British Landrace buying guide

British Landrace pig buyers guide

Chris Graham introduces a breed that can offer the domestic meat producer – and enthusiast keeper – a genuinely useful and enjoyable ownership proposition

The Landrace – a name apparently derived from the German terms for ‘national breed' – has built for itself something of a European dynasty. It's proved to be an incredibly influential breed as far as the commercial pork industry is concerned and, in one form or another, is said to have played a part in the creation of over 90% of the hybrid gilts in Western Europe and the USA.

But it appears to have all started in Denmark, where the canny Danes spotted an opportunity to meet the growing demand for bacon and ham in Britain before the turn of the last century. But the Continental pigs of the day tended to be too short in the body to make a good baconer, so the Danish breeders set about lengthening their animals.

Careful selection

A process of careful selection resulted in a long and lean-carcassed pig with lop ears and a docile nature; it was just about ideally suited for its intended purpose. 

Whether or not these breeders what a useful and productive creature they'd created isn't known, but the result was set to influence the pork market for generations to come.

Elsewhere in mainland Europe variations on the Landrace theme started to emerge. The Germans produced a heavier, meatier version that was tailored more specifically to their national tastes, and subsequent exports of these two types set the ball rolling elsewhere in Europe and far beyond.

The German animals were sent to Holland, Belgium, Russia, Poland and Switzerland, while the leaner, Danish version found its way to France, South Africa, America, Sweden and Norway. Everywhere it went, the Landrace name tended to be prefixed with the new country of residence

The first Landrace pigs were imported into the UK from Sweden in 1949, although things started slowly. That initial shipment consisted of just four boars and eight gilts. But these pigs were the basis 

A The breed standard requires ears that are medium-sized, neither coarse nor heavy, drooping and slanting forward. If you come across ears that are tending towards pricked when buying, steer clear as you won't be looking at a pure Landrace.

B A good British Landrace should never have a large head or neck and minimal jowl. A straight snout is another good point to look for, although this can become slightly dished as the pig gets older.

C As with any pig, the legs are a key aspect of the British Landrace. When buying, spend time assessing this aspect. You're looking for legs that are medium-length, well set and square with the body. The bone should be strong but not coarse, and the cleys even and well-developed. Pasterns must be strong, springy and not too long as well.

D The large litters typically produced by the British Landrace mean that a good underline is essential. Ideally you're looking for 14, evenly-spaced teats. It's obviously important that all piglets are able to feed easily. With this in mind, avoid animals showing inverted teats.

E Back legs need to be good and strong on the boar and it's important that animals you're considering buying move well and with fluidity. Check for good feet too, with claws of equal length and straight.

F Being all about bacon and ham production, the Landrace's hindquarters need to be of medium length, but broad and straight or very slightly sloping to the tail. Hams must be full and rounded from both the back and sides, as well as deep to the hock.

G The tail needs to be set pretty high, especially on the sow, and to be thick at its base.

H A long, flat back is another important British Landrace breed requirement. While breeders look for the straightest possible line along the spine, the breed standard does allow for slight arching.

I Although the fine, white hair doesn't provide any protection against the summer sun, it's certainly preferable to the darker shades found on the coloured pigs, which can be so much more obvious if carcass finishing isn't meticulous.

Owner's view: Julian Newth

"The British Landrace has just got so much going for it as a breed. It's very easy to manage and the sows are quiet and hold their shape. When they farrow, they really do put everything into their piglets, to produce the best offspring. It's the ideal pig for the commercial market as the breed makes a brilliant foundation sow for breeding hybrid gilts with a Duroc, for example, in outdoor units.

"The sows are very prolific, producing high numbers and plenty of milk. This remains throughout the duration of the litter being on the sow, and helps ensure the production of high-quality weaners.

"Many people have commented on just how pretty and sweet the Landrace features are, and I couldn't agree more. They also compliment the British Landrace on its good size and deep body which, of course, allows plenty of space for carrying piglets. Other highlight features include rounded hams plus plenty of overall body length.

"Other advantages include the fact that there are many different Landrace breeding lines to choose from, and the facts that this breed is very affectionate and represents an easy option for the first-time pig keeper."

Top 10 reasons to buy!

  • Easy to keep
  • Prolific
  • Low-fat
  • Long-bodied
  • Docile temperament
  • Great bacon pig
  • Hardy and tough
  • Quick grower
  • Indoor or outdoor pig
  • Wonderful mother

The British Landrace Pig Society was formed to create a herd book for the first offspring produced by the first imported animals, born in 1950, and an evaluation scheme was created, with the first Pig Testing Scheme for daily gain and fat depths. A testing station was built at Stockton-on-Forest, in Yorkshire, which provided the first example of pig testing in the UK. That this happened at all pays testament to the foresight of those founder members of the Society, who obviously saw clearly how this would be needed by what was then a very undeveloped commercial and pedigree pig production industry.

Joining forces

With an eye on the development of the pedigree pig industry, and the need for a national herd book for all breeds, the British Landrace Pig Society joined forces with the NPBA (now the British Pig Association) in 1978. Then, during the 1980s, new bloodlines were imported into England, Scotland and Northern Ireland from Norway. The idea of this move was to broaden the genetic base of the breed, allowing for further development and making the British Landrace pig unique among other Landrace types that were, by then, well established throughout the rest of the world.

