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The herds which had cross-bred cleverly still stood; the improved carcass quality and production efficiency of the scientifically-bred Landrace enhanced the originally hardy constitution of the old Welsh breed and made them economically viable, reducing Bill's father, who had never hybridised, to the standing of a hobbyist.

Eventually, his fight for purity backfired. Increasingly, piglets were born with defects, all with cartoon names - 'splay leg', 'kinky tail', 'blind anus' - all harking back to some sexual deviance. In desperation, in '57 he introduced a line of Landrace boars, hired in from across the border. Ironically, they were of Danish origin, rather than the Swedish stock: the Danish strain had already caused great problems out in Canada.

The pigs born developed raised lesions on their skin, had broken hooves, died easily of pneumonia, and it took some time for the local vet - a cow man, really - to diagnose the hereditary Dermatosis vegetans. Everyone was pretty sure the semi-lethal recessive gene responsible lingered in the Danish pigs.

He fought through it more or less, but then a few years later pigs started to simply die. They diagnosed swine erysipelas - the thing they call 'the diamonds'.

The germs that cause this can live in piggeries and on 'pig-sick' land for years, so it was assumed the pigs that came in brought this.

In one form of this disease, the skin discolours into raised purplish areas, which at first looked like the dermatosis again, so they did not treat it properly.

The purplish areas run along the back and over the flank and belly and look like diamonds, more or less, which is where the sickness gets its name.

In the chronic form, the pig's joints are affected, causing lameness, or the germ attacks the heart valves, making cauliflower like growths on them until they fail and the pig dies. The vet looked at the dead hearts and gave his misdiagnosis.

The pigs were becoming recognisably 'depressed', went weak, then collapsed and died within a day or else died suddenly. It was really Mulberry Heart disease, and the second, younger vet confirmed this when he found the bloated, mottled livers and hearts lacerated with haemorrhages.

The herd was culled and any of the good meat sold. Bill's father gave all the money he could to the bank and a few years later shot himself.

Before that happened, another farm bought the place and broke it up. They used much of the land themselves, but let the family stay in the house for a rent, and farm cows on some of the land. The family never knew the place was not theirs any more, their father kept that from them.

When the old man died and they couldn't work the farm any more, the big farm sold it. They had to move into a small house in the village but Bill could not adapt.

Continues tomorrow
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 19, 2006
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