Buying a 4-H Pig – Making the Right Choice
The Best Pig Breeds for 4-H
Reading Time: 5 minutes
If only buying a 4-H pig breed was as easy as grabbing the first piglet you see and raising it to market weight! Wouldn’t that be hilarious and interesting? Making the right choice in choosing a 4-H pig breed takes quite a bit of thought, research, and preparation, to get to auction day.
Looking ahead and choosing a breed that will work with a fair schedule is the first important factor. Typically, hogs are grown for four to five months before the 4-H shows start at fairs. The goals include taking a weanling piglet (around 30 pounds) and growing it to market weight of 270 pounds in the months leading up to the county, state, or national fairs. In many cases, the pig is sold at auction after the last show.
The process teaches the 4-H member a multitude of valuable livestock skills. These include:
Selection of breed and individual animal
Nutrition and feed efficiency
Selection of Breed
4-H pigs may be chosen based on what the family farm is already raising. Other students will choose from a local 4-H pig breeder, or branch out and experiment with a new breed that seems to have the right rate of growth.
Health, vigor, rate of growth, and conforming to breed standards all must come together to produce a winning pig.
Conformation counts in shows and learning about the breed standards is important. Avoid choosing a piglet that has disqualifying traits.
When buying a 4-H pig breed, be prepared to pay considerably more than a feeder piglet.
Nutrition and Feed Efficiency
This component seems to be the trickiest for the inexperienced 4-H pig owner. The feed efficiency value is the amount of feed required for one pound of gain. The goal in many timelines is 1.5 to 1.8 pounds of gain per day.
Of course, pigs, being pigs, will do their very best to enjoy more than the feed they require. This often results in separating individuals who have a faster rate of gain, from the others.
Expert Advice from a 4-H Family
I spoke with a local family that has been involved in 4-H for many years. They repeatedly earned top marks at local fairs, and their hogs always earned top money at the auction. The Tice family of En-Tice-Ment Stables in Davidsonville, Maryland was eager to discuss how they raised and showed 4-H pig breeds.
Deana and Joe Tice and their children, Victoria, Josh, and Justin were brought up in 4-H. They were familiar faces at our local fairs and helped me cut through the fog of raising 4-H pig breeds. I spoke with Deanna and Josh. When they began showing pigs, they found a good local farmer who was raising show pigs.
Deana explained that timing the piglet purchase is a key point in being successful. If the fair you will compete in has an earlier calendar date, you will get piglets earlier. For the later fairs, you are looking for a sow who is due to farrow later in the spring.
They went on to explain that there is a science to it all. Your goal is to reach the market weight of 260 to 280 pounds by the fair. Josh and his siblings learned to manage the rate of gain so that the pigs didn’t get too big for the market. The lessons included cost-effective feeding, taking extensive notes, and determining the rate of gain.
Deana added that the eventual separating of piglets so that they didn’t overeat from their neighbor’s feed pan, added work to the whole process. It’s not as simple as just feeding the pigs and walking away!
Josh Tice mainly raised Yorkshire pigs for his 4-H pig projects. His sister, Victoria, holds a grand champion for her work with a Duroc, and their brother Justin raised both Duroc and Berkshire.
The Tice’s let me know that crossbreeds are also a good choice. One crossbreed is referred to as a blue butt. These are a result of Hampshire/Yorkshire or Hampshire/Chester White. These crosses result in a bluish marking over the rump which is how the name came to be used. The blue butts make a good 4-H pig breed and are excellent for meat production.
Common Breeds of 4-H Pigs
Each breed has at least one characteristic that makes it a good choice for 4-H pig shows. Yorkshire sows are great at mothering, so if you plan to keep your pig and breed it, the Yorkshire would be a great choice. Berkshire, Chester White, and Durocs are often chosen for their profitability.
Raising for taste? The Duroc and Tamworth are leaner meat breeds. Berkshire is considered in a class by itself by many pork producers. The taste is smooth and mellow. Duroc is a great meat hog with a good fat to lean ratio and marbling. The expected flavor profile for each breed is easily discovered on the Livestock Conservancy website and many breed associations as well.
What about the Smaller Heritage Breeds?
The reason you don’t see many Kunekune and American Guinea Hogs in 4-H pig shows is that they can’t fairly compete against the larger hog breeds. There is a push in some areas to add smaller pig breed competitions. The smaller breeds are enticing to the younger children wishing to compete in 4-H pig shows. The grow-out period can be lengthy. The longer time to reach market weight of 150 to 180 pounds can be a drawback to showing these pigs at 4-H shows.
Before buying a 4-H pig and bringing it home, have a fenced-in area in place. Piglets are easily trained to an electric wire fence. The lowest wire should be only a few inches off the ground for piglets. You don’t want them to learn they can duck under the fence to obtain freedom!
A small hut, run-in shed, or A-frame shelter heavily bedded with hay is all the pigs need to shelter from bad weather. Most pigs will burrow under a thick blanket of hay to stay toasty warm.
Water should be provided at all times. Your best bet is a shallow large container that cannot be easily be tipped over. Pigs are playful and inquisitive.
Josh Tice has the following advice for future 4-H pig participants. If you aren’t sure if showing pigs is the right thing for you, do your research before buying a 4-H pig. Putting time into the homework on pig breeds, livestock management, and pigs, in general, is the first step. Learn what is needed for optimal pig health. Go to the local fairs and watch others showing their pigs. Listen to the feedback from the judges. Take lots of notes.
Originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.