I can’t tell you what breeds of pigs my grandfather raised, it wasn’t something I even thought of until we decided we wanted to raise them ourselves. Sadly, he was no longer in this world for me to talk to about it. Some of my earliest memories are of him teaching me to slop the hogs.
When it comes to animals on the homestead, choosing the right breed to succeed is crucial. Choosing the best breeds of pigs for the homestead offers challenges all its own. Who knew there were so many choices?
When you choose the best breeds of pigs for your goals and resources, you’re on your way to a productive, easier to handle, and more hardy herd. As you probably know, we choose to raise heritage breeds of livestock and poultry. This is good for them and for us.
Preserving endangered and/or heritage breeds is a goal we set for ourselves. You don’t have to choose heritage breeds of pigs like we do, choose the breed that suits the purposes and plans for your piece of homestead heaven.
Our Top Choices For Heritage Breeds of Pigs
My husband and I are of two mindsets on this subject, shocker huh? He prefers the Red Wattle while I slightly prefer the Large Black Hog. As with all things, we’ll compromise and raise both.
The Red Wattle Pig
The Red Wattle is a docile breed and is on the Livestock Conservancy’s threatened list. All we can know for sure about the origins of this breed is it came from east Texas. Around 1970, Mr. H.C. Wengler came across a wild herd of red wattled pigs and began to breed them using selective breeding practices.
Around 1980 a man by the name of Robert Prentice found another herd in the woods and began his breeding program using the line of “Timberline” pigs he already had.
Just where these unique wild hogs came from no one seems to know. It’s believed they were breeds of pigs used by early settlers of North America which have been roaming free in the woods from generation to generation.
The Red Wattle breed gets its name from the wattle attached to each side of its neck. They are impressive when you see them because of their size and docile nature. Is it just me or do larger animals seem to be docile?
Most Red Wattles I’ve seen are red in color, but they also are known to be red with black spots to even nearly all black. The tips of their ears droop quite a bit and it’s wise to talk or make sounds when approaching to make sure you don’t startle them. Even though they’re docile, you don’t want to shock an animal that can weigh over 1000 lbs.
Characteristics of Red Wattle Pigs
This breed is known for being good foragers, hardy, and having an excellent growth rate. The meat is lean and tender. The sows are excellent mothers successfully farrowing and rearing large litters averaging 10-15 piglets, two to three times a year.
Because they’re docile, they’re easy to handle and raise. This makes them an excellent choice for those who are new to pig farming. As with any large animal, you want to use common sense and not startle them by chasing or moving too quickly around them.
Talking to them as you work with them not only gets them used to people handling them, but it also soothes the animals which builds their trust in you.
If your homestead is large enough, the Red Wattle will produce excellent meat on pasture and forage. If you practice pasture management, they’ll be an asset in helping build soil and healthy pasture grasses. If you feed them in this way you can keep the feed bill low or nothing depending on your preferences.
Don’t have pasture or forage room? The Red Wattle breed does well in confined spaces. Many small-scale hog farmers keep their pigs in yards or pens. The Red Wattle pig is a good choice for this setup.
The mature weight of the boar is 700-800 pounds on average but he frequently comes in at over 1,000 pounds! The sow weighs in from 600-700 pounds on average. With an average hanging weight of 200 pounds, this means a lot of meat!
The Endangered Large Black Hog
In my opinion, tops in heritage breeds of pigs. They’re native to Cornwall, Somerset, and Devon in England. Because of its docile, friendly nature, the Large Black hog is often referred to as the “dog” among pig breeds. Large, floppy ears which cover their gentle eyes bespeaks their original name of “Lop Eared Black.”
The Large Black hog is known for its large size and the ability to thrive on pasture and forest foraging. During the late 1800s, the Large Black hog was one of the most popular among English breeds. The Large Black Hog Association was formed in 1898.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the Large Black hog was moved from Critically Endangered to Threatened status by The Livestock Conservancy. The popularity of the Large Black peak in the 1920s. They had been exported to all European countries and to the United States, Africa, Australia, South America, and New Zealand by this time.
After WWII, small-scale pig breeding was overtaken by industrialization. This meant a sudden, rapid decline in the raising heritage breeds of pigs. The reason for this is because heritage breeds of pigs don’t thrive well in confined indoor spaces nor on feed alone so they’re unsuitable for the commercial pig farmer.
This led to the Large Black hog’s near extinction in the 1960s. Even today, it’s one of the rarest “British breeds.” It wasn’t until 1973 this breed was put on the Critically Endangered breed list.
To us, the Large Black hog is perfect for the homesteader raising pigs for their own pork. They work well for those of us who practice pasture management with livestock rotation. The feed bill is small and can be nothing if you have the available pasture and forest.
Characteristics of the Large Black Hog
Their large floppy, black ears cover their eyes but because they’re natural foragers, the ears protect the eyes from damage while they root around in the woods. It does hinder their eyesight but doesn’t seem to hinder them.
It’s believed by some their hindered eyesight is part of what gives them such a docile nature. They’re intelligent, entertaining creatures which can make it easy to forget they’re being raised as a food source and not for the fun of it. Granny and Papa taught us a rule growing up which we practice today. “If it’s born destined for the table, it doesn’t get a name.”
With a name like “Large Black Hog,” you won’t be surprised to know the mature boar can weigh in from 700-800 pounds on average. The sow weighs in around 600-700 pounds on average.
