Gloucestershire Old Spots

Gloucestershire Old Spots
Gloucestershire Old Spots
A Gloucestershire Old Spots boar
A Gloucestershire Old Spots boar
Conservation status Rare breed
Other names
  • Gloucester
  • Gloucester Old Spot
  • Gloucestershire Old Spot
  • Old Spots
Country of origin England
Pig (Sus scrofa domesticus.)
An 1834 painting of a Gloucestershire Old Spot in the Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery collection. Said to be the largest pig ever bred in Britain.[1]

The Gloucestershire Old Spots (also "Gloucester, Gloucester Old Spot, Gloucestershire Old Spot"[2] or simply "Old Spots"[3]) is an English breed of pig which is predominantly white with black spots. It is named after the county of Gloucestershire. The Gloucestershire Old Spots pig is known for its docility, intelligence, and profligacy. Boars reach a mature weight of 600 lbs (272 kg) and sows 500 lbs (227 kg). The pigs are white with clearly defined black (not blue) spots. There must be at least one spot on the body to be accepted in the registry. The breed’s maternal skills enable it to raise large litters of piglets on pasture. Its disposition and self‑sufficiency should make it attractive for farmers raising pasture pigs and those who want to add pigs to diversified operations.



The Gloucestershire Old Spots (GOS) Breed Society was formed in 1913. The originators of that society called the breed 'Old' Spots because the pig had been known for as long as anyone could remember. The first pedigree records of pigs began in 1885, much later than it did for cattle, sheep and horses because the pig was a peasant's animal, a scavenger and was never highly regarded. No other pedigree spotted breed was recorded before 1913, so today's GOS is recognized as the oldest such breed in the world. From the British Pig Association: “Although if old paintings are to be trusted, there have been spotted pigs around for two or three centuries, the Gloucestershire Old Spots has only had pedigree status since the early 20th century.

The rare breed originated around the Berkeley Vale on the southern shores of the river Severn in south west England. It was usually kept in the cider and perry pear orchards of the area and on the dairy farms. Windfall fruit and waste from the dairies supplemented its grazing habit. Local folklore says that the spots on its back are bruises from the falling fruit. In small scale orchard management they helped prevent pest problems arising from the drop apples. They are good foragers and survive very well in pastures without supplemental feed. They are ideally suited to an outdoor system. Provided they have a warm and comfortable hut they will thrive outside throughout the year. Leading breeder George Styles recalls the occasion one winter when he had Gloucestershire Old Spot sows in outdoor farrowing huts that were well insulated. “The snow drifted around them and was about a foot deep between January 1st and March 1st. Seventeen sows farrowed and we weaned 173 pigs. It was a wonderful sight to see the little pigs playing in the snow and suckling the sows that were lying in it. Tough as old boots.” GOS will do better on land that is reasonably dry so that it does not become a quagmire. The pigs would not mind marshy conditions, but such conditions make the animals more difficult to tend.

Besides its correct title and variations such as Gloster Spot or just Old Spot, the breed is also known as the "Orchard Pig"[6] and "The Cottager's Pig". Ironically, despite these humble origins, both The Prince of Wales and The Princess Royal keep GOS pigs on their respective Gloucestershire estates.

Little is recorded of the breed's development but Victorian writers such as William Youatt in 'The Pig' and H.D. Richardson in 'The Pig - Its Origins and Varieties' seem to conclude that it was derived from crossing the original Gloucestershire pig - a large, off-white variety with wattles hanging from its neck, with the unimproved Berkshire, a sandy-coloured prick-eared pig with spots. This is reinforced in William Marshall's 'The Rural Economy of Gloucestershire' ca.1780 and 'The Complete Grazier' by a Lincolnshire Grazier of 1816, among others. One other notable contributer is the Lincolnshire Curley Coat, a pig that has since gone extinct. The Old Spots is also genetically and characteristically similar to the extinct Cumberland pig and is presently being used in its attempted recreation in the UK. These breeds were regarded as thrifty and excellent foragers, supplementing their feed with roots and vegetation. Additionally, the GOS gene pool has contributed to the American Spot and the Chester White. Additional commonalilties among these breeds include excellent maternal instincts and even temperament, as Old Spots tend to be very calm, good-natured animals, another trait that makes them desirable to homesteaders and small farmers. The females tend to be very devoted mothers, while the males seldom pose a threat to piglets.

A GOS sow and a GOS piglet meet a Kangal Dog

The Old Spots was once a very popular breed of pig. With the advent of intensive farming, certain lean, pale, high-yield breeds were chosen to suit the factory conditions and needs of mass-production. Many old breeds of pig died out, or were greatly diminished, in this time. However, owing to consumer pressure in the United Kingdom, and changes to the law, both attributable to an increasing awareness of, and concern about, farming conditions, pigs have been increasingly reared outdoors there. In addition, more consumers are looking for quality meat, as opposed to cheap, bland meat product. In these conditions, old breeds well-suited to living outdoors, such as the Old Spots, have increasingly been chosen by farmers looking to add value to their products.

