Tamworth; The Woods Pig!

Tamworth; The Woods Pig!

The Tamworth is a rare breed of pig that came to the Americas in the 1800s after centuries living in the forests of Ireland where they were known as Irish Grazers and in England where they foraged in woods of oak and beech. Over time the breed developed attributes that would enable it to function well in these challenging terrains. High legs and good athletic ability came in handy when navigating the undergrowth. Long faces and snouts were built to root and find food. Even the traditional Tamworth today remains high energy, alert, and sensitive to flight instincts, as if they are operating on a higher gear than other pigs. Considered “deep sided pigs,” Tamworths have been celebrated for centuries for producing delicious bacon.

The Tamworth is the oldest pure red breed in England and probably descended from medieval old English forest pigs and wild boar. When modern Tamworths were bred to wild pigs their offspring had “iron age” stripes similar to those kept in early domestication. Tamworth noses are long, unlike the shorter nose of more domesticated looking pigs like the Berkshire. Our Tamworth farmer Craig Good says his pigs have softer feet than his other breeds and that they have more of a tendency to develop a cracked hoof or pad on the bottom of their foot. But, he says, it does not slow his pigs down, as if their hoof has somehow adapted to outdoor life.

Heritage breeds by definition come from old stock but perhaps none is older than the Tamworth when it comes to pigs. Through isolation in the forests, Tamworth traits became more and more defined. Inbreeding can mean negative traits are exaggerated but also that good ones become accentuated, more fixed, predominant, and prevalent.  The Tamworth became more and more unique overtime. At the end of the 18th century, when many native breeds were 'improved' by crossing them with Chinese and Neapolitan stock, the Tamworth was not deemed fashionable and hence left alone, leaving the Tamworth uniquely connected to the past. 

In 1812, Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister of the UK between 1834-1835 and 1841-1846, imported Irish Grazers to his farm in Tamworth, and the breed takes its name from the village of Tamworth. The pigs roamed Peel’s woods in autumn and winter and they bred with local pigs. Peel continued to breed Tamworths until 1850. 

The first Tamworth pigs were brought to the United States in 1882 by Thomas Bennett of Rossville, Illinois, although Colonists might have brought them earlier. During the next five years, many other Tamworths were imported into Canada and hogs from the Canadian imports and others from England found their way into the US.

Tamworths are considered “deep sided pigs” meaning they have depth from the top of their back to the bottom of their belly. This conformation adds an extra dimension to the belly, giving it more volume. Along with the lean build of the Tamworth these are reasons why the pig has been celebrated for centuries for producing the best bellies for bacon in the pig business! 

The most active breed of swine that we have in America, Tamworths are wonderful foragers and tend not to have an aggressive bone in their bodies. The taste of their meat is robust, fruity, sweet, and tender and likely resembles flavors of ancient times.

Leave a comment