So, you’ve decided that pigs are a good choice for your farm, and you want to raise them for meat. You’re wondering: what breed do I get? What breeds are available? What are the pros and cons of different pig breeds?
“Factory” raised pigs, raised in large quantities on the mega hog house, are designed for optimal meat production but are pretty dry, bland and tasteless. They may not do as well on a homestead or small farm operation, as you may give your pigs more room to roam, and factory breeds may 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, you will want to raise a heritage pig breed. Tamworth, Large Black and Berkshire are common heritage breeds used on the small farm, and all make excellent free-range pork. You may also find someone selling a cross breed, such as a Tamworth-Berkshire. 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 old-time pigs that were raised in backyards and barnyards in Europe and America, pigs that 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.
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.
Here are some of the more common heritage breed pigs with a short description of their personalities and other attributes. There are hundreds of breeds of pig, so this list is by no means exhaustive.
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 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, and historically used to clean up orchards. There are very few of them in the United States and you may have to get on a wait list for them. GOS’s are lighter skinned and may require lots of shade in warmer, sunnier climates. GOS’s 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, very hardy and produce excellent quality meat. Hampshires are supposed to be a good pig for beginners.
Herefords are a lean meat hog. They’re considered “pretty,” and 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 Blacks 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 a long and deep body, as they were originally bred as a bacon-type pig. Large Blacks 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.