Amazing Mangalitsa! Pigs for Sustainable Farming
A Hardy Pig Breed Ideal for Homesteading and Land Management
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Mangalitsa pigs are amazingly hardy, adaptable, disease-resistant, and tolerant of temperature extremes and humidity. They thrive in free-range systems, being excellent foragers and skillful mothers. They are the perfect workers for permaculture systems and nature reserves. And let’s not forget their mouth-watering pork and sublime fat that has wowed America’s restaurants. The rediscovery of this breed has reminded people how pork should taste, while providing the perfect pasture pig for homesteads, sustainable agriculture, and land conservation.
An Adaptable and Hardy Pig Breed
When I first met Mangalitsa pigs, I was amazed at how such wild-looking hogs could be so tame. Although raised in the woods by their mothers, piglets came to the hand of their breeder and followed us through the grounds. Sows built their nests in the bushes and took sole care of their young. Only later did their owner tame them with treats. The pig families lived on their own foraging efforts with minimal need for supplements or husbandry from the farm.
It is their easy maintenance and hardiness that has been key to their revival in recent years. They take care of themselves and manage their environment in an eco-friendly way. Although they produce fewer young than commercial breeds, great mothering abilities mean that most survive. They are slow growing, but time is essential to develop the prized flavor and quality of their meat. These factors make them ideal for the homesteader who wants to raise pigs on pasture and manage land in harmony with nature.
Although a European breed, their adaptability has enabled Mangalitsa pigs to thrive in both northern, southwestern and southeastern American states. In their homeland they adapted to extremes of temperature, hills and plains, woods and marshland. They live outdoors all year round, through cold winters and hot summers. With their primitive looks—newborns have striped backs like wild boar young—I thought that they would be an ancient landrace. To the contrary, they were developed as a lard-type hog to take advantage of European demand for high-quality lard products. Nevertheless, the landraces that went into their development and tough environmental conditions account for their hardiness and adaptability.
Origins and History of Mangalitsa Pigs
Mangalitsas originated in the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe. Scholars believe that their roots go back to the Avar people of the ninth century, who kept moorland pigs crossed with wild boar. These were probably the ancestors of various landraces throughout the area that farmers kept to utilize swamps, woods and poor pastures. The pigs lived outdoors all year round, farrowing in the wild, foraging acorns, beech masts, and cleaning up after crops. They were incredible survivors, but their meat was rather tough with a poor yield.
1800s: Lard Products in High Demand
Advances in agriculture, particularly corn production, under the Habsburg Empire (later Austria-Hungary) coupled with increasing market demand for quality fat-based products, such as ham, lard, and salami, brought changes to traditional pig husbandry methods. Pigs were selectively bred for higher fat production and were supplemented with corn diets.
A breakthrough came in 1833 when Miloš Obrenović, Prince of Serbia, gifted Archduke Joseph of Austria nine sows and two boars of the native Sumadia breed. The Archduke’s estate crossed the new pigs with Hungarian landraces, improving the growth and fattening ability of the offspring. This new fat-type hog was increasingly bred in the region until it became the most popular breed, known as the “Mangalica”, indicating its round shape and good appetite.
Several varieties arose, being developed from crosses with breeds from different parts of Hungary and Croatia. Blond, Swallow-bellied and Red varieties have survived to the present day.
Originally the pigs lived in estate forests or pastures and only returned to the farm for farrowing. Village pigs were grazed on communal lands and returned to their owners’ farmyards overnight. However, increased demand led to building intensive fattening yards in the late 1800s.
1900s: Different Trends, New Values
Their popularity only lasted until the 1950s, when the fashion for leaner meat began to focus on commercial white breeds. Despite the attempts of the national breeder association and government initiatives, numbers dwindled to only 34 registered sows in 1975.
Fortunately, their value was reassessed in the nineties for both conservation and commerce. A large enterprise supplied Spain with the ideal raw material for slow-cured Spanish ham.
2000s: Revival and Sustainability
By 2000, the breed had become popular with hobby farmers and conservationists. Mangalitsas found their role in both homesteads and nature reserves in several European countries. The number of sows registered in Hungary rose to 2250 by 2002. Austria too formed its conservation project as part of an initiative for environmentally-friendly agriculture. Imports from Hungary added unrelated bloodlines to the Austrian gene pool.
In 2007, Heath Putman of Wooly Pigs in Iowa recognized the value of the lard-type pig for meat quality and imported 25 Swallow-bellied pigs from Austria. In the following decade imports from Hungary and other European countries established all three varieties from different bloodlines in the United States. Farms have been successful in the Midwest, New Jersey, Georgia, and California, for landscape conservation, high-welfare farming, and high-quality pork production.
Produce That’s Worth the Wait
Swallow-bellied and Blond are the hardiest varieties, and ideal for wild ranging in tough climates. The Red grows faster and is meatier. If you are looking for robust, self-sufficient pigs, this is the breed for you.
Compared to commercial breeds, they are slow growing and not prolific. A slow growing period is necessary to gain the distinctive marbling that gives the meat its flavor. Piglets are normally slaughtered at around 15–16 months and 300 lb (140 kg). The sows are seasonal breeders, coming into heat in spring and fall, and give birth to just five to eight piglets. However, when you taste their products, you will understand their appeal to chefs. They yield flavorsome and succulent meat that melts in your mouth, and are ideal for sausage- and bacon-making.
But what of all that fat? Sadly, many customers still seek out leaner meat, although it lacks the flavor. Mangalitsa fat is at least 60% unsaturated and mainly oleic, which actually has health benefits. We have found that reducing our intake of meat and combining it with our garden produce, for example in a hearty casserole, has enabled us to appreciate the flavor and texture of the meat while maintaining a healthy diet. The quality of the product, the hardiness of the breed, and the joy of working with such endearing creatures makes this breed an excellent choice for the homesteader.
Sources: Egerszegi, I., Rátky, J., Solti, L., and Brussow, K. P. 2003. Mangalica—an indigenous swine breed from Hungary. Archiv fur Tierzucht, 46(3), 245–256.
Radnóczi, L. 2003. The Hungarian Mangalica. Mangalica Információk.
US Mangalitsa Association
Originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal.