Stocksbridge pigs claim double title, while students celebrate their own wins

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The Berry family celebrated for the second year in a row at the English Winter Fair, where they scooped the interbreed pig championship once again with the Stocksbridge herd.

Having won last year with a purebred Pietrain, this year they took the honours with a ¾ Pietrain x Large White, which was also crowned in the interbreed pairs class. “The judge really liked them as a pair and commended their good shape,” said Callum Smith, who was exhibiting alongside his cousin Jasmin Rouse and uncle Tom Dyas under his grandmother’s name W. Berry.

The pair of 21-week-old gilts went on to be sold in the Sunday auction. “When breeding, we’re looking for good shape and bone structure – we produce purebreds for national shows and breeding stock, and cross the Pietrain and Large White for good eating quality,” said Callum. “The Pietrain is quite lean, so the Large White adds some fat and meat quality.”

The family, who have about 30 sows at home, start training the purebred pigs to show at about three to four months old, and sell breeding stock privately, while finished pigs go to Selby Livestock Market at about 110kg.

Also exhibiting in the pig ring were a group of students from Hopwood Hall College and University, one of the few colleges with its own farm. Lydia Meredith, Rubie Brown, Tia Siddle and Natalie Killoran are all studying for a Level 3 qualification in Technical Animal Management, and brought along a number of Berkshire pigs to exhibit.

“Last year we started a project where we’re given 12 piglets to feed up, show at events, and finish,” said Natalie. “We’ve had several prize winners including champions and interbreed champions.” The project runs with support from the English Winter Fair and the Berkshire Pig Breeders’ Club. “We want to find the best boar lines so select from different breeders, and the students rear the weaners on and record all the data,” explained Chris Hudson, chair of the breeders’ club.

The team measure back fat several times, and then when the pigs are slaughtered all of the data is collated anonymously and used by the club to improve bloodlines. “The Berkshire is traditionally a pork pig, but we want to get them to bacon weights as it’s more profitable,” said Chris. “They have a habit of getting too fat at that size, but this project is proof that it is possible.”

For the students, getting experience with the livestock is a highlight, as is taking the animals all the way through from farm to fork – with one of the pigs supplying the Berkshire club’s hog roast at the Fair. “It’s a real accomplishment, taking them through from a few weeks old to the plate,” said Natalie. “You know where it’s come from and you know you’re eating really good food.”

Living in a fairly urban area, few of the students have farming backgrounds – but that’s not stopping them from having high aspirations of getting established in the industry. “Not many people get the opportunity to get into farming, but we both want to be farmers,” said Tia, of herself and Natalie. “We are both already working on farms and leave college in two years. Most of the farmers here at the Fair are third generation or more. We’re learning as we go and just love getting to work with different types of animals and learning to look after them.”

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Print resolution images from the 2023 English Winter Fair can be found here.