GOS is currently on the "Critical" List by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy,[7] meaning there are fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and estimated fewer than 2000 global population. In the UK the Old Spots is listed as "Category 5, Minority" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as there are fewer than 1000 registered breeding females.[6][8]

In 1995 the last few Gloucester Old Spots (GOS) pigs had dwindled down to four animals in North America. Fifteen years before that time, a group of GOS pigs had arrived in the US from the UK but had since disappeared into the hybrid pig population. Kelmscott Rare Breeds Foundation (1994-2004), located in Lincolnville, Maine, felt that it could help re-establish the breed by bringing another group of GOS pigs from the UK to the US. Kelmscott, with the help of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, contacted farmers, in North America, who were interested in pig conservation and offered GOS piglets from the UK importation. A group of breeders joined Kelmscott in the project. Kelmscott farm contacted Richard Lutwyche, of the UK Gloucester Old Spots and he graciously assisted Kelmscott in locating willing farms that could contribute piglets from all four color groups for export. Robyn Metcalfe, owner of Kelmscott Farm, traveled to the UK farms to discuss details, see the proposed stock, and made arrangements with UK and USA agricultural departments. In 1996, after the piglets were born and passed through the required tests, they flew (on British Airways) as cargo to the USDA facility in New York. Twenty piglets arrived and, after a quarantine period , of a few months, arrived at Kelmscott Farm in Maine. Kelmscott and the other breeders picked up their pigs and met to re-establish the pig registry and breed association. By that time there were only two aged GOS living in the US. Kelmscott set up the organization and began developing a pig registry and registration process. Newsletters, a breed census, and other aspects of GOSA (Gloucestershire Old Spots of America) began to operate as Kelmscott and the other breeders began to raise the numbers of GOS pigs in North America. With the closure of the Kelmscott farm and a period of transition between registrars, the GOSA organization ceased to function.

In 2007 a group of concerned GOS admirers got together to rebuild GOSA; beginning with resurrecting the registration process. Between 2008 and the present, memberships were once again reinstated, a Board of Directors was voted in , consisting of a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Registrar/Treasurer, as designated by the Bylaws (click to view) that were brought up to date and expanded. The Board of Directors began to hold regular meetings, a newsletter was once again circulated, a breeders survey was taken, this new website was designed and launched and the first annual members meeting was held in 2010. GOSA is once again thriving, the number of GOS pigs are increasing while members and breeders are on the rise.

An application has been made to gain European Commission Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) status for Old Spots pig meat.[9] This was granted on 29 July 2010.

Other Interesting Facts

  • The Uley Brewery, a small independent based near Dursley in Gloucestershire, offers excellent ales such as Old Spot Prize Ale, Pig's Ear, Hogs Head and their strongest, Pigor Mortis! Naturally, their labels feature an illustration of a GOS pig. Visit Uley's Brewery.
  • Another alcoholic beverage featuring the GOS is Pig's Nose Scotch Whisky from Dowdeswell's of Oldbury-on-Severn. According to the label, "Tis said that our Scotch is as soft and smooth as a pig's nose" However, it is noted that the pig featured on the label does not have standard GOS ears which droop downwards towards the nose.
  • A pair of GOS pigs helped the British war effort in 1914. The German Kaiser had ordered and paid for two fine specimens in 1914 but the First World War broke out just before they could be exported and they were never sent. There was no record of the payment being returned, however.
  • The most expensive pig in Britain according to the Guinness Book of Records was Foston Sambo 21, a Gloucestershire Old Spots, which sold at auction in 1994 for 4,000 guineas (£4,200)
  • There is a public house on the outskirts of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire called the Gloucester Old Spot that specializes in serving rare breed pork and preserving the atmosphere of the historic pub.

Breed Characteristics

The GOS is a large breed, white in colour with a minimum of one distinct black spot. It has lop ears which will almost cover the face of a mature pig.

A good example of an adult GOS sow (side)
GOS sow (front)


  • Head: Long length with a slightly dished nose. The ears should be well set apart, dropping forward to the nose.
  • Body: The shoulders should be fine but not raised. A long level back with well sprung ribs and a broad loin are desirable. Deep sides, with a thick, full belly and flank from the ribs to hams are standard.
  • Hams: Large and well filled to the hocks.
  • Legs: Curved and strong.
  • Skin and Coat: Skin should not show coarseness or wrinkles. The hair should be silky and straight.
  • Teats: There should be at least fourteen well placed teats.


  • Ears: Short, thick and elevated.
  • Coat: A rose disqualifies. A line of mane bristles is objectionable. Sandy colour may disqualify.
  • Skin: Serious wrinkles. Blue undertone not associated with a spot.
  • Legs: Straight.
  • Neck: Heavy jowl objectionable.

