Back To Black
Suzi and Stuart Westron of Choller Farm Pigs had to choose between three breeds and the Large Black won hands down, reports Debbie Kingsley
Large Black pigs, by Debbie Kingsley
I’m a lady who likes the finer things in life. Ask Stu,” confesses Suzi Westron of Choller Farm Pigs. The Arundel, West Sussex resident is discussing how she first became a pig owner and how Stuart, her husband of more than 20 years, can fully relate to the fact that for her shopping in Waitrose wins every time over the discount stores.
Pigs came into the Westrons’ lives many years ago following a family day trip — the couple has two children, Amber and Benjamin — to the Royal Show.
“It all started because I thought feeding up a pig in a stable would be cheaper than buying pork from a butcher. And I decided that I’d only buy a British breed and I’d have to go for a pedigree. Of course, you must buy pedigree as it helps both the farmers and the breed. So a little Berkshire it was.”
As the Westrons progressed into breeding and showing Berkshires, Stuart said while gazing at a ring of pigs at a show, “those Large Blacks are so nice”. Suzi consequently found a reliable source and bought two pedigree gilts for her husband.
“He fell in love with them and they were followed by a Middle White as Amber had taken a shine to them. We bred all three breeds, winning top prizes, having fun and making a reputation for ourselves in the pig world,” Suzi reveals.
Suzi can see plenty of positives when it comes to the big-eared Large Blacks — not least their charming looks, plus their docile natures if treated kindly from birth.
“As their ears fall over their eyes it’s all about trusting your voice so talking to them is a must,” says Suzi, who juggles farm work with a part-time job as a
healthcare assistant, working in a hospital and in the community. “We can turn them out with the cows. However, they are not to be messed with — they do have a temper and are quick on their feet if they decide they’re not in the mood to behave. I learned this the hard way. I picked up a piglet to look at it and was chased. The sow was fast and didn’t stop until I put that piglet down. They are milky mummies, so the piglets are chunky within days of being born. The piglets are also born very vocal, so the sow knows where they are. As she has long ears she doesn’t see so well, so, to ensure that they are not trodden on, they squeal at the slightest thing and mum turns into a ballet dancer. It’s all very clever.”
Eventually, after keeping their trio of breeds and the huge workload that came with that and with the Westrons finding that there was little money in pigs for hobby breeders, they faced a tough decision. While they couldn’t contemplate life with no pigs at all, they would have to cut down to one breed — but which one would they choose to take forward?
“The Large Blacks won for a few reasons,” reveals Suzi. “The Berkshire seems to be a pig that a lot of first-time pig keepers like the look of and we felt that there are enough good breeders of them spread around the country. Also, the meat was great, but harder to grow and keep lean and, as I always like to see them happy, I tend to over-feed them. For the show ring, a pig is much rounder than a porker for the freezer, but housewives don’t like to see too much fat.
“The Middle Whites were always Amber’s choice, but at 19 she’s about to join the Army and so won’t be around to look after them. They only look great in the ring squeaky clean and it’s hard keeping them spotless when they’re living outdoors.” Taking all this into account, and with the Large Blacks less of a problem when it comes to escape artistry, digging, fighting, washing and mixing with others, they ended up topping the Westrons’ list.
“They are a long pig, so the bacon is a better size but, importantly for the Large Black, not many people in the south are breeding them, so we felt we needed to support them,” says Suzi. From a practical point of view, there was another factor to take into consideration. “Importantly, Stuart was the one feeding them every day, and the Large Blacks were his favourites,” laughs Suzi. “He said, ‘they cause less drama and they’re easier’.” Decision made.
Today, having slimmed down their pig operation, which they continue to operate alongside milking around 120 Friesian cross Jersey cows on their small family dairy farm, the Westrons own six breeding sows — all of them boasting different blood lines — as well as two unrelated boars.
“The boars are hard to find and I had to travel far to get different boar lines,” continues Suzi.
The Westrons average 10 piglets per litter and they farrow them twice a year. The January borns are tough, according to Suzi.
“The piglets come out in the freezing weather and somehow latch on to the milk bar and just get warm and grow and cope. It’s an incredible thing to see. It’s easy to sell them when they’re born at this time of year as lots of people who want the good life take two or three, enjoy them through the spring and summer months, feeding them from allotments and orchards, and then
As the sow has long ears, she doesn’t see so well, so to survive not being trodden on the piglets squeal at the slightest thing and mum turns into a ballet dancer. It’s all very clever
they pop them in the freezer for the best meat they say they’ve ever tasted.
“I always advise them to take the pigs off to the abattoir at six months old as this is a big enough carcass for any family for their year’s supply of pork. After this age the Large Blacks generally just lay down fat and then you are eating fatty pork. It’s a skill you learn as you go, so mostly the second batch of pigs people keep will be leaner. They always come back the following spring for more, saying they adore the breed, and they are indeed an easy first pig to keep.”
Suzi and Stuart’s pigs are all free range, perhaps not something every wannabe farmer would want to tackle in a cold, muddy winter.
“Even I wouldn’t advise keeping pigs through the winter,” says Suzi, who adds: “We pick out the best piglets for breeding to keep for showing and breeding and look for breed standard.”
With Large Blacks, measuring up means that not one white hair is allowed, they should boast 14 to 16 even working teats, no inverted nipples, a good, straight back, strong, straight legs, ears to the nose and in proportion, with good round bottoms (hams).
“This is not as easy as you think,” says Suzi. “Last year we had four litters of piglets and we haven’t kept one for showing. If they aren’t up to scratch for the ring it costs a lot of money to keep them, and then I wouldn’t be able to sell them as that wouldn’t be helping the breed. We are looking for perfection and if I turned up after my successes — and being a judge myself as well — my fellow pig pals would have a field day. You don’t win young pig of the year and best pig out of 400 entries at the Great Yorkshire Show by taking out anything other than super smart.”
Suzi has sent pigs to America for breeding and she says that selling on goes way over and above financial considerations.
“I want them to do the buyer well and I want to be proud of my pigs. We love to set people up to enjoy them. It’s the key to people carrying on keeping the Large Black.”
Not every pig has long floppy ears on this farm, however. There is one interloper in the form of Larretta. She is a Berkshire sow.
“She’ll live out her days with us as she’s a gorgeous champion and because we’re soft farmers and she’s our friend,” smiles Suzi.
For more information, visit www.facebook. com/Choller-Farms-Pigs-539424419490762/; www.largeblackpigs.org.uk/
Large Blacks are born vocal so that the sow, who cannot see well due to her floppy ears, knows where her piglets are
Suzi Westron with one of her young Large Blacks — the Westrons average 10 piglets per litter
Large Blacks do have a temper if provoked
The breed is Stuart Westron’s favourite
Large Blacks are long, so the bacon is a good size