Modern Berkshire sow at Whiteoaks Stud, New Zealand (Photo by Peter le Bas)
A Rare Breed of British Origin
The modern Berkshire breed was developed in Britain as a specialist pork pig in the middle of the nineteenth century. The basic unimproved animals from which it derived were short-legged and rather fat pigs (also known as Berkshires) which had evolved by crossing British pigs with Chinese stock introduced into Britain in the 1700s.
During the nineteenth century the breed was refined to an early-maturing black pig – often with white on its short legs and dished face. It was extremely popular, and a Breed Society was formed in 1885.
The Berkshire seems to have been prominent amongst the pig breeds brought into New Zealand in the early days of European settlement. Like many other older pig breeds it has suffered from competition from modern varieties more suited to present-day rearing methods and market needs. In New Zealand it is estimated that there are now less than a hundred purebred sows and thirty purebred boars.
Although historical information suggests that Berkshires do best when well fed and housed rather than run on pasture, the New Zealand experience is that they do very well as an outdoor pig.