The Best Pig Breeds for the Homestead

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The Best Pig Breeds for the Homestead


Pigs are a classic farm animal that have always been kept for their meat - in fact, pigs have been on earth much longer than humans. These animals have been bred to be ideal for meat production and can grow to enormous size on almost any food, even waste - they are not picky!

While some small farmers feel that raising pigs is beyond their capabilities, pigs are actually lauded as easy to keep. As with any other farm animal, pigs require work, but the rewards are said to be worth the effort. If you are considering adding pigs to your operation, research which breeds are best suited for your situation and desired outcome; there are many options to choose from.

When deciding which breed(s) of pigs to raise on your farm, consider things like your time frame for slaughter, the types of meat you prefer, the size of pig you can keep well, and the breed's maternal characteristics.

There are hundreds of breeds of domestic pigs, all with their own characteristics - both positive and negative. Over the years, farmers have selected some of the best and most popular options for rearing, but everyone has their own preferences.

The 8 best breeds of pigs for the farm​


1. Kunekune​

If you are looking to add pigs to your small farm, kunekune may be the perfect addition. While these pigs are not a good choice for a commercial hog farm, they have certain characteristics that make them appealing to the hobbyist or home breeder. At maturity, females will weigh up to 175 pounds and males can weigh 250 pounds or more - that's the larger end of the scale. There are many other breeds of pigs that grow much larger, but for your small operation, this may be the perfect size.

One of the main advantages of raising Kunekune pigs is that they do not need a lot of feed to perform at their maximum capacity - as far as pigs go. These animals are avid grazers and can live almost exclusively on their grazing behavior - provided there are fresh fields to graze. These pigs are easy to keep and care for. They usually have no desire to test their enclosure and are happy where they are.

This breed is ideal for farmers who have young children, as Kunekunes are considered very gentle and are good with children and other animals. The pork processed from Kunekune pigs is also considered one of the best, so it is worth your effort.

2. Yorkshire​

Yorkshire pigs are one of the most common breeds of pigs in the United States, and for good reason. These pigs grow very large, are relatively low maintenance, have a long lifespan, and the females can raise young for a longer period of time compared to other pig breeds. Male Yorkshire pigs can weigh up to 750 pounds, while females typically weigh 650 pounds or less.

One of the biggest challenges a small farm or homestead can have with Yorkshire pigs is that they need a lot of room to move around and exercise. These pigs are quite long, so they require larger areas.

Although these pigs tend to be larger animals, they are considered docile and non-aggressive, which makes them a good choice for beginners and experts. One drawback to their long life and breeding ability is that these traits make them susceptible to certain diseases. Still, given enough space and a little extra care, Yorkshires are great pigs for almost any operation.

3. Berkshire​

Berkshire pigs are one of the oldest breeds of pigs still kept today and are a very popular heritage breed. These hogs average about 600 pounds - both male and female - which classifies them as medium sized hogs. Berkshires are also pasture-raised animals and can get much of their nutritional needs from grazing, which takes some of the stress out of feeding your animals.

One of the most common reasons Berkshire pigs are raised is for their tasty meat, which is a darker color than pork you would buy at the supermarket. Another positive aspect of raising these pigs is that the females usually have excellent maternal characteristics and high milk production, resulting in happy and healthy piglets. One drawback to raising Berkshire pigs is that they grow slower compared to other pig breeds, but for some small farmers they are worth the wait.

4. Duroc​

Duroc pigs are another popular choice for pig farmers of all sizes because they have a long list of benefits. Typically, you can expect males to weigh about 800 pounds and females about 700 pounds when full grown - a decent size for a country pig. These pigs also have large litters of ten to fifteen piglets, while many other breeds have between five and ten piglets per litter. It may go without saying, but if you take care of your pigs and feed them well, you will get the biggest pigs and the biggest litters.

Another advantage of Duroc pigs is that they grow to this size very quickly, which makes them attractive to farmers who want to sell their meat. While these pigs are longer than many other breeds, they're also adaptable to their environment, meaning they can thrive in a variety of different housing types, including outdoor pens - as long as they have an area to protect them from rain.

Duroc pigs are also adaptable to the weather and are comfortable in both warm and cold climates. Their meat has a dark red color and is considered high-quality pork, making the Duroc pig a good choice for farmers looking for quality pork.

5. Hereford​

Hereford pigs are known for their early maturity and decent weight. Adult Hereford hogs can weigh up to 800 pounds for males and 600 pounds for females. By five to six months of age, these hogs typically weigh between 200 and 250 pounds and are considered mature. A fast-maturing pig isn't only ready for slaughter sooner, but is also more likely to be ready for breeding, which is ideal for most pig farmers.

