seen the breed numbers drop dangerously low, however in the past 14 years we have seen the numbers grow again, with thanks to the dedication and hard work of the OSBPG Foundation Charity and our independent producers, breeders and the keepers of our beautiful breed.
The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Foundation Charity have also introduced various programmes to benefit our supporters. The Genetic Spread Allowance programme aids our breeds to travel and bring in a new line to their geographical area and the Breeding Initiative Programme which is a scheme to increase diversity and breeding structure.
Why keep an Oxford Sandy & Black pig?
The Oxford Sandy and Black is a breed that is beautiful on the outside as well as the inside. They are perfect for first-time farmers and the smallholders, with grace, good poise and a beautiful temperament, whilst also being robust and suited to all weathers.
Reasons for smallholders to keep the breed
Keeping pigs on a smallholding is very popular across the UK. Smallholders are enthusiastic about raising their own pork, and what could be better than knowing what the pigs have eaten, the life they have had, and that the product is slow grown, free-range and outdoor reared (not intensively reared).
Smallholders like to rear rare breed pigs such as the Oxford Sandy and Black because they are docile, very hardy, produce beautiful pork and bacon, and raising them for meat helps to sustain numbers.
Our charity is working on increasing numbers of the Oxford Sandy and Black pig in the Scottish Highlands where numbers are few.
We now see our breed on the Isle of Lewis, Isle of Arran, East coast of Scotland and in Inverness-shire, and are hoping for assistance with breeding stock on the Isle of Skye.
Advice for anyone looking to keep Oxford Sandy and Blacks
To raise pigs, you must have outdoor space that you can rotate and reseed, with space for wallows to keep pigs cool during the summer months. Arcs for housing are great and indoor housing for rough winters, good quality fencing and electric fencing are a bonus, with good water systems, storage for straw bedding and feed a must.
If you are breeding pigs, then you will also need farrowing houses and heat lamps. The main challenge of rearing pigs is the weather, the ground can get very muddy in the winter.
Keep your pigs healthy, with the right procedures in place for any sick pigs, keep biosecurity up to date and areas clean and free from bacteria, with fresh ground for the pigs to move onto.
Ensure water pipes don’t freeze and there is an emergency back-up plan for fresh water.
During the winter months our sows and boars can and do suffer from SAD syndrome, boars will become infertile and sow non-productive. If housing pigs in a barn, adequate lightning must be provided preferably on a timer.
The welfare of your pigs is paramount as each season comes with its own challenges. Follow the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Foundation Charity on Facebook, Instagram, twitter or by visiting their website will offer you lots of advice and support and one to one consultation too.
How to find a responsible/accredited breeder
Due to the large group size and geographic dispersal of its members, the Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group Foundation Charity have a number of regional representatives around the UK who set up regular meetings and get-togethers in their regions and will help guide and support people new to pig keeping and the breed.
The charity has created an interactive breeders and producers map which can be found OSBPG Breeders & Producer Map – Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group (oxfordsandyblackpiggroup.org) the map allows you to search by bloodlines and location and will help put you in touch with a responsible pig breeder and producer in your area.
What the charity does and why it’s important
Our charity was set up in June 2020 to support farmers and smallholders that keep Oxford Sandy and Black rare breed pigs of all ages across the UK and mainland Europe.
Our aims are to create a sense of community in rural communities through socialising, new friendships and supporting a network of people with similar interests, whilst providing training and support for the charity’s supporters.
We have helped to reduce social isolation in the rural farming community (increased by COVID-19 and winter weather) through social get-togethers on Zoom.
Zoom has helped us to grow the community, with conversations, new friendships and lifting peoples’ spirits through these tough times. We host Zoom events throughout the year with guest speakers who are experts in their field, providing training and support for members of our community. Sign-up for these events has been high and they have proved very successful.
Genetic Spread Allowance
We also support the conservation of Oxford Sandy & Black rare breed pigs through a Genetic Spread Allowance (GSA). The GSA allows members of the community to be able to collect pigs with rare bloodlines and introduce them to other parts of the UK where pigs with these bloodlines are either low in numbers or non-existent.
The GSA is only given to qualifying members vetted by a trustee of the charity who often travel more than 150 miles (or 3 hours each way) to collect pigs with rare bloodlines.
Oxford Sandy and Black bloodlines & breed initiative
There are only 13 female bloodlines and 4 male bloodlines of the Oxford Sandy and Black pig in the UK. It is therefore paramount that these bloodlines are spread throughout the UK to enhance genetic diversity, and not concentrated in one region or county.
The Breeding Initiative Programme (BIP) is a scheme where by the charity identifies a bloodline and rewards the breeder financially for the gilt or boar and “gift” it to a breeder where this bloodline is not in existence. The OSBPG will then, when the time comes, have pick of the litter for this one-off time and then transfer the chosen progeny to the next chosen destination.
We have already made a great difference in Scotland and Wales where communities in these regions are often very isolated and at times cut-off due to poor weather conditions.
The GSA has helped towards the cost of accommodation and travel and has helped breeders establish long lasting friendships and support networks across the community. The results have been overwhelming; we have seen the first litter of Iris/Alistair bloodline born in May 2021 in Scotland with articles about this published in Smallholder Magazine, Country Smallholding, and the ARK.
Supporting farming communities
Our charity also supports individual community members through challenging circumstances, donating monies to individuals who have fallen on hard times.
One of our breeders for example, suffers with a debilitating disease that causes her mobility issues. A donation for a wheelchair has given her independence and the ability to continue doing what she loves; to assist her husband and children with their rare breed pigs.
Other examples include providing feed and shelter for pigs, raising monies for air ambulance and supporting one little girl of a community member who has MS, enabling her to do a wheelchair ride for Red Nose Day.
Many of our charity supporters are pork producers, and we are also very fortunate to have professional chefs and butchers within our rare breed pork group. Our YouTube channel is very popular, with videos including a 6-part Butchery series and a cook-a-long series where our community members share videos of their favourite dishes.
We have a growing number of YouTube subscribers and have achieved more than 1000 downloads of our podcasts. Our OSBPG pork page and YouTube channel help people to learn about pork nutrition, and develop new skills such as smoking, curing and charcuterie - something as a charity we are very proud of.”
We hold various events throughout the year from seasonal quizzes to our exhibition and sale which is run annually and is there to help our independent producers, breeders and keepers of the UK. This event is again to help and assist our supporters to come together for one day, socialise, sell their pigs which also helps with the spreading the genetics and bloodlines.
The Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group advances the education of the public on the preservation and conservation of the rare breed Oxford Sandy and Black Pig. We are creating a better future for the breed, its existence and its breeding potential.