When you first start looking at getting pigs for your homestead it can be a bit overwhelming. Heck, any new animal is overwhelming. You’ll make a few key decisions upfront though and one of those is which breed of pig you’ll purchase.
We’ll walk you through the different factors you’ll need to consider plus some popular breeds for beginners and homesteaders on small farms. Just like you would do your research before purchasing a dog (read more about how pigs are similar to dogs here), pigs require a bit of breed research before you dive in.
The Best Pig Breeds for Beginners
Heritage vs. Commercial Pigs
Commercial pigs have been bred through the years to maximize meat production. That’s the one quality that’s most important to the commercial growers because they want to maximize profits over a set amount of time.
However, on a small farm, there are a few other factors to take into consideration.
- Does the pig do well on pasture? (Hint: Many commercial breeds do not.)
- Is this a lard or meat pig?
- What is the full-grown size of this breed?
- How long does it take them to reach full-size?
- Are they hardy enough for cold weather?
All these questions play into which breed of pig you should choose on a small-scale farm.
Heritage breeds are pigs that have been raised in backyards for hundreds of years. They are genetically programmed to graze on pasture plus you wouldn’t believe the difference in flavor.
Commercial pigs are typically a cross of
- Landrace, or
- Duroc breeds.
Each one of these quickly put on weight, but they are not the best foragers. Cross-breeding allows the farmers to select the desired traits in each breed.
Popular heritage breeds are
- pure-bred Duroc, and
- Gloucestershire Spotted pigs.
Each of these has easy-going temperaments and will forage well on pastures. Not to mention they produce great tasting meat.
Full-Grown Size of the Pig Breed
This may only be something to consider if you plan on breeding your pigs. Some breeds top out at weights of 200 lbs while others can get up to 400+ lbs. Typically you reach slaughtering weight once you hit the 200 lb mark.
Most pigs are friendly, but once they get over 300 lbs, I start getting a little nervous about getting inside the fence with them. If you want more manageable pigs when they are full-grown then be sure to select for that.
Large breeds like
- Berkshire, and
- Duroc pigs
can get anywhere from 450 – 750 lbs. Larger pigs can be more susceptible to illnesses but they typically grow quickly. When raising them for meat, you don’t have to let them get over 300 lbs if you’re ready to slaughter them.
Smaller breeds like
- American Guinea Hog,
- Choctaw, and
- Kune Kunes
reach only about 150 – 200 lbs. Each of these is much less common though and you may have to search a good bit to find a small breed specific to your area.
The Pig’s Ability to Forage
As I said, most heritage breeds have been bred specifically to be pasture-raised animals. They do not require commercial feed as long as you supplement their intake in the winter with hay and dairy. This is incredibly important because it affects your bottom line.
The less feed you can buy, the less your meat will cost per pound. In addition to grazing and rooting for bugs, these pigs will eat all the table scraps you give them. In business, it’s always smart to figure out how you can get the same output with less of an input. Same with farming.
Popular pasture pig breeds are
- Mangalista, and
- Kune Kune pigs.
The Kune Kune and Mangalista may be difficult to find though. Breeds you can easily find will be the Berkshire and Hampshire pigs.
Some pigs are specifically bred as lard pigs and some are known for their lean meat. It’s important to think about what your favorite cuts of pork are and your own taste when it comes to eating pork. That’s the whole point of this right – you want good food for your family?
If you love to use lard when you cook then take a look at:
- American Guinea Hog, or
- Mulefoot pigs.
These can be a bit harder to find than some of your more common breeds.
If meat is what you’re after then go with
- Duroc, or
- Yorkshire pigs.
Each type of meat has a different flavor, but all are known for quickly packing on the pounds and producing lean, great-tasting meat.
Pigs that are known for their lean meat are
- Yorkshire (great bacon),
- Berkshire, and
- Duroc breeds.
No wonder all are used in cross-breeds for commercial farms.
The three main lard pig breeds that remain today are
- American Guinea Hog,
- Choctaw, and
Time to Maturity
Another thing to think about is how soon you want to butcher your pigs. If you want the most meat in the least amount of time then you should make sure you choose a breed that is known for that.
- Yorkshire pigs are great for packing on pounds quickly but they aren’t the best foragers.
- Berkshires put on weight like the Yorkshire pigs plus they forage well.
All the commercial breeds that I’ve already discussed,
- Duroc, and
will be your fast-growing breeds.
They put on lots of weight quickly, though many of them will need store-bought pig feed to supplement their pasture.