Although the main selling point for Hereford pigs is their ability to grow quickly, there are other advantages to raising this breed. Female Hereford pigs generally make good mothers and are known to have large, healthy litters - an important trait for pig farmers. These animals also do well outdoors, as they've dark markings on their backs that protect them from the sun. Many breed these pigs not only for their advantages, but also for their beautiful markings - a plus for those who participate in 4-H shows.

6. Chester White​

Chester White pigs have the traditional "hog" appearance we often associate with these animals. Their coats are so light that their pink skin color shows through and they appear pink rather than white - should we've called them Chester Pink instead? These pigs often reach a maximum weight of about 650 pounds, though many - especially the females - tend to stay around 500 pounds.

White Chester pigs are best known for their excellent maternal traits and their ability to bear and raise young. These traits are so sought after that White Chester pigs are often crossed with other breeds to pass on these traits. These animals are also fairly docile and non-aggressive, making them a safe choice for farmers who've children around. One disadvantage of white Chester pigs is that they get sunburned easily, so plenty of shade is very important when raising them.

7. Hampshire​

Hampshire pigs are easily recognized in a crowd because of their distinctive "belt," a white ring of skin usually around the pig's shoulders. This belt surrounds the entire pig and stands out clearly against their black body. These pigs can reach a considerable size, with males weighing up to 650 pounds and females up to 550 pounds. However, most farmers who raise Hampshires don't allow their pigs to grow this large, preferring to slaughter them weighing less than 250 pounds to profit from their lean meat.

Overall, Hampshire pigs have very lean meat, which is harder to find in hogs. Even if they're slaughtered at their highest weight, the meat is likely to be lean - the early slaughter ensures that they get as much lean meat as possible. These animals are also known to be good-natured and even friendly - a great trait for small-scale farmers.

A major drawback to breeding Hampshire pigs is that they're more likely to carry a gene that causes Porcine Stress Syndrome, a genetic disorder that results in poor meat quality due to the severe stress the affected animals are exposed to during their lives. Effective genetic testing and responsible breeding will ensure that you avoid this disorder in your Hampshire pigs.

8. Tamworth​

Tamworth pigs are red in color, similar to the Duroc breed, but they tend to be much smaller. The maximum weight of this breed is about 600 pounds for males and 500 pounds for females, but they don't often reach that weight. The smaller bodies produce less meat than many other breeds of pigs and they don't grow very fast, but there are still positive traits that accommodate them on many small farms.

Although Tamworth pigs don't grow very large, they have a high meat-to-bone ratio, meaning you'll get more meat per pound than with many other pig breeds.

These pigs also have an excellent piglet survival rate, which is close to 100% with proper husbandry and care. The females are also very good mothers, and their milk production is one of the highest - more milk means healthier and larger piglets, even with large litters. The dark skin also protects them from the sun, so they can spend more time in the pasture if they wish.

Important Things to Consider When Raising Pigs​

While there are many things you should consider before adding pigs to your operation - as with any new animal - there are a few that are especially important. It's always important to do ample research before you invest too much to make sure you have the space and resources to properly care for and process the pigs.

Strong Fencing​

While pigs aren't particularly large animals, they do pack a decent amount of weight and know how to plow through a weak fence - even the more docile breeds can reach their limits over time. Pigs are intelligent animals - even if it doesn't always seem that way - and will seek out weak spots in your fence to test if they can escape quickly.

If you're fencing a pig pen or pasture, it's important that you use fencing that's suitable for pigs. This fencing should be well-secured and checked regularly for damage or weak spots.

An electric fence with a good charger is also quite effective due to the thin skin of pigs. Trapping a 500+ pound animal and forcing it back into its enclosure is something no one wants to deal with, so it's in your best interest to get the fencing right from the start.

Large amounts of food​

As mentioned earlier, most breeds of domestic pigs grow very large, usually more than 500 pounds per animal. To reach this weight, these animals need a lot of feed - this weight doesn't happen by accident! On average, a pig will consume 800 pounds of feed to reach its maximum weight.

If you have a pasture and raise pigs that graze well, much of this feed may be readily available; however, in most cases, all of the feed needed must be brought in from outside. Keep in mind that you'll need to move about 800 pounds of feed per pig over the course of your lifetime, and make sure you have a plan for that.

Constant Access to Water​

Another important aspect you need to consider when raising pigs is that they need a constant source of water in a solid, tip-proof dish (though for younger pigs, such dishes are a good option). These animals don't drink much, but they also can't sweat, so they always need a way to cool off. This is especially important in the hot summer months when shade isn't readily available.

