Iberian pigs are associated with wooded pastures and natural feeding methods. The Iberian breed of pig has its origins in three different areas: Mediterraneus, African coasts and spreading up to the Southern regions of Europe. The pastures where you find these pigs are usually Mediterranean forests where there are species of the genus Quercus trees, that produce acorns, mainly oaks, cork trees and gall oaks. There are sometimes chestnut and carob trees as well. On occasions, when it tends to rain more, pastures appear where pigs can feed. The Dehasa environment provides: acorns, herbs and grass which provides, in the spring time, part of maintenance that serves as an essential complement of free range feeding; stubble fields (although little by little the sheep are displacing the pigs in their grazing to make less waste) and the acorns, the fruit of the Quercus trees, that varies according to the weather and it is often concentrated in Extremadura and part of Andalucía.
The types of Iberian pig can vary according to their colour and thickness of hair, they can be:
- Black, with some proportion of fat, they are usually thinner and small than the coloured ones. Within this type we have: with undercoat and hairless. The undercoated ones have stong bristles all over their body. They have good distribution, a more stretched line, but with less fat than the hairless blacks. This variety is almost extinct. It also has a worse perfomance in free range feeding than the hairless blacks, as it does not behave well in the pastures. The hairless ones don't have any hair, they are thicker and possess a higher quantity of fat, in the front you can see folds of fat. They are often used to make delicatessen products, creating high quality products with a good distribution of meat. They are usually found in Cáceres, Badajoz and Córdoba, in the river valleys. This variety has practically disappeared.
Among Black Iberian pigs there are hairless and undercoated.
- Coloured: brown (undercoated and hairless) and blonde (Cadiz grey and golden plains).
The brown coloured Iberian pigs are usually found in the provinces of Salamanca, Toledo, Cáceres, Badajoz, Ciudad Real, Sevilla and Córdoba. The variety is the most widespread. It is characterized by a red coat and comes from a cross between Olivenza brown, Portuguese brown or Alentejo breed. This breed adapts well and has a good growth capacity with a good lean meat percentage. It also stands out as having a higher proportion of muscles than the other varieties.
The blondes are a semi-fat type with silky bristles and are found in Córdoba, Sevilla and in Cádiz. They provide a good Iberian ham, very muscular. This breed has virtually disappeared.
- Spotted Jabugo: also called just Jabugo. They are reared in the mountains of North Huelva, it is blonde with black or dark grey spots. Its size varies, and at two years old it can reach between 120 and 190 kg.
Regarding the methods of fattening, we can speak of three different types:
1) Montanera (natural): this not only depends on the type of pig, but the number of animals in the pasture and the quality and proportion of the grass. This phase of the diet usually begins at the end of october and finishes in January or early February (in pastures with oak trees it will depend on when the acorns grow). The area is enclosed by fences and the pigs are kept in the area, eating the grass and the acorns until they run out.
2) Recebo (part feed): this is used when with the montanera method can't provide enough acorns, therefore they help the process along with 1 or 1.5 kg of feed everyday. This is usually used when there is a large number of animals in attempt to make it more profitable. There is a fattening method of better quality, which is when the pigs are fed acorns up until the last few days before the slaughter, in which they are given feed.
The pigs fattened with the 'recebo' method are fed acorns and are given suplementary feed.
3) Feed: often used in intensive farming, where the pigs are fattened throughout the year. With these pigs, they try not to slaughter them at the same time as those fed on acorns (between December and March). They are kept in soil or concrete floored pens. These pigs are fed wisely with the feed.
Today, the Iberian pig can be seen in three Denominations of Origin: Guijuelo ham, Huelva ham and Dehesa Extremadura ham.