The Iron-age pig was first produced in the UK in the 1980s by experimental archaeologists who were working for a BBC series on the Iron Age. They wanted to create a pig that looked like those that appeared on drawings and carvings of Iron Age pigs from 2,400 years ago. To achieve this appearance, the archeologists crossed a wild boar with a Tamworth sow. This crossing produced a pig that had the piglet characteristics of the wild boar but which was not as aggressive and easier to manage than the wild boar.
Today the Iron-age pig is used by smallholders throughout Europe, and there is a small but important market for the meat in the speciality meat market. Britannic Rare Breeds maintains a list of suppliers. The cross ended up with the growth characteristics of the Tamworth Pig, but with the meat flavor and leanness of the Wild Boar. Compared with commercial pig breeds, Iron-age Pigs are slower growing and can take 18 months to come up to weight.
Appearance / health:
Iron Age Pigs have longer hair than most other pigs (a result of their Tamworth and Wild Boar heritage) and coloration varies from ginger (from the Tamworth) to almost black (from the Wild Boar). The piglets are very pretty and have the ginger and tan banding of wild boar piglets (this helps them blend into the undergrowth). They are intelligent and can be inquisitive. Sows are frequently prolific and are good mothers. The piglets are very vigorous (but litter sizes are smaller than for modern commercial breeds) and 100% survivability is not uncommon. Typical mature weight will be 390 lbs (160kg) with the boar being larger than the sow.
Being a cross-breed with the wild pig, Iron Age pigs are typically vigorous and healthy. But they are swine and though not as sensitive as intensively-raised breeds they can stressed by travel, vaccinations, extreme temperatures, and new surroundings. Stress often makes them susceptible to respiratory illnesses. Pigs commonly suffer from mad itch (or pseudo rabies), dysentery, and parasites (lice, ticks, and ascarid worms) and it is parasites that cause the main problems for Iron Age pigs, particularly if they are kept in their preferred woodland environments.
Healthy pigs have shiny hair, bright eyes, strong appetites, and high energy. Their normal temperature is 102.5F. Deviations from the normal temperature and other signs of poor health including diarrhea and coughing should promptly be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.
Behavior / temperament:
The behaviour of iron age pigs is a blend of that of the Tamworth and the Wild Boar. They are nowhere near as aggressive as the wild boar, but neither are they as tame and approachable as the Tamworth. Tamworths are intelligent and sociable but the wild boar is much less so. How your Iron Age pig reacts will depend on its particular blend of genetics. Some will roam and forage like a wild pig and will tend to shy away from humans. Others will be sociably and will be ready to be fed by you. They do require a mud bath. This allows them to cool down in hot weather and cleanses their skin of parasites. It is also a social activity for these pigs.
Iron Age pigs have excellent mothering abilities, but they should be approached with extreme caution when farrowing. Many smallholders like them as a breed because they require low maintenance and because they can be applied to maximize the use of wooded areas. This is a very active breed.
Housing / diet:
Pigs are omnivores and will eat almost anything they are given. If rearing on a small scale, they are a good way of getting rid of household scraps and feeding them these gets them nearer to the house and more used to people. However, their Tamworth and their Wild Boar heritage makes them excellent foragers. They particularly love wooded areas and will root around naturally. Oak woodland is a particular favourite. They will eat fruit, roots, tubers, greens, flowers, insects, worms, carcasses and any other types of meat. In autumn they will gorge on nuts, acorns and mushrooms.
If you are breeding for meat, then it is a good idea to supplement their diet with grains mixed with protein and vitamin supplements. But if you are using a low management system and they have plenty of land to forage in this is not necessary.
They require plenty of water and providing them with some kind of shelter is also recommended. This could be a wooden or corrugated construction. You should provide plenty of dry bedding, particularly in the winter months. Pig owners are advised to check with local authorities for legislation regarding the ownership and keeping of pigs in their homes and backyards.
Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans
Tamworth sow, wild boar, Celtic Ironage
Iron-age Pig a fascinating speciality breed
The Celtic Iron-age has always fascinated me and we used to work with a research farm in Mid Wales, both working on moving research projects into a real working farm and by taking their older or surplus animals. This is how we ended up with a drift of these fascinating animals.
The Iron-age Pig was developed in the 1980s as a cross between a Wild Boar and a Tamworth sow as an attempt at re-creating a pig that looked similar to that depicted on a range of Celtic art and sculpture. What was developed was a slow-growing pig with the meat characteristics of a wild boar but with the more even temperament of the Tamworth and which could be safely maintained in close proximity to humans (just as pigs were in the Iron Age, 2800 or so years ago).
All pigs get stressed when moved and the Iron-age Pig is no exception. So you need to have their housing along with food and water ready when they arrive. All the better if you can time their arrival to near nightfall then they can be housed in their shelters until the following day.
We had some scrubland adjoining a wood that we needed cleared and we believed that this would be an ideal environment for the pigs. Their natural habits would be to dig up the plants and turf on the scrubland, basically clearing it, whilst the wood would give them shelter and provide an environment as close to natural as possible. Of course, we also gave them shelter and plenty of straw and bracken as dry bedding.
For the most part, apart from supplementary feed they were allowed to get on with things in their own way... The boar can be very aggressive so you need to do some selection to get one where the Tamworth genetics are dominant. The sows tend to be docile, if skittish but are aggressive when farrowing.
However, we did try an experiment. The piglets have the mottled and striped appearance of wild boar piglets. They are actually very cute. Taking enough people for protection we took a few sow piglet from each batch and brought those back to the farm to be hand reared. They were then mixed in with our saddlebacks.
Basically, if hand reared the sows can behave very like their Tamworth parent. They are inquisitive and intelligent and like to be scratched behind the ears. They will forage more widely than purely domestic pigs but can be taught to come back to the yard in the evening, particularly if you haver food for them (we used whey from a local creamery). Apart from vocalizations (tend to call more) they were very similar to domestic breeds when managed this way.
However, the Iron-age Pig develops much more slowly than modern farmed pigs. They take about 18 months to be mature. But this means that their meat is much more deeply flavoured and leaner. Closer in character to a wild boar. So if you like your meat on the gamey side and want to rear a very interesting breed then the Iron-age Pig could be for you. But you need to be aware that they are a cross with the wild Wild Boar and their behaviour is dependent on which set of genetics are dominant.
If hand-reared they lose their fear of humans and can be very well behaved pigs. Though the boars do have a tendency to be aggressive. The piglets are very cute and children love them. But I would be wary of them around small children. Still, if you have woodland on a smallholding then this breed is definitely one to consider, particularly as their appearance naturally blends in with woodland conditions. In this environment they can, pretty much, be left to their own devices as long as they have sufficient water, shelter and dry bedding.
Their genetics makes them very hardy and typically not prone to disease. Indeed, they only typically suffer from disease when they have come into contact with domestic swine..
From DLlE Sep 5 2012 2:42AM