Another way they cool off is to roll around in the mud - a classic activity of pigs. Some farmers also provide misting fans for their pigs to keep them cool. Before you add pigs to your operation, come up with a plan to provide a constant, freshwater source.

Otherwise, consider the breeds of pigs listed above in your search for the perfect breed. You're sure to find one that perfectly fits your farm goals!

The Best Pig Breeds for the Homestead
 
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Baymule

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I’ve only raised feeder pigs. I’ve never wanted to keep breeding stock, but will happily support those who do, by buying weaner pigs from them.

I’ve raised Hereford Hogs, Red Wattle, Large Black, Hampshire, and various crosses of Hampshire, Yorkshire, and who knows what. My favorites are Hereford Hogs and Red Wattle. Both breeds take a couple of months longer than the modern breeds, but are worth the wait. The meat is marbled and a rich red color and very tasty.

Support the homestead hog breeders by purchasing feeder pigs from them! Raise your own meat, home raised pork is the best you will ever eat.
 

rbruno

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I had very good success with my two Berks last year. End of July, I pick up two more but I think these will be a cross between Berk and Duroc. If so, I will be interested to see if there is a difference in the meat. The Berk meat is very good.

I too like to support the small farms. My two come from a pair of sisters that have taken over and reinvigorated their family farm. They are local and starting as young farmers which I am very happy to support. My processor that I use for slaughter is also a small family owned company. We need more people like us supporting small businesses like them. Just my thought for the day. :) :)
Rob
 

JRod

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We will be getting in June, 5 IPPs (Idaho Pasture Pigs), 3 feeders and a female from a farm nearby and a male from another farm with a different line. Looking forward to them as grazers and they are usually good mothers and max out around 300-350 pounds. We are very interested in trying to finish them as much as we can on acorns and maybe some chestnuts from our 20 acres of trees.
 

Lizzy733

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We have kune kune, but they are worker\companion animals. Their job is to prune back, keep the grass down and tidy up windfall from the fruit trees, which they do a great job of. If you have overgrown messes to tackle, these boys will sort it out.

It takes two years for kune to get up to their full size potential and they respond to training queues very well. Our kune live in the spanframe greenhouse next to our living area and come and go as they please during the day. It's not uncommon for them to come in looking for a few scratches midday and have a nap at your feet in the evening.

If you plan on having them free-range like this, it's important to get them disciplined early as they 'will' get into stuff you don't want them to at times and, while mine are only around 6 months old and I can still pull them away, eventually they will be too big for that and pigs are all muscle! It is surprising how strong they can be.

Pigs are clever and they can get bored, which is when they get into the most trouble. Our recent cyclone has definitely proven that with our boys staying 'in' and getting up to all kinds of mischief in the greenhouse. From snacking on mildly toxic plants, to knocking pots off tables and devouring their contents (I had given them extra nut, mind you) to invading our living spaces and knocking over furniture in search of a scratching post. Mischief with a capital M.

They are good boys and are quick to listen when told to 'stop' or 'come', but clearly can be a handful at times. I couldn't fathom butchering them. They're a bit too intelligent for that, popping in to welcome us home when we've been out or following along with us on a farm walk. Overall, pigs for us have been a good experience, but be prepared for them to get into things and cause disaster from time to time.
 

AgnesGray

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We enjoy our kune kune pigs. They keep our back pasture clipped for us which otherwise takes my husband a few hours a week to cut back which also seemed like a waste. They do a great job and their meat is also delicious. We have customers who come back just for that.

We also have some berkshire duroc cross feeders and I don't know that we'll do them again, but we're looking forward to the larger cuts to fill our freezer.

Pigs definitely have been easy keepers for us.
 

JRod

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We enjoy our kune kune pigs. They keep our back pasture clipped for us which otherwise takes my husband a few hours a week to cut back which also seemed like a waste. They do a great job and their meat is also delicious. We have customers who come back just for that.

We also have some berkshire duroc cross feeders and I don't know that we'll do them again, but we're looking forward to the larger cuts to fill our freezer.

Pigs definitely have been easy keepers for us.
Looking forward to pigs, but my wife told me today that she went to a friend’s house and had lunch including a pork sandwich made from their mule foot pigs. She said the smell was strong and couldn’t eat much of it due to the taste. Her friend said that her husband hadn’t cut or banded the pig at the correct time, but that you “get used to it”!

Wife was worrying about if we get some IPP feeders, as long as they get banded at the correct time the meat shouldn’t be mushy or have a bad taste/smell… right? I hear many talking about better flavor in heritage breeds but have no experience with pigs or wild boar…
 

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