Perfect Pigs: Which Pig Breed Is Best for Your Farm?

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Perfect Pigs: Which Pig Breed Is Best for Your Farm?

Every farm could use a few pigs! Add a little “oink” to your life by raising your own.

Don’t know where to start? Here are some tips for deciding which pig breed is best for your farm!

The following is an excerpt from The New Livestock Farmer by Rebecca Thistlethwaite and Jim Dunlop. It has been adapted for the web.

Which Pigs Are Best for Your Farm?

Of course it must be said that there are often more differences within a breed than between breeds, but we’ll attempt to make some somewhat accurate generalizations about the different types of pigs.

Choosing Pigs: Breed Vs. Performance

Instead of looking for a certain breed of pig, try to find pigs that will perform under the conditions on your farm and produce the type of meat preferred by your market.

White pigs will sunburn in summer when raised outdoors. White pigs often don’t have very much hair, which makes them less suited for outdoor production systems but easier to scald and scrape on the processing end of things.

Pig Personalities

Pigs from lines that have been raised in intensive confinement operations will generally be poor mothers on pasture and have a lot of their foraging drive bred out of them.

Generally a heritage breed pig is going to be calmer than a lean and fast-growing “confinement- type” pig.

Pigs can be really fun and friendly, or high-strung and aggressive—what kind of animals do you want to spend time with? Do you want pigs that will come up to you for a scratch or pigs that are more aloof?

Cross-Breeding Pigs

If you are raising pigs for meat, you will likely want to cross-breed to capitalize on the heterosis (hybrid vigor) provided by your cross.

If you plan on cross-breeding or buying in weaner pigs, you should have an understanding of the various pig breeds, their different temperaments, how big they get, their foraging ability, and their meat qualities. We will cover some of our favorite heritage and conventional pig breeds.

Heritage Breeds

Heritage breeds generally have more fat than conventional breeds and take longer to grow to market weight.

They are suitable for niche markets and generally have more backfat and intramuscular fat, so you will have to be clever about using the whole animal and finding markets for the fat.

Many of them are considered exceptional foragers, are hardy in a wide range of conditions, and possess excellent mothering abilities.

Berkshire

Medium-sized, long, black pigs with white points and prick ears. Although Berkshires are considered a heritage breed, the modern heavily muscled American Berkshire looks nothing like its short-snouted British relatives.

They have been bred to be large, heavily muscled, and fast-growing, just like other conventional breeds. The only difference is their ability to build considerable intramuscular fat marbling, making for tasty and juicy pork that is sometimes sold as “Kurubota pork.”

Good for using as terminal sire, lean meat production, cross-breeding, hardiness, and ability to produce in a variety of settings.

Tamworth

Red pig with prick ears, long lean body, and long snout. Tamworths are more lean than other heritage breeds, and are known for producing high-quality bacon.

They are good, protective mothers that often kneel and lie down gently. We have raised a lot these pigs and find them to be strong foragers and very hardy. We love the cross of Tamworths with Gloucestershire Old Spots, both for market hogs and replacement gilts.

Gloucestershire Old Spots

Large, curvy white pig with a few black spots and big lop ears. Known as an orchard pig in England, they are a docile pig that produces a lot of fat. They are hesitant to cross an area with a removed electric fence because of limited visibility.

Old Spots require patience when handling because ears reduce vision and their default is to stand still rather than run. Good for maternal lines, foraging ability, meat production, and lard.

American Guinea Hog

Small black pig with prick ears and short snout. Guinea Hogs are easy to handle on small acreages and don’t root as deeply. They are very fatty and easy to overfatten.

We have raised Guinea Hogs and are amazed at their willingness to forage all day. They are the most docile pigs that we have raised, almost like pets. They love belly rubs. Good for small, easy to handle carcasses, lard, and making cured products.

They have the smallest percentage of lean meat—roughly 40 percent of their carcass is lean meat.

Large Black

Docile, medium-sized black pigs with big lop ears. Good for bacon, cured meats, and production in rough conditions. Large Blacks are good mothers with lots of milk, are good foragers, and can raise large litters outdoors.

Red Wattle

Large red pig with wattles under chin. This is not a very improved or standardized breed, therefore there is consider- able variation. Some may take 6 months to grow out, others 10. They are known to be good foragers and hardy in a wide range of conditions.

Cross-breeds

Some favorite cross-breeds we have seen and farmers have told us about include: Tamworth (lean, bacon pig) crossed with Gloucestershire Old Spot (lard-type pig), Large Black with Tamworth, Berkshire with Tamworth, and Large Black with Red Wattle.

Conventional Breeds

Conventional pigs are generally leaner than heritage pigs and grow faster.

Although many of these breeds have been around for a long time and could be considered “heritage” breeds, they are mainly being bred for intensive confinement production, heavy muscling, and lean carcasses, and lack many of their original traits such as mothering and foraging abilities.

If you are going to use these breeds in your program, look for lines that have been raised on pasture for many generations. They may make a nice addition to a cross-breeding program.

American Yorkshire

Large white pig with prick ears. Good for bacon, ham, lean pork, maternal milk production, and large litters.

Hampshire

Black pig with white band around the middle. Good for hardiness, terminal sire, meat production, and foraging ability. High-energy, aggressive personality.

Chester White

Known for high conception rates and large litters with heavy weaning weights. Often used in cross-breeding programs. Produces heavily muscled offspring.

Duroc

Large, athletic-looking red pig with slightly drooping ears. Good for hardiness, foraging ability, meat, terminal sire, unequaled conversion rate of feed to meat, and protective mothers.

They are most commonly used as a terminal sire because their fecundity rates are inferior (small litter sizes). Even the famous Iberian pigs are now using Duroc boars for 50 percent crosses because they grow bigger, meatier, and faster than 100 percent Iberian genetics.

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Feeding Your Pigs: Tips and Techniques

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.