SPECKLED FRIENDS IN THE FARMYARD
With its distinctive plum pudding markings, traditional cottagers’ pig the Oxford Sandy and Black is both delightful to behold and a contented, docile animal to keep, enjoying a resurgence in numbers due to dedicated breeders.
AT WINDWHISTLE FARM on the Mendip Hills, the cool, late March breeze is living up to the name. Blackthorn hedges, dusted with white blossom, toss in the wind, and the birdsong comes in snatches. In one field, a wooden shed provides a windbreak, and from the sheltered side comes the sound of snoring. Here, spread in the sun, lies a large pig; her legs outstretched. Her tan-coloured side, marked with random black splotches, rises and falls steadily, but her eyes remain tightly shut. Half a dozen small piglets, with the same brown and black patterning, rootle about nearby. Their pink ears bob as they nose through the grass or push deeper into a patch of crumbly earth, and there is a constant chatter of little squeaks and grunts.
This is an Oxford Sandy and Black sow and her litter, belonging to rare breed pig owner and breeder Susan Tanner. “The Sandy and Blacks are a very old breed,” she says. Written mentions of these brown- and black-patterned pigs exist from the 18th century, but the breed is believed to be much older. “They were the traditional cottagers’ pigs from the Oxford area, hence their older name of Oxford Forest pig.”