Berkshire Pigs are small pigs with stubby snouts, short legs and upright ears.
The pigs are covered in fine black hair but have pink skin underneath. There are white spots on their feet, tail, nose and tips of ears.
The sows are good mothers, and have around 9 to 11 piglets per litter.
The pigs will grow to weigh up to 65 kg (140 pounds.) They are slaughtered around 35 to 45 kg (80 to 100 pounds.)
The pigs are kept as purebreds, as they are more valuable that way. One criticism of the purebreed breed is that because of all the inbreeding, it is less hardy and prolific than other breeds, though others disagree and say they are very hardy and do well outdoors.
Many of the Berkshires bred in America are exported to Japan, where they are raised and fed in such a way as to make meat from them into Kurobuta Pork, which must come from purebreds.
The American Berkshire Association, founded 1875, is in West Lafayette, Indiana. It maintains databases of pedigrees. The marketing arm of this organization is Berkshire Meat Products, which does training, communications and promotions. The Association enables traceability: it allows groups of hogs sold at market to be traced back to their farm.
Farmers belonging to the association can have their meat sold with a label that says “100% Pure Berkshire Pork.” The programme was established and American government approved in 2003.
In the UK, their counterpart appears to be the Berkshire Pig Breeders Club, founded 1983. They maintain a herdbook established in 1884 for maintaining pedigrees.
The pigs are also present in Australia and New Zealand.
Disregard any stories of association with Oliver Cromwell (25 April 25 1599 – 3 September 1658). He was long gone before anything even resembling the breed had come about.
In the 1600s, the breed had reddish or sand-coloured skin, occasionally spotted, and were extremely large pigs, growing up to 1,000 kg ( 2,000 pounds), though admittedly that was noted as a record.
In the 1700s, it was not yet a uniform breed.
During the 1700s, they were cross-bred with black pigs from Asia that had been brought in. During this period, the hair and skin could be any colour and the ears any shape.
The breed as known today really only evolved in the early 1800s. Pigs close to what are known today as Berkshires are thought by the UK Berkshire Pig Breeders Club to have first emerged around 1790 in the Thames Valley near Wantage, Berkshire, and hence the name.
Literature & Lore
The “Empress of Blandings” was a Berkshire sow who appeared in at least 10 of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Blandings Castle” series novels. She belonged to the dotty Lord Emsworth, who was besotted with her.