Cyclic Breeding

The British GOS pig breeders developed the cyclic breeding system in an attempt to minimize inbreeding. All pure bred Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs belong to one of four color groups: Red, Black, Green and Blue, represented in the color chart to the left. Although GOS pigs all maintain the identical coloring, white with black spots, the color groups represent the family or lineage from which a pig originated. Referring to the color chart, Red Group Boars (Sambo) breed Black Group Sows, Black Group Boars (Patrick) breed Green Group Sows, Green Group Boars (Gerald) breed Blue Group Sows and Blue Group Boars (Rufus) breed Red Group Sows. It is important to note that the cyclic breeding is suggested not mandatory. Due to the shallow gene pool here in the US, breeding registered stock outside the color group, in some circumstances, may be advantageous for diversification. The only true requirement to register GOS piglets is that both the Dam and Sire have been registered by the US or UK GOS registry. For each color group there is up to 5 different female names but only one unique male name per group. All female offspring from a registered sow, whether bred following the color chart or not, inherit the color group and name of that sow, while the males take on the unique boar name of the particular color group designated by the Dam. Therefore a registered Green Princess sow's male offspring can be registered as a Green Gerald and a female offspring can be registered as a Green Princess, as long as the boar that fathered the litter is also registered.

See example here: GOS cyclic breeding table 1 or here GOS cyclic breeding table 2.

The advantages of the GOS breed can be summed up as follows:

Docile – making it a suitable choice for first time pig keepers and an important consideration for larger operations.

Hardy – the breed is kept in many parts of the UK where extremes of temperatures and weather patterns are experienced.

Good dams – the GOS is a milky breed and a good dam. In many cases, sows will continue breeding at a greater age than many breeds and hybrids.

Quality Pork & Bacon – there is a huge demand for the high quality meat produced by GOS pigs. Experience shows that good management can produce good quality carcases without excessive fat coverage.

They make an ideal crossing breed. Put to a white breed, the offspring will be white with the advantage of hybrid vigour.


The Gloucestershire Old Spot pig today has a very fine carcase and produces top quality meat for all purposes be it pork chops, roasting joints or sausages. Meat of this quality is in demand by the more discerning public and many butchers are now specialising in it. This is, of course, the breed’s future.

The biggest single factor in the regeneration of the GOS breed has been the increasing awareness of the eating qualities of its produce and the growing niche market as a result. It is a mistake to assume that pork is pork and that the breed it is derived from does not matter. Almost everyone could immediately tell the difference between the flavour of a Cox’s apple and a Golden Delicious. This difference comes from the genes that go into making these different varieties. Similarly, there are differences between pig breeds but most especially between traditional breeds such as the GOS and modern hybrids used to supply the mass market.

A big part of the difference lies in the fat. Modern pigs have hardly any fat whether as visible backfat or as marbling within the muscle. The GOS does have a distinct layer of backfat and marbling within the meat. That layer of backfat means that it is hardy enough for outdoor production but it also means that when the meat is cooking, it is being basted in its own fat making the meat succulent and full of flavor. GOS pork is red colored just like beef and marbled; the marbling keeps the meat from drying out during cooking and adds taste as the fat renders. Unlike the pork you buy in your food store, Old Spot pork rarely dries out in cooking. Older folks describe GOS pork as tasting like it did when they were kids; like it did in the “old country”.

The levels of backfat do not need to be excessive and that a well-finished pig of around 75kg liveweight should have a backfat measurement of around 12-15mm at P2. Excessively fat pigs are usually caused by poor diet or mismanagement. To carry this level of fat, the eye muscle (as seen in the round of lean meat on a loin chop) must be full and large and the GOS breed is well able to meet this demand.

For everything written here about pork, the same principles apply to quality bacon. The Old Spots has often been referred to as a "bacon" pig, due to the significant depth of body that provides a larger percentage of bacon per hundredweight of carcass. They often carry more fat than breeds that are more popular commercially.

The committee of the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders’ Club were far-sighted enough to set in motion the processes back in 1999 to register meat from pure bred GOS pigs as a special product in Europe. It was just as well because today traditional breeds such as the GOS face challenges from supermarkets wanting to sell the produce of cross-bred pigs labelled as Gloucestershire Old Spots Pork & Bacon.

In 2010, the Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders' Club was awarded Traditional Speciality Guaranteed status by the EU Commission. Full details can be found at

The Club is active in pursuing traders who mis-label meat and try to pass off produce as being GOS which does not come from purebred pedigree GOS pigs.

Please find more information about cooking with GOS pork here.

If you are interested in ordering GOS pork, you may find a small breeder here.


  1. ^ Gloucester Old Spot by John Miles. BBC 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
  2. ^ Breeds of Livestock — Gloucestershire Old Spots Swine
  3. ^
  4. ^ "GOSA". Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs of America. 
  5. ^ "A History of GOS". Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders Club. 
  6. ^ a b RBST Watchlist
  7. ^ American Livestock Breeds Conservancy — Breeds Information
  8. ^ Rare Breeds Survival Trust watch list accessed May 21, 2008
  9. ^ Written Answer given in the House of Lords, March 15, 2006: Column WA236 accessed at July 25, 2006
  10. ^ "GOS Meat". Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders Club. 

Further reading

  • Briggs, Hilton M. 1983. International Pig Breed Encyclopedia. Elanco Animal Health.
  • Mr Richard Lutwyche, Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig Breeders' Club, Cirencester, Gloucestershire.
  • Mason, I.L. 1996. A World Dictionary of Livestock Breeds, Types and Varieties. Fourth Edition. C.A.B International.

External links

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