Which pig breed is suitable for your farm?

Once you’ve decided to start breeding pigs, one of the first decisions to make is which breed of pig to choose. There is a wide variety of pig breeds around the world and many have their own unique characteristics. Below are several factors to consider when deciding which breed is best for your home.

Factors to consider when breeding pigs

First, think about what interests you in keeping pigs. Are you making this choice for meat, to breed them, or to keep them as pets? If they’re for meat, do you want to sell them commercially or just keep them for yourself?

Next, it’s important to honestly evaluate your available space. Do you have outdoor space for the pigs to forage and if so how much? Which part of that space is pasture or forest?

Also consider the period in which you want to raise these pigs. Do you have the shelter and infrastructure to house pigs all year round or does it make more sense to start with something seasonal?

Finally, consider how much experience you have. Depending on the pig breed, your experience and environment may determine which breed makes the most sense for you.

In this article today, I’ll be reviewing some of the most popular breeds in the United States and going over some of my own favorites. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should be enough to get you started on your pig journey.

Purebred or crossbred

You should consider whether you are interested in a purebred, heritage variety or a crossbred pig. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Single heritage breeds are generally known for their specific qualities, many of which are desirable. Whether it’s foraging ability, hardiness or gentleness around humans, pig breeds can be as unique in their temperament as they are in appearance. But as with any purebred animal, pigs of one breed may be at greater risk for certain hereditary conditions. Alternatively, crossbred pigs can take advantage of their diverse genetics. Hybrid vigor often leads to increased resilience, disease resistance and the potential for faster growth.

Still, many smallholders, ranchers, and homesteaders will argue for the importance of preserving unique heritage breeds. With the dawn of industrialized agriculture, the “desirable” traits of many animals narrowed to weight gain efficiency. In the factory farm environment, the acceptance of breeds of pigs dwindled to a small number and the popularity of crossbred animals grew. While good foraging or maternal instincts can be important to a farmer who wants to put a small herd of pigs out to pasture, unfortunately it matters less for an operation where a pig is kept in a small box for its entire life.

This change meant that many breeds of pigs were endangered before people noticed and actively worked to bring them back. Homesteaders and smallholders have done a lot of deliberate work over the years to support heritage breeds that might otherwise have disappeared. You can also take this into account when determining the breed you want to breed.

Finally, if you’re raising pigs for the sale of meat, do your research. There are plenty of discerning chefs who are loyal, enthusiastic connoisseurs of specific single-breed pork. If you live near such a market, this pork can fetch a high price. On the other hand, if you’re selling meat in a more conventional market, cutting and grinding may be important. Some meat buyers prefer white-haired breeds to dark-haired breeds, while some prefer slow-growing, pasture-raised heritage pigs. Research your market before going all in on one variety.

Pig Breeds to Consider

Berkshire

One of the oldest heritage breeds in the US Generally black with white faces and legs, they were bred primarily for their special marbled meat which I’ve heard described as the Angus or Kobe beef of the pig world. They are said to be hardy, smart, decent collectors and easygoing. Because of their dark hair, they do not burn quickly. They have fairly small casts and can be hard to find in the US. They are considered a lard pig.

Chester White

This breed is best known for their maternity and long years of fertility, so they are popular in the commercial world for breeding and in crossbreeding. They are solid white so they are very prone to sunburn and are smaller in stature than some of the other popular all white breeds.

Duroc

This is the second most popular breed in the US. They reach market weight faster than any other pig, so they are often bred in crosses and are popular in the commercial world. They are generally lean, solid red in color and their thicker hair means they can withstand the sun better and do well outside. They are generally not known for their maternal ability.

Hereford

Similar in color to Hereford cattle, these pigs have red bodies with white faces, bellies and legs. Popular in commercial production until the 1960s, they are now more commonly found on small farms and ranches. They are known for their calm temperament, overall hardiness and excellent maternal instincts. They are popular in 4H programs. They graze well in the pasture and require less feed and grain than some other fast-growing pigs. They reach market weight quickly, within 5 to 6 months.

Kunekune

This breed is small in stature with short legs and round, stout bodies. We grow Kunekunes on our farm and I have found them to be friendly, trainable and curious. They are extremely social and great with children and other animals. This makes them easy to handle, but emotionally challenging if you’re raising them for meat.

They have thick hair and upturned snouts which means they are great foragers and their rooting behavior is less destructive than other pig breeds. They are real pasture pigs (we graze them with our sheep) and need significantly less grain than other breeds. Originally from New Zealand, Kunekunes are smaller and slower to grow than commercial varieties, and can take up to 15 months to reach market weight. They are considered to be large pigs and their meat, similar to Berkshire and Mangalitsa, is fatty, marbled and prized in certain chef circles. These are great pigs for novice pig farmers because of their gentle nature and small stature.

Landrace

These large white pigs are popular in the commercial meat market, although they burn easily and therefore need good sun protection. They were bred for longer, leaner bodies, which means more bacon and chops per pig. They are known for their large litters and excellent mothering skills, so they are often used as breeders. They quickly reach adult weight, within about 6 months.

big black pigs

These pigs are large and black (no kidding!) with distinctive large floppy ears that often cover their eyes. They are said to be some of the calmest and friendliest pigs despite their size and are known for their hardiness, adaptability, good foraging ability and maternal instinct. They grow more slowly than commercial varieties and reach a market weight of about 9 to 12 months. They are on The Livestock Conservancy’s “Critically Endangered” list.

mangalitsa

Originally from Hungary, these pigs are notable for their unique, woolly appearance. They have long, curly hair which is why they are sometimes mistaken for sheep, although their fur is often black, red or blond. They are extremely hardy in cold climates. Best known for their fatty, heavily marbled meats rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, Mangalitsa is prized in some circles of specialist chefs. Like Berkshires and Kunekunes, they are considered a hog pig. Smaller than commercial pigs and slower growing, they usually reach market weight around 15 months. They are generally friendly and easy to handle, so they make a good addition to a home. The breed nearly went extinct in the 1990s, but has made a gradual comeback.

Poland China

These are some of the largest pigs in the world. They are black with white legs, tail tip and muzzle. They often have large litters and calm, friendly temperaments. They gain weight easily on less food than other commercial breeds. The largest pig ever recorded was a Poland China named “Big Bill” in 1933, who weighed 2,552 pounds.

red wattle pig

Developed from wild boars in Texas, this breed is generally red, but sometimes has black spots or even completely black coloring. They are named for their distinctive wattles. They are good collectors, hardy and fast growers with lean and tender meat. With plenty of space, they tend to have a calm and friendly demeanor, but when confined, they are said to become quite excitable. They are on The Livestock Conservancy’s “endangered” list.

Tamworth

These pigs are light reddish gold with erect ears and long snouts. They are short-bodied and don’t grow as tall as many commercial breeds. They are hardy, independent, do great in the pasture and are naturally good at foraging, although they can be pushy or even aggressive if not given enough space.

Yorkshire

Currently the most popular pig breed in the US. They have pink skin and white hair, which makes them burn easily. They grow quickly but take longer to reach final weight than other popular varieties, about 10 months. Due to their large size, large litters and general tendency to mother well, they are often bred in crosses.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the breed of pig you choose will depend not only on your pig breeding goals, your space and experience, but also the price and availability within your market. Once you have chosen your breed of pig, make sure you have the infrastructure and space to give them a healthy and happy life before taking them home. And whatever you choose, I encourage you to bring home at least two pigs. Pigs are highly intelligent, social creatures that always do better with friends.

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