As with any creature, being overweight can cause health problems. It’s kinda funny when you think about a pig having problems related to being overweight. We use the phrase, “Fat as a pig” because they are known for their size. In reality, there is a healthy weight for them to develop the best meat and health.
The Large Black hog has remarkable maternal instincts. The sows can whelp and wean large litters successfully. Her piglets have the largest survival rate because of her abilities. Only the Red Wattle and the Gloucester Old Spot pig are her rivals.
Hogs, by nature, are suspicious and with their ears covering their eyes, it’s a good idea to talk to them and move slowly around them. I would never try to herd them by chasing. They are large and could hurt themselves, their piglets, your dog, or even cause you to be harmed inadvertently.
Even though the Large Black pig remains on the Threatened list, their numbers are on the rise. Because they do so well on pasture and foraging, those producers who have realized the consumer demand for pastured, non-GMO pork, are raising them once again.
Heritage Breed Benefits
Heritage breeds have the same characteristics as their ancestors. They thrive and produce the best meat only on pasture and foraging. Their unusually lean and luscious meat is altered when treated as a confined hybrid breed. The micro-marbleing of their meat make it self-basting and uniquely flavored.
One of the things I like best about heritage breeds of pigs is their adaptability to any environment. They are equally adept at handling cold or hot climates. Their life expectancy ranges from 12-20 years. Their lifestyle, genetic disposition, and environment are contributing factors to the range.
Other recommended Heritage Breeds of Pigs
The coloring of the Berkshires allows them to avoid sunburn better than other light colored breeds. They are hardy and do well in climates with colder winters if provided proper shelter. They are from Berkshire County, UK and have been around for over 700 years.
The Berkshire is a friendly, curious, hardy breed of pig. They are often chosen for farm life because of the adaptability to different environments. They will thrive on pasture supplemented by feed. They’re not known as foragers but all heritage breeds of pigs will root for food.
The Berkshire is a slow grower which means commercial feedlots don’t want it. They are known for the deliciousness of their meat which means farmers and homesteaders enjoy them. When mature, the boar averages 600 pounds while the sow weighs in around 400 pounds on average
The mothering skills of the breed are well established as excellent. The sows produce an abundance of milk for their young ensuring the piglets get off to an excellent start.
The ginger-colored Tamworths perform well on pasture, earning them the nickname Irish grazers. Their long snouts and legs make an interesting sight as they root and forage through the woods and pastures.
The smaller bones of a Tamworth makes for one of the highest ratios of useable meat among heritage breeds of pigs. On average their hanging weight will be 500-600 pounds for both boars and sows.
The Tamworths give birth to large litters and have good maternal instincts
Gloucestershire Old Spots
These lovely white hogs with black spots are known for their ability to forage. Like most hogs, they’ll eat anything you give them converting it to usable meat and lard. The Gloucestershire Old Spots are known for their lard production.
They’re not quite as large as some pigs, dressing out at only 500 pounds on average. They are docile by nature and are known as being easy to raise. Because of the light color of their skin, they sunburn easily so you’ll need to provide them a covered area to escape the sun.
They sows are good mothers and average 9 piglets per birth. Their high milk production gives the piglets a great start in life.
The Hampshire hog has quite a unique look. They’re black with a white belt around their midsection which usually covers their front legs. They have sharp hearing attributed to their erect ears. They’ve inquisitive and docile.
Foraging is their specialty and they have an amazing feed to meat conversion rate. Their meat is famous for its leanness. This means they won’t produce much lard. If you’re looking for a breed to do meat and lard, the Hampshire is not it.
Because they grow so rapidly, they’re ready for market faster than other heritage breeds of pigs. They usually have larger than average litters and are good mothers.
As the name would imply, the Mulefoot pig is different from other pig breeds in that its hooves are not cloven. Their hooves are like those of mule, hence its name. They’re solid black in color with some variation of small white patches.
The Mulefoot hog is smaller than most breeds, only averaging 400-600 pounds. However, they produce a deliciously marbled meat which makes for tender tasty pork.
They’re not an aggressive breed so they’re easy to handle. The Mulefoots are excellent grazers and suitable for most climates. Because they’re not cloven hooved, they will well in wet areas where most breeds can’t.
The sows are calm attentive mothers of small litters averaging only 5-6 piglets each litter.
The Yorkshire is probably the most common pig in the United States. You may know it as the English Large Whites. Their light pink skin is covered with thin white hair and they have erect ears.
Although the Yorkshires are large pigs, their meat is lean. They are known as a bacon producing breed, not a lard producing breed.
They do well on foraging and pasture and thrive in most climates. Their excellent mothering skills and large litters make them popular for breeding programs.
The Herford hog is popular among first-time pig raisers and 4H children. They’re easy going and adaptable. Even though they excel on pasture and foraging, they do well in confined housing as well. The Hereford grows quickly and is easily fattened. They’re known for their ability to till up an area.
Like the cattle they’re bred to resemble, they have reddish bodies with wife face, legs, and bellies. They’re considered a large heritage breed of pigs. As the boar averages a dressed weight of 800 pounds and the sow averages 600 pounds. That’s a lot of meat!
The sows are usually good mothers and average 10 piglets per litter.
No matter which you choose, you can know you’re helping to preserve heritage breeds of pigs and you’re providing your family with quality meat and by-products.
In our next post, we’ll talk about all that’s involved in the raising of heritage breeds pigs to ensure happy, healthy herds. Until then, I’ve included a few links for your research.
Do you raise heritage breeds of pigs? Which one and why?
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack