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Grice reconstructed.jpg
A reconstruction of a grice
Conservation status Extinct
Other names
  • Highland
  • Hebridean
  • Irish
Country of origin Scotland
  • Pig
  • Sus scrofa domesticus

The grice was a breed of swine found in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and in Ireland.[1][2] It became extinct, surviving longest in the Shetland Isles, where it disappeared sometime after the middle of the 19th century. It was also known as the Highland, Hebridean or Irish pig.[2][3]


"Grice" is a Scots and northern English dialect word originally meaning "young pig" (compare the Scandinavian gris, meaning "pig").[4]


Accounts from the early 19th century suggest the grice was an aggressive animal with small tusks, an arched back, and a coat of stiff dark bristles over a wiry woollen fleece.[3][5] Highland examples were described as "a small, thin-formed animal, with bristles standing up from nose to tail...".[2] Like other livestock in these areas, the grice was small and hardy, able to survive the harsh environmental conditions.[6] Highland grice foraged for berries on moorland.[2]

Most Shetland crofts would have at least one grice kept on grazing lands, but they would often roam across adjacent farmland, rooting up crops and occasionally killing and eating newborn lambs. According to geologist Samuel Hibbert, who wrote an account of the islands in 1822, although the grice was "small and scrawny", its meat made "excellent hams" when cured. Islanders also made footballs from grice bladder, and even windowpanes from their intestines, by stretching the membrane over a wooden frame until it was sufficiently thin to allow light to pass through. The animal's bristles were used as thread for sewing leather and for making ropes. However, useful as the animals no doubt were, neighbours were constantly grumbling about the behaviour of their neighbour's grice, and the courts were empowered to confiscate particularly troublesome ones, and to impose "hefty fines" on their owners.[6]

In the 19th century, landowners discouraged the keeping of these swine (one agricultural writer commented "it is voracious in the extreme, and excessively difficult to confine in pasture or to fatten: it is also destructive and mischievous, and therefore ought gradually to be extirpated"[3]). This, combined with the increasing import of other breeds from the Scottish mainland, resulted in a dwindling grice population, and sometime between the middle of the 19th century[7] and the 1920s the breed was extinct.[8] The legacy of grice remains, however. The wild bulb vernal squill is known locally as "grice's onions" because it was a favourite food of the swine.[9][10]

In 2006 curators at the Shetland Museum and Archives commissioned a taxidermist to recreate a grice from the stuffed body of an immature wild boar. As no one alive had seen a grice, the accuracy of the model relied on descriptions in "published sources ... investigated artefact and archaeological findings".[11] The model grice went on public display in spring 2007.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hall, Stephen J. G.; Clutton-Brock, Juliet (1989), Two Hundred Years of British Farm Livestock, British Museum (Natural History), p. 203, ISBN 0-565-01077-8
  2. ^ a b c d Culley, George, (1807), Observations on Livestock, pub Wilkie, Robinson et al, p 176
  3. ^ a b c Macdonald, J (1810), General view of the agriculture of the Hebrides, or Western Isles of Scotland, pub Richard Phillips et al, Edinburgh, p 486
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary 1933: Headword "Grice"
  5. ^ Extinct island pig spotted again
  6. ^ a b Pain, Stephanie (23–30 December 2006), "And This Little Pig became extinct", New Scientist: 70–71
  7. ^ Shetland pig is not so appealing as the pony
  8. ^ Fenton, Alexander (1997-11-15). "Pigs in Fetlar". The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. Tuckwell Press. p. 498. ISBN 9781862320581. Note that Fetlar is one of the North Isles of Shetland.
  9. ^ Foula—The Edge of the World, Foula Heritage, archived from the original on 2007-09-15, retrieved 25 May 2010
  10. ^ Christopher, Somerville (2017-02-28). "June". The January Man: A Year of Walking Britain. Doubleday UK. p. 165. ISBN 9780857523631.
  11. ^ "Extinct island pig spotted again". BBC News. 17 November 2006. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  12. ^ "New museum opens doors to public". BBC News. 2 June 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2010.

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