New Zealand Rare Breeds Website: – Information
» Home » Breeds » Directory » About » News » Webmart » Projects » Gene Bank » Links » Join » Contact

Large Black Pigs Rescue

A Rare Breeds Society Project

      It all started with an item in an Ashburton newspaper – a story that had almost ended before it began. Mr Bird, a well known local pig breeder was going out of business and retiring. His stock was being sold up or sent off to slaughter. Among the animals destined for the works was an aged sow, reported to be the last purebred Large Black or Devon pig left alive in New Zealand. With her demise the breed in this country would effectively become extinct.

Large Black (Devon) Pigs in Canterbury  (Trotter/McCulloch photo)
Large Black (Devon) Pigs in Canterbury
(Trotter/McCulloch photo)

      Now, words such as “last” and “extinct” are as red rags to Rare Breeders. Such an article was all that was needed to galvanize Michael Willis, a member of the Canterbury Section of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand (and one of those responsible for the 1970s rescue from extinction of the Kunekune), into action.

      One quick phone call later and the last Large Black had been granted a reprieve. She and a half-bred daughter had become the property of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society, and an old English pig breed was destined for a new – if shaky – beginning in New Zealand.

Large Black sow with piglet (Trotter/McCulloch photo)
Sow with piglet
(Trotter/McCulloch photo)

      So there a decade ago was the Rare Breeds Conservation Society with one-and-a-half (genetically speaking) Large Black pigs, both sows, and with no immediate hope of obtaining a boar.

      On the grounds that some Devon genes were better than no genes at all, the two sows were placed in the care of Brian and Marie Free of Darfield, and initially mated to one of their Wessex Saddleback boars. The Wessex originated in much the same area as the Large Black, and the breeds undoubtedly share some of their ancestors in common.

      At the same time the hunt for a purebred boar continued – but without success in New Zealand; some time was spent in following up rumours – including a particularly hot scent leading to the South Island's West Coast – but all to no avail.

      Attention was then turned to Australia, and eventually a breeder of Large Blacks was located. He was willing to make a boar and two more sows available, but with this began a whole series of further worries and hassles relating first to getting approval to import the new stock followed by the necessity for quarantine.

      Eventually, however, owing largely to the assistance of Rare Breeder and Veterinarian, Dave Matheson, all problems were resolved and the Free farm became home to a minute colony of Large Black pigs which would form the foundation stock for new generations of their kind in this country.

      The pigs were registered with the New Zealand Pig Breeders Association which gave the breed an official standing. A grading-up programme was put into operation, similar to that which has been used for other very rare livestock breeds such as the Dexter cattle (see » Grading Up Programmes).

      When the Frees eventually gave up the project, the now much increased breeding stock of Large Blacks was divided up among a number of caregivers, a system set up by the Rare Breeds Conservation Society (which retained ownership of all the animals) under the direction of co-ordinator Jean Donaldson of West Eyreton in North Canterbury.

      In 1998 the Rare Breeds Conservation Society decided that the breed was sufficiently strong in numbers that it could terminate its caregiver scheme and the Large Blacks passed into private ownership and can now be traded commercially – although the Society still holds a watching brief.

      Breeding for type has been fairly successful with a few splendid animals being produced, some of which have been shown with considerable success in both North and South Islands. The one problem that remains has been the failure at this time to locate another – and different – source of Large Blacks, which means that there is still only boar line descending from the single original boar imported from Australia.

      As with most rare breeds of livestock, the survival and future success of the Large Black pig is today in the hands of a few dedicated enthusiasts who believe in the importance of preserving genetic diversity.

   See also:
» Large Black Pigs breed page
» Rare Breeds Society Projects
© Copyright 
 » Go to Rare Breeds Home Page 
See also Navigation Bar at top of this page

Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand Incorporated

XHTML and CSS Valid icons