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Rare Pig Breeds
Pigs are one of the most economical animals to raise on a small farm, and nearly every farmer once kept a few pigs. Often, these pigs were fed kitchen scraps and other waste products, or essentially let loose to forage for themselves.
Today, most pigs are raised in intensive confinement and the hog industry is dominated by the few breeds well suited to confinement. Most pigs raised for meat in America today are a Duroc x Hampshire x Yorkshire cross, with a few others, such as the Berkshire and Poland China hanging on but gradually declining in importance.
Many of the old-fashioned foraging breeds that once provided cheap, delicious meat for America's farm families have become critically rare. However, they remain excellent choices for homesteaders and other small farmers.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy lists nine North American pig breeds in need of conservation, some with as few as 200 surviving individuals.
The Hereford is a handsome red and white breed developed in the American Midwest.
Medium-sized, it is one of the most versatile heritage breeds because it does well both in confinement and in free range situations. They are good mothers and fast growers, and their quiet, docile disposition makes them a good choice for 4-H projects.
Originally from England, where they were often kept semi-feral to forage for acorns and beechnuts in the woods, Tamworth pigs are exceptional foragers with a hardy, vigorous constitution and a friendly disposition.
Tamworths are known as good mothers, with a tendency to produce large litters and raise them all successfully to weaning. They are also known for excellent carcass yield.
Gloucestershire Old Spot
Another traditional British breed, the Gloucestershire Old Spot is known for its distinctive spotted coat and large floppy ears. It is considered an "easy keeping" pig that thrives on foraged nuts and acorns and farm waste, such as windfallen apples and whey from cheese making.
Like Tamworths, Gloucestershire Old Spots are known for their ability to raise large litters on pasture. A classic bacon pg, they are also considered to be exceptionally good eating!
Unlike most pigs, which have cloven hooves, the Mulefoot has a solid hood resembling the foot of a mule. It is believed to be descended from Spanish pigs brought to the New World and left to run semi-wild. As a result, it is a hardy breed with excellent foraging skills, unsuited to confinement.
A classic lard breed also known for its delicious hams, the Mulefoot is now critically endangered, with fewer than 200 registered purebred hogs.
Another lard breed descended from Spanish pigs, the Choctaw is an excellent forager and well suited to a semi-feral lifestyle. Built for survival, it is small, fast, and agile, and tends to have poor market confirmation. However, it is valuable for its hardiness and easy keeping.
The third and last of the surviving American lard breeds, the Guinea was imported from West Africa along with the slave trade.
Once popular in the Southeast due to its excellent heat tolerance, the Guinea is now rare due to the decline in popularity of lard breeds and the breed's poor market confirmation. However, it is an excellent, low maintenance forager and a good choice for homesteaders looking for a small and economical family pig.
A British breed known for good mothering skills and for being excellent foragers on pasture, the Large Black shares the large lop ears of the Gloucestershire Old Spot, which help protect the pig's eyes while foraging.
An American breed of somewhat uncertain origin, the Red Wattle has distinctive fleshy wattles on the sides of its face.
Large, hardy, and gentle, Red Wattle hogs are known for their rapid growth rate and good mothering skills.
A feral breed that has survived on an isolated island in Georgia for centuries, the Ossabaw Island hog is known for several unique features, including its ability to store enormous amounts of fat to hold it through seasonal food shortages on the island. Primitive in appearance, the Ossabaw Island hog is extremely resistant to heat, humidity, and disease.