Climate Needed to Thrive
Some breeds are hardier than others and built for colder climates. On the other spectrum, some pigs, especially the lighter colored ones, will need shade to get out from under the sun or they’ll be sunburned.
Most breeds are pretty resilient when it comes to the weather, but it’s always a good idea to see which ones thrive in your climate. For example:
- The Chester White is known for being very cold hardy and the
- Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs need lots of shade in sunnier climates.
Best Pig Breeds for Beginners and Small Farms
These breeds are perfect for those just getting into raising pigs. Each one is known for a mild temperament and is great for small farms.
1. Berkshire Pigs
These pigs are one of the most highly sought after for homesteaders. Usually, they are black in color with white feet and faces. They are known for being great foragers and getting most of their nutrients from pasture. Another benefit is they are very efficient and don’t take long to reach market weight.
The meat from Berkshire pigs is sold as a delicacy overseas. This breed is known for how well the meat is marbled. The more marbled the meat – the better tasting!
Berkshires are one of the oldest breeds of pigs known and usually very simple to take care of. All around the top pick for those wanting to dip their toe in with pigs.
2. Duroc Pigs
These pigs are probably some of the cutest you’ll find. They have droopy eyes and ears and their mild temperaments will win you over. Typically they are solid red.
This is one of the most common breeds you’ll find and they have great mothering instincts. If you’re looking to breed at some point go with these.
They grow quickly and are very lean so similar to Yorkshire pigs. Their thick skin and hair make them perfect for colder climates as well. These pigs are also known for being very docile so great if you have smaller kids that help around the farm.
3. Yorkshire Pigs
I am partial to this breed as they were our first pigs. Yorkshire pigs quickly put on weight so you can get them to market fast. If the quantity of meat is your main focus then go with this breed.
They are pink/white in color and sunburn easily so they will need some shade. They also love the mud and use it to protect their skin from burning as well.
Like the Duroc breed, these pigs have great mothering instincts plus they have large litters. A great choice for meat production or breeding stock. These pigs are very active though so they do require a good bit of pasture space to run around.
4. American Guinea Hogs
This is an easy breed to raise if you want a lard breed. They take longer to reach maturity but are great foragers so you’ll save money on feed that way. Their smaller size also makes them a bit easier to manage.
These pigs are black with black hair and are generally easy going as long as they are well fed. They became popular in the southeast US and continue to be a popular breed with small-scale farmers.
The meat on this pig is very tender and they produce great hams. The lard has become sought after by many pastry chefs as well.
5. Kune Kune Pigs
These pigs have recently become in-demand especially for their meat. A smaller breed, they are known to require much less grain input and rely heavily on foraging.
The color for Kune Kunes varies, but they are usually spotted, very hairy, and some have wattles. Wattles are little wads of flesh/hair that hang from the sides of a pig’s face.
These pigs can be very expensive when they are purebred. I’ve seen them sell anywhere from $250 – $650 depending on the market. Those are piglets being sold, not full grown. Another use for them is ground clearing – especially at vineyards.
6. Landrace Pigs
Landrace pigs look similar to Yorkshire pigs and are easily sunburnt as well. However, they have droopy ears instead of pointed ones. Many of their other characteristics match the Yorkshire breed as well.
They are great meat pigs and grow quickly to a good slaughtering weight. They do generally put a bit more fat on than the Yorkshires.
They also have good mothering instincts but produce smaller litters. This breed is a popular meat pig if you can’t find Yorkshire or Berkshire stock.
7. Tamworth Pig
Over time, Tamworth pigs have been bred to thrive outdoors especially in forests. They are great foragers and when full-grown they weigh between 500 – 600 lbs.
Typically, they are reddish-brown in color which helps protect them from sunburn. They are a lean meat pig with great marbling like the Berkshire pigs.
When it comes to pigs, these are pretty intelligent but they like to have plenty of space to roam. If you have some woods that you can run fencing through then that’s the perfect spot for these guys.
8. Hereford Pig
This breed is typically easy to find so a major plus for them. They are red with white trim meaning their feet, face, and sometimes bellies are white. They are commonly used in 4H projects because people love their appearance.
Full-grown, these pigs will weigh 600 – 800 lbs and they put on weight with less grain input. They also do well in all different types of climates.
They reach market weight within 5 to 6 months so are very efficient growers. Their meat is also known to be absolutely delicious!
I hope this has given you an overview of some of the benefits and disadvantages of these beginner pig breeds. Let us know which pig breed you’re going with on your homestead!