FACT SHEET: Pig Farming History


  • The pig was domesticated from wild boars approximately 7,000 years ago. This probably first happened in the Near East. (Giuffra p. 1785)
  • Experts are undecided whether domestic pigs in Europe are descended from pigs from the Near East, or if they were domesticated independently from European wild boars. (Giuffra p. 1785)
  • The pig has been a common figure in the art, religion, and traditions of many cultures.

Pigs in the Middle Ages

  • Images of pigs in Britain during the Middle Ages show them to be like the wild boars of earlier centuries. They were dark brown, with coarse hair.
  • The Domesday Book measured woodlands by how many pigs it could hold. For example it recorded that the woods at Basingstoke could hold 20 pigs, while the woods at Andover could hold 100 pigs.
  • Mediaeval farmers would let their pigs into forests in autumn and winter to forage on acorns, berries and roots. They had to pay for the right to do this. (Wiseman, p. 2)
  • The nobility hunted wild boar. This was often portrayed as large and extravagant expeditions.
  • Keeping pigs became less common with increasing deforestation and the rise of keeping sheep. Individual farms kept fewer pigs. (Wiseman pp. 8-9)

The 18th century

  • By the 18th century pigs’ diets had changed to include discarded produce such as peas, beans, corn and root vegetables. Waste from distilleries, starch makers and other industries was also fed to pigs to fatten them. (Wiseman pp. 12-3)
  • A standard “Old English” type of domestic pig had developed, replacing the type of pig more common in the Middle Ages. (Wiseman pp. 15-16)
  • Farmers started trying to create new breeds of pigs in attempts to create the ideal pig. (Wiseman p. 21)
  • In 1758 Carl Linnaeus was the first to classify the wild boar as Sus scrofa, and the domestic pig as Sus scrofa domesticus. The domestic pig is now known as Sus domesticus.

The 19th century

  • Few wild boar remained in Britain by the 19th century. Some still existed in parts of the New Forest. (Wiseman p. 11) Wild boar still live in the New Forest National Park.
  • Lists of breeds in the 19th century were extensive, with names like Improved Essex Berkshire, Sussex, Heckfield, and Old Yorkshire. These were likely the names of the geographic areas where the pigs lived, rather than different breeds. (Wiseman p. xiii-xiv)
  • By the middle of the 19th century, pigs were identified broadly as either large breeds or small breeds. Farmers tried fattening large breeds to be bigger, so that some reached over 1,000 lbs. Size was more important than heritage. (Wiseman pp. 27, 39-40)
  • By the middle of the 19th century, agricultural shows and producers started complaining that breeders were creating obese pigs through overfeeding. They saw this as a problem because there was a declining consumer demand for fat bacon and pork. (Wiseman p. 62)


You’re free to re-use, edit and even claim this research as your own. Though if you do give us credit, please tell your readers if you’ve made amendments.


Giuffra, E. and J. M. H. Kijas, V. Amarger, Ö . Carlborg, J.-T. Jeon and L. Andersson. “The Origin of the Domestic Pig: Independent Domestication and Subsequent Introgression. “ Genetics (April 2000) 154: 1785–1791

Wiseman, Julian. The Pig: A British History. (Worcester, Ebenezer Baylis & Son Ltd. 2nd edition: 2000)

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