Some believe that pigs were the earliest animal to be domesticated, not the cat or dog. Paintings and carvings of pigs over 25,000 years ago have been found. The Chinese domesticated pigs 7,000 years ago. When William the Conqueror ascended the throne in England in 1066 he decreed that anyone shooting a wild boar would be punished with the loss of their eyes. Hogs have been condemned and idolized throughout history and the Bible. They have also been one of Agriculture's best income sources, but best of all a very good source of protein.
The story of the Yorkshire is the story of England. All through the early times, the fortunes of the hog was bound up with forests of England. In those days, over vast areas, stood forests of oak and beech. From them came the timbers to build the ship that made England a great maritime power. From the forest of Hampshire came the timbers to build the ship that made England a great maritime power. From the forest of Hampshire came the timbers to build that Mayflower which carried the Pilgrim Fathers to New England. And what a wonderful storehouse of feeding stuffs in acorn and beech mast. There was enough, and more than enough, to fatten all the hogs for the killing season, which in those days was late Autumn and early Winter.
By the beginning of the 16th Century hogs had become much more numerous. In towns the hog owners kept their hogs in sties and tended to their stock themselves. In some towns it was the custom to clean out the sties once a week on Saturdays on account of the hogs were allowed to run about the streets from noon ill evening. At times they must have been a bit of a nuisance, for King Henry VIII ordered all inhabitants of Wimbledon to ring and yoke their hogs before the feast of St. Martin under penalty of 12 pence per hog, a stiff fine in those days.
In the 1770's a number of the Chinese hogs were brought to England. Sus indicus, which had stayed apart for all those centuries, was now to mingle its blood with that of sus scrofa.
The hardy artisans of the North of England liked their hogs to be large, and they liked the meat to be full flavored and red.
Those Northern Shires became the cradle of the Yorkshires, molded in the main, and in some strains exclusively from the indigenous English hogs. The early years of the nineteenth century saw the face of the country-side steadily changing. The Georgian enclosures had created a pattern of farms and estates. Lawns were crowing around the cotton mills of Lancashire and the woolen mills of Yorkshire. The population was increasing, and throughout the Northern Shires cult of the hog was strong. It was here, in the heart of the industrial belt that the big rugged white hogs found their most ardent supporters.
They set in motion the great institution of the Agricultural Show. Gradually throughout the land, local and county shows became the focal point where livestock breeders could compare their stock with the best in the locality, or in the case of the National Shows with the best in the land. Nowhere in all the Northern Shires was interest in the showyard greater than in the town of Keighley in Yorkshire.
By now it was the middle of the nineteenth century, Victorian times. Some twenty years earlier the first railway in the world had been built linking Stockton with Darlington in Yorkshire. Travel became swifter and easier and the great National Show, the "Royal", was able to go on circuit. Visiting various pans of the country in turn.
In 1851, Joseph Luley, one of the greatest breeders of this time, showed a team of his hogs in the classes for the Large White Breed where they immediately attracted wide spread attention. Now they were more than a breed of local repute, they were a breed of national repute. Luley linked them forever with Yorkshire, and started them off on a great journey that was to take them to the ends of the Earth.
The Yorkshire hogs owed much in those early years to the herd of N. Wainman of Carhead, in the Kneighley district. he chanced to be riding by as a working man was exercising his sow during the mid-day dinner break. Delighted with the glimpse he had, he turned back and bought her there and then on what he described as an "uncontrollable impulse." She went back to Yorkshire, to Kneighly, for she was one of Luley's hogs, and it is through her descendants that some of the entries of the first herd book can be traced back to Luley's hogs. He founded it, the great Duchess family at Carhead, and was the dam of Cheimsford Duchess, the first Carhead winner at the "Royal" Show, and one of the first, if not the first Yorkshire to be exported. She was sold to go to France and when put on rail in Yorkshire turned the scales at 1307.
Now the hogs were coming out from the Shire were so many Bakewell's improved Leicestershire hogs had gone. The big white hog of the Northern Shires, of Yorkshire and Lancashire, of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, had become numerically the largest breed in the land, and were looking to be the largest breed in the world, the Universal Breed.
But farther afield they went, to the United States, and to Australia. Those breeders knew the ancestry of their hogs and kept their own private records, but as yet there was no Breed Society. By 1883 a move to form a Breed Society, which would keep a central record of pedigrees, was decided upon. They had the good hogs and they now sought to maintain the standard and maintain the purity of their strains. by this time Pedigree had acquired a new and more vital meaning.
In 1865 the monk, Gregor Mendel, had read a paper to the Brunn Society a paper which was published in 1866, in which he expounded his Laws of inheritance, and illustrated them by his experiments on peas. His attention was not directed to the plant as a whole, but to individual characters, color, shape of seed, etc. He had found two distinct groups of characters which he named Dominant and Recessive. He had discovered the existence of what were later to be called "genes".
In 1884 the National Pig Breeder's Association was founded with Lore Moneton as its first President. The Association began the task of annually compiling a volume of the Herd Book. Now the Yorkshire hogs were classed as belonging to the Large White breed, but for fifty years and more they were as often as not referred to as Yorkshires.
