5 Hog Breeds for the Backyard Homesteader
Pig Farming for Beginners – Advice to Get you Started
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Raising pigs for meat is a great step toward self-sustaining living, and there are several hog breeds that appear on guides to pig farming for beginners. When we first acquired pigs, I gave little thought to breed, and just selected some hybrids, hoping they wouldn’t be too hard to raise and would be prolific breeders (they weren’t).
While hybrids have their advantages, if you want better predictability in your sustainable meat, then purebred hog breeds might be a better choice. There are several hog breeds to choose from in the United States, each with their advantages and disadvantages.
Primarily, when selecting swine, you should look for hog breeds that are easy to raise to harvest weight and that have good temperaments, especially if you have children. You should also consider how big the pig will get; if you’re brand new to homesteading, then a smaller breed will be less overwhelming. Look for a breed that easily converts food into flavorful meat, and if you have some room, consider a pork breed that does well in pasture or forests to reduce your feed costs.
If I were to choose a breed to raise today, it would be Tamworths. If sustainable and easy to raise hog breeds interest you, then you can’t do much better. Originating in the United Kingdom, Tamworth pigs were imported into the United States by Thomas Bennett in 1882, according to the Livestock Conservancy.
They have possibly the easiest natures of all the hog breeds and are excellent foragers that love nuts. But the best part of raising Tamworth pigs is they’re the easiest to pasture of all the hog breeds, and they thrive on grazing grass and forests. If much of your property is forested, then Tamworth pigs might be a great way to make use of it.
Most pigs willingly eat grass, but require supplementary feed, such as commercial grain, corn, or kitchen leftovers, to reach harvest weight. Tamworths, on the other hand, do very well on pasture, reaching a harvest weight of more winner 500 pounds. Despite their large size, their easy-going natures make them perfect for a first-time pig farmer.
Tamworths are well known for their excellent bacon because they can reach heavy weights without too much fat. They are light boned, so you’ll get better hanging weight when you butcher them, too!
Hampshire pigs are one of the most popular hog breeds to raise in the United States because of their efficiency turning feed into flavorful meat. According to the National Swine Registry, they were imported into America between 1825 and 1835 from Hampshire County in England. They became popular in part because of their vigorous natures, which could easily withstand some of the colder climates in America, and their ability to forage for food.
Hampshires are black with a white belt and are large but lean pigs, so their meat has little fat. If you’re looking for a meat pig that yields a good carcass weight and has flavorful meat, then Hampshires might be for you.
The sows are reputed to be good mothers that are able to breed longer than other hog breeds. The males are said to be slightly more aggressive than other swine, so if you have small children, then other hog breeds might be better.
Berkshires are the oldest of the hog breeds, and possibly the easiest to identify. They’re black with white splashes on their face, feet and tail. Because their flavor is similar to pig breeds raised in industrial farming, Berkshires are great to raise if you eventually want to raise pork to sell to other people.
According to the American Berkshire Association, Berkshire pigs are the most influential swine breeds the world. Although originally produced as a “lard” breed, meaning the pigs were prized for their fat, the American Berkshire Association lauds the “great strides of improvement toward meeting the demands of the industry.” The organization has strived to meet market demands by breeding for “fast and efficient growth, reproductive efficiency and leanness and meat quality.”
If you are looking for lean meat with good marbling, then an industrial strain might work well for you. If you wish to raise heritage Berkshire hogs, try looking for a small-scale breeder for more traditional bloodlines.
Mulefoots are the rarest of the hog breeds, and the most critically endangered. But for a beginning pig farmer, they’re an excellent choice. Called Mulefoot because they have a single hoof like a mule’s instead of a cloven trotter like most hog breeds, the Mulefoot is a compact pig that is easy to raise to harvest weight. They’re typically all black.
They have easy going temperaments and are good mothers. Friends of mine raise Mulefoot pigs, and they get a good amount of flavorful meat, and the hogs are easy to process because of their compact size. While Mulefoots can reach as much as 500 pounds, I’ve seen them harvested at smaller weights. They’re also easier than other hog breeds for two people to maneuver during butcher time.
Mulefoots are known for their hams and for their lard. They’re good foragers, and easy to raise in pastures. I’ve seen Mulefoot pigs enjoy belly rubs, and graze easily with other livestock. If you want to raise them, check with the American Mulefoot Hog Association for breeders to ensure you get pure bloodlines.
When you think of pigs, you probably think of American Yorkshires, which are pink-skinned hogs. They are the most popular swine in the United States and prized for their fast growth, large litters, and hardiness. Yorkshires are also economical; they’re well-documented to have the highest feed to meat conversion ratio of all the hog breeds in the U.S.
The breed was first developed in Yorkshire, England, and came to the United States in 1830.
They’re probably the most prized of the hog breeds because they produce lean, flavorful meat with little fat. They’re longer than other pigs, so they will yield more meat, but for a small-scale homesteader, you will need something like a tractor to pick them up if you plan to butcher them at home. Unlike the Mulefoot, American Yorkshires are more difficult for two people to maneuver without help from a machine.
For homesteaders, however, American Yorkshires are a great option because they produce large litters of 13 piglets on average, which you could sell as feeder pigs. They’re also excellent mothers. If your plan is to butcher your pigs, because of their size, you could easily sell half of your hog to another family (while following USDA regulations, of course.)
Raising pigs is fairly easy for any homesteader to start. By choosing the right breed for your needs, you will have self-sustaining pork in no time!