A rare breed

It is a striking looking black pig, with ears loped forward and a white band that extends around the body and down the front legs. The Wessex Saddleback is just one of the rare heritage breeds that producers at Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market such as Guy Robertson from Mount Gnomon Farm and Oliver and Fiona Stocker from Langdale Farm, are saving from extinction.

The Wessex Saddleback is a domestic pig originating in the West Country of England where today it is extinct as a separate breed. However, the Wessex Saddleback was once exported to other parts of the world and survives in small numbers in Australia and New Zealand. The breed is prolific and hardy and does well as an outdoor free range pig.  It was originally bred as a specialist bacon producer and foraged around the forests of New Hampshire.  With the advent of intensive farming systems, the Wessex fell out of favour and declined in numbers. In 1967 the Wessex and Essex breeds were merged to form the hybrid British saddleback.

Guy’s relationship with the Wessex Saddleback began in 2009 when he and Eliza Wood bought 35 hectares of “beautiful red dirt behind the seaside village of Penguin in North West Tasmania”. Their hobby farm soon became a serious free range farm. They chose the rare Wessex Saddleback breed because of the superb quality of the meat but also to help save the breed from extinction. The reason the breed fell out of favour was because it required the space to forage and was not suited to intensive piggeries. At Mount Gnomon, the health and welfare of the animals is paramount which means far more than simply the freedom to roam. Visitors to Mount Gnomon will see pigs being pigs, rooting up the ground, eating grass, lazing in the sun or snuggling up when not playing with one another. There are no farrowing crates or sow stalls but plenty of shelters.

Each week at Harvest Launceston, Guy showcases the wonderful quality of the pork from this heritage breed and at the same time restores their value as commercially viable. This is the only way to ensure the diversity of animals on farms is maintained and save the rare breeds from extinction.

For Oliver from Langdale Farm it was the pursuit of the perfect English sausage that cemented his relationship with the Wessex Saddleback. Originally from England, Oliver and Fiona now consider Tasmania to be their home. Although neither have a food background an interest in the quality of the food the family was consuming, and of course Oliver’s love of English style sausages, led them to their five-acre block in the Tamar Valley.

They chose the rare breed Wessex Saddleback with their distinctive white bands because they are good natured, happy and adaptable creatures, traditionally kept by small-holders and always up for a scratch behind the ears. “We decided to keep pigs because it was a great use of our bush block. You couldn’t use it for any other form of agriculture, but the pigs love it – they have shade, wallows and plenty of space to root around in and frolic about,” says Fiona.

Importantly they make great pork. The meat is much more flavoursome, slow grown, darker, richer and more succulent and is what has enabled Oliver to realise his dream of making a delicious juicy sausage. Although some people ask how they can raise pigs and eat them, Fiona points out that this is the reality of farming. “You care for the creatures as best you can, give them a healthy, happy life and they provide you with produce which is the best it can be.”

Langdale Farm will be at Harvest Launceston this Saturday for their fortnightly visit.

The Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ) defines free range pig as pigs that are kept outdoors for their entire life, provided with water; shelter from the elements, including bedding; rooting and/or foraging areas; wallows where State regulations and seasonal climates permit. Further, all weaners, growers and sows must be free to move in and out of shelters and around paddocks. Additional protection for piglets when they are young is also required.