The British Landrace breed has expanded rapidly to occupy its present position as one of the UK's most popular breeds of commercial pig. However, progress and development are on-going, as breeders strive to keep pace with the demands of the ever-changing world of commercial/pedigree pig production.

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A good British Landrace, whether it's a sow or a boar, should always be well up on its feet, active and a good walker.

The British Landrace is a very versatile breed, performing well under either indoor or outdoor systems of management. Sows have the ability to produce and rear large litters of piglets (12 is typical) with very good daily gain and high lean meat content, in a superbly fleshed carcass, which is ideal for either fresh pork or bacon production.

The greatest strength of the British Landrace is its undisputed ability to improve other breeds of pig when crossed to produce hybrid gilts – over 90% of hybrid gilt production in Western Europe and North America uses Landrace bloodlines as

the foundation for the profitable production of quality pork.

Attractive option?

However, while this breed performs admirably in a commercial setting, its attractiveness to the hobby keeper is evidently rather more of a mixed bag. Perception remains a considerable influence on those looking to get involved with the pig-keeping hobby for the first time. Unfortunately for the British Landrace, it's not a ‘sexy' breed. Being a modern, white pig means that it's relatively plain to look at, and that's something that counts against it for many potential buyers.

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Those would-be owners who, not being put off by the colouring, investigate further into the breed, will discover that it's known for its leanness of carcass, which can result in meat that's not as flavoursome or succulent as that from, say, a Gloucestershire Old Spots. Once again, though, that's doing the poor old Landrace a bit of an injustice. While the best commercial strains will be lean because that's what's required, it's always possible to grow them with a bit more fat, if that's what you fancy. Also, there's plenty of potential when it comes to actually cooking the meat, in terms of adding extra flavour. Then again, if you're bacon, there can be few better at that job.

One of the great advantages of the breed is mothering ability. The sows are wonderful in this respect, producing large litters and plenty of milk to feed them. They aren't clumsy pigs either, so inadvertent crushings should be rare. The piglets are rapid growers too.

The Landrace's place in the UK's commercial pork industry has been well documented elsewhere, and it's not really the place of this feature to go into that side of the story. Suffice to say that the reputation it's developed – both here and abroad – is legendary. A popular move has been to cross it with the Large White to produce an excellent porker, and there's some suggestion that, in the early days, the breed was crossed with the Welsh, to the benefit of them both.

Worrying trends

But it's at the domestic end of the popularity scale where the British Landrace needs to see further improvement. Overall numbers are a real concern – the BPA’s 2017 Bloodline Audit showed there to be just 191 registered sows in the UK, down from 2016’s total of 204. Registered boars now exist in even smaller numbers with the 2017 total standing at just 33, although that’s one more than there was in 2016. On the plus side, though, the audit also revealed that the number of people keeping registered British Landrace pigs has increased from 34 in 2016, to 41 last year. That’s encouraging.

Price can be a bit of an issue, too. Because the British Landrace still has a value as a commercial crossing breed, the prices being paid for well-bred examples in sales can sometimes be up to double that of other native breeds. From the domestic keeper's viewpoint, this can sometimes throw a bit of a spanner in the works.

Plenty to offer

However, it would be wrong to get too bogged down with negatives because this breed has plenty to offer the would-be keeper. One significant benefit of the 

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careful selection process that's made it such a good commercial animal, is that these pigs display calm and docile characters.

This makes them easy to live with and handle in a domestic setting; both important plus points for the less experienced among you. The breed's Scandinavian roots help ensure a generally hardy nature and, apart from the risk of sunburn during the summer months, these pigs will simply get on with life in a thoroughly workmanlike and predictable manner.

They aren't especially prone to any of the common porcine problems, so visits from the vet should be a rarity when stock is kept responsibly and well.

There should be few problems for those owners interested in developing their own herds with careful selection and breeding. Fertility levels are generally good and, as I've already mentioned, the sows make good, attentive and careful mothers. What's more, Landrace sows can make wonderful mothers and grandmothers for cross-bred offspring like the Duroc, for example, for the outdoor units.

So, all-in-all, the British Landrace could perhaps best be described as a breed that's approaching a junction, as far as its future fortunes are concerned. While it continues to enjoy a role as a commercial pig, there's no telling how long this will last. Once this avenue closes down, then it'll fall on the shoulders of enthusiasts to support it from then on. That'll be crunch time.

Only when the breed ceases to have a commercial value will we get a real impression about the regard in which its held among the wider public from which a new generation of keepers will need to be found. Interesting times lie ahead for the British Landrace. 

The genuine article?

If you want to buy a British Landrace pig, make sure you are getting the real thing. Remember that without a pedigree, it's just another pig. If you want to sell British Landrace pigs by name, or British Landrace pork, then your pigs must be pedigree registered.

Only registered pigs will be included on the Breeds at Risk Register, as part of the national conservation effort to save our native breeds. For advice on buying your British Landrace pig contact your breed rep (refer to the British Landrace breed page for contact details).

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This article was previously published in Practical Pigs magazine. Back issues of the magazine can be purchased from https://shop.kelsey.co.uk/issue/PGG