If you've decided to start raising pigs for farming, there are plenty of ways to make a living with this livestock option. Farming pigs is a profitable business for both breeding stock and meat. Several popular pig breeds are available to choose from that offer different tastes, personalities, and care requirements to thrive on your homestead.
It typically takes about six months to raise pigs for meat, so most farmers opt to raise many pigs at a time to make a living. Some pigs also cost more than others in terms of their purchase price and feeding needs: By opting for heritage breeds that graze on your land, you'll need to raise fewer pigs to offset food costs. Thankfully, you can find the right pig breed for your farming business plan with different options to get started.
Here, learn about pig farming for beginners by exploring the pros and cons of raising commercial pigs versus heritage pigs, along with specific types of pigs for farming that can suit your household's needs.
“Factory” raised pigs are raised in large quantities on the mega hog house. These breeds are designed for optimal meat production, but they can be dry, bland, and tasteless compared to heritage pigs. They may not do as well on a homestead or small farm operation, as you may give your pigs more room to roam. Factory breeds can also lack some of the more traditional pig behaviors and instincts. They will require vast amounts of feed and may not be as adaptable to eating brush and pasture as heritage breeds. Commercial pigs also tend to be leaner than their heritage breed counterparts.
Heritage Pig Breeds
It’s likely that as a small farmer, raising a heritage pig breed is best. Tamworth, Large Black, and Berkshire pigs are common heritage breeds used on small farms, and all make excellent free-range pork. You may also find someone selling a cross breed, such as a Tamworth-Berkshire. There's nothing wrong with buying a mixed-breed pig as long as you aren’t starting your own pig-breeding operation.
A heritage breed is a breed that was developed before commercial farming became popular. These are classic pigs that were raised in backyards and barnyards in Europe and America, and they were selected for their ease of rearing, their tastes, and their hardiness. Heritage breed hogs have the ability to forage on pasture and brush easily, gaining almost all their nutrition from it. This makes heritage pig breeds especially good for life on a farm.
Pigs are able to glean most nutrition from pasture, and if supplemented with dairy and hay when fresh pasture isn’t available, you do not need to feed them commercial hog feed. Heritage breeds are more likely to do well on this regimen than a commercial pig breed.
There are hundreds of different pig breeds, but some are more common than others. Below, find a few of the most popular heritage breed pigs with a short description of their personalities and other attributes.
American Yorkshire Pigs
American Yorkshire pigs are originally from England, ironically, but were developed further in the United States. They are particularly good for bacon and hams, and they are known for good meat and their mothering ability.
Berkshires are known for their very tasty, darker meat. They are a popular niche breed for small farmers. They are one of the oldest breeds known. Berkshires are hardy, active foragers, and reach around 600 pounds at maturity. Personality-wise, they are curious, friendly, and have a very good disposition.
Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs
Gloucestershire Old Spots, also called GOS, are from England. This breed was historically used to clean up orchards. There are very few of them in the United States, and you may have to join a waitlist for them. These pigs are lighter-skinned and may require lots of shade in warmer, sunnier climates. GOS pigs reach market weight in about seven months.
This is one of the oldest American breeds still in existence. Hampshires have a white belt around the front of their body, including their front legs. These are excellent foraging pigs that are very hardy, and they produce excellent quality meat. Hampshires are also known as good pigs for beginners.
Herefords are lean meat hogs. They’re considered “pretty,” and they're often used for showing at 4-H and FFA fairs. They are adaptable to raising on pasture or in semi-confined spaces. Herefords are excellent at rooting and tilling. These pigs are readily available, with a large breeding population in the United States.
Large Black Pigs
Large Black pigs are hardy, thrifty, and easy to manage. They originated in England and are also known as the Cornwall, Devon, or Lop-eared Black. They have long and deep bodies, as they were originally bred for bacon. Large Black pigs manage well on pasture and were originally raised in rough conditions, so they’re very adaptable. Their dark-pigmented skin means they are resistant to sunburn.
Tamworth pigs are originally from England and are smaller compared to some other breeds. They’re especially good at producing lots of tasty bacon.