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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 July 2005, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Breeders fight to save Welsh pig
Welsh piglets sleeping : pic by Liz Shankland
The Welsh pig is Wales' only native breed
Pig breeders are joining forces to rejuvenate the popularity of the traditional Welsh pig.

Around 50 years ago, the Welsh was one of the most popular breeds in the UK, but it is now on the "at risk" list.

Owners are planning a get-together at the St Mellons Agricultural Show next week, which will see the biggest gathering of Welsh pigs for decades.

They hope to form a club to increase interest, give support to breeders, and help them find outlets for their meat.

For the first time, the St Mellons show - held at Tredegar House, Newport, on 10 August - will feature a "champion of champions" contest. It will be run under British Pig Association rules and the top Welsh pigs from across the UK will be competing.

This is the traditional pig of Wales, and we just can't afford to lose it.
Pig breeder Helen Tongue

The Welsh - a traditional-looking pink pig - was once widely used in commercial herds and in cross-breeding programmes, but its popularity waned as health-conscious consumers began demanding leaner meat.

Experts say numbers are now worryingly low, with just 405 pedigree breeding females in the whole of the UK. There are only 20 or so breeders left in Wales.

Members of the Wales & Border Counties Pig Breeders' Association have been working hard to increase numbers and raise awareness of the breed.

Helen Tongue, who is vice-chair of the association, and rears Welsh pigs at her farm in Devauden, Chepstow, said the show would be an important showcase for the breed.

"There are not many shows in Wales where pigs are given the prominence they deserve these days, so to have something like this at St Mellons is excellent," she said.

Welsh sow and litter : pic by Liz Shankland
The breed is on the "at risk" list

"We want to show people just how good the Welsh pig really is, and to persuade breeders that it is such an acceptable pig for the meat market.

"Unlike many of the other traditional breeds, the Welsh has a heck of a good butcher's carcase. The flesh is unbelievable, and it has just the right amount of fat."

Helen has been a farmer for 36 years and also breeds saddlebacks. She became involved with the revival of the Welsh three years ago when the British Pig Association became concerned about dwindling numbers.

She already kept a Welsh boar to cross with her saddlebacks, but bought in some good stock and began breeding. Now she and business partner John Flay have 30 sows. They travel Wales with their hog-roast business, using only Welsh pigs.

"Once people have tasted the Welsh, they don't want anything else," Helen said.

Not registered

"It has the most wonderful flavour, it is really tender, and the crackling is just marvellous. The more people who taste it, the more demand will grow, and that will hopefully get more breeders involved."

No-one is absolutely sure just how many Welsh pigs there are in Wales or the UK as a whole, as many have not been registered by breeders. Although some may say they have Welsh pigs, only registered pedigree animals can be counted.

Helen is hopeful that the St Mellons meeting will help boost interest in the breed and encourage more people to come forward.

"I am totally committed to bringing back the Welsh pig," she said. "This is the traditional pig of Wales, and we just can't afford to lose it."




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