By its very nature the recording of births and parentage must rest solely upon the word of the individual breeder, and the value of the Association rest upon the probity of its members. Such has been the standard of conduct, throughout the years, that the guarantee of pedigree given by the N.P.B.A. in an export certificate is accepted without question in every land.
It is thought that the first Yorkshires brought into the United States were brought to Ohio around 1830, which would have been sixty years before the American Yorkshire Club was organized. There was not a National Pork Producers Council or even State or County Swine Organizations in those days.
The Yorkshire breed saw many ups and downs over the years. In the early 20's, the Morrell Packing Company of Ottumwa, Iowa, and the Hormel Packing Company at Austin, Minnesota, under the direction of the late Lew Reeves who was head hog buyer at Hormel, tried promoting Yorkshires to farmers around the area. This was following World War I and the market for lard was vanishing. It was unfortunate at the time that too many Yorkshires had far too much Middle and Small White in them and consequently were very slow growing and had very short and pugged noses. Yorkshires had failed to gain a foothold with farmers.
It was not until the late Jess Andrews, Sr. of West Point. Indiana, imported many English Large Whites from the British Isles for the Neville's, Curtiss Candy Company and others, that the Yorkshire breed started to find favor with farmers. Farmers saw what Yorkshire could do for them and soon started to accept Yorkshire breeding stock. Mothering ability, larger litters, more length, more scale and frame were so badly needed by many producers that they were again ready to try Yorkshires, and this time they were satisfied!
Alfred Accola of Iowa topped the first test in the Iowa Test Station, which was the first station of this kind in the United States. Yorkshires led all breeds on rate of gain and feed conversion after the first eight tests. Today Yorkshires have grown at over 3.00 pounds/day with feed conversions at 1.94.
The first Yorkshire registered in the United States was Clover Crest A. a boar imported from Canada by Wilcox & Liggett of Benson, Minnesota, who were officers of the Yorkshire Club. They purchased the boar from the Ontario Agriculture College. However I.E. Brethour of Burford, Ontario, Canada, bred or owned many of the animals that made up this first Yorkshire in the United States.
The first herd book was published in 1901 and was edited by Secretary Maj. A.G. Wilcox and Professor Thomas Shaw of the University of Minnesota. It was published by the Webb Publishing Company of St. Paul, Minnesota who now own and publish the National Hog Farmer. In this first herd book, Volume I of the American Yorkshire Club there were 37 members listed from the United States and two from Canada. The state of Minnesota led with 14 members; North Dakota was next with 4; Iowa had 3; Illinois, Michigan, Kansas and Wisconsin followed with 2 members each; and Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Texas, Ohio, Massachusetts, South Dakota and Nebraska had one member each. There were a total of 309 breeders from the United States who registered Yorkshires in Volume 1.
The first sow registered in the United States started with No. 405 as the boar and sow numbers were kept separate in those days. Her name was Thomas' Hester not much of a female name and was bred by the Wilcox Company, known as Clover Crest Farm at White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
Volume I shows that John Morrell & Co., of Ottumwa, Iowa purchased their first Yorkshires at the turn of the century. The first Yorkshires from Scotland were imported by Hills & Price of Delaware, OH. Volume II was printed in 1904 again by the Webb Publishing Company. There were 1,346 boars; and 2.772 sows listed in Volume II. Volume III was printed in 1906 with 869 boars and 1,129 sows in it for a total of 1,998 head.
World War I was adding problems for Yorkshire progress. All oils and fats were badly needed for production of ammunition as well as food and many other things. There were no soybeans and fewer other vegetable oils to turn to. Consequently, the progress already made in the trend from a lard hog to a so-called "Bacon Hog" in those days was wiped out in a hurry. There was little incentive to produce hogs with "Muscle" which was a much better word than "Bacon". Lard was selling for as much as muscle, which left little argument to try and convince a farmer that he should be producing a "Meat Hog".
Yorkshire pushed forward. There were 488 head registered in 1940 and the Secretary's salary was half of the fees, or $260. A low was reached in 1935 with 150 head registered and 25 transferred. You could call these 'lean years' a 'Yorkshire Depression'.
Other problems existed in the transportation of breeding stock sold by breeders. There were no Interstate roads in those days, no Hertz trailers or trailers of any kind and no pickup trucks. In fact, there were very few gravel roads, let alone any paving.
1948 was also the year the American Yorkshire Club was reorganized and became a membership organization. Martin Gannon followed Robert Shannon as secretary in 1954 and he served until 1957. Wilbur L. Plager became secretary on October 1, 1957 and served in that capacity until October 1, 1972 for fifteen years. During those fifteen years the Yorkshire breed became known universally as the "The Mother Breed" and it would flourish under Plager's leadership. Around 500,000 Yorkshires were registered, in comparison to a little over 200,000 in the first 64 years. Wilbur helped put the Yorkshire breed in a position to be accepted by the commercial producer and Yorkshires were on their way to national prominence.