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What Are Heritage Breed Pigs: An Introduction to Your Next Homestead Pig!

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

My first pigs I ever raised were a funny, but mischievous group of heritage breed pigs called English Large Blacks. I would rotate them through different pastures and guide them through the mature Texas mesquite silvopasture with each move.

Like any typical pig, they loved to take mud baths and root through the soil. But what captured my attention (besides them escaping all the time) was the fact that their pork was actually RED! This wasn’t “Pork the Other White Meat.”

No, this was genuinely red pork with BUTTERY fat that would make you want to lick the plate clean and gnaw on the bones! Forget the pale pink pork you’d buy at the grocery store, I was dealing with what pork should actually taste like! My introduction to heritage breeds started with a group of happy-go-lucky, floppy eared pigs that weren’t just great at foraging for food in their natural environment, they actually tasted delicious without any need for drowning the pork in sauce or burying it in seasoning… salt and pepper was all I needed. In this article we will discuss what heritage pigs are, why they differ from the pink commercial pigs, and a brief overview of the different breeds you can select for your homestead (more breed specific profiles in the near future).

What are Heritage Breed Pigs?

Heritage breeds are traditional breeds of livestock that were in use before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These pig breeds were carefully selected and bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to their local environment.

Heritage pigs thrived under traditional farming practices and cultural conditions. Some of these breeds go back to the 1500s when the Spanish first came to the Americas. That's over 600 years ago!

These pigs thrived in an era where there was no such thing as modern agriculture. It was an era where people were still using plows and mules. It was an era where horses were actually a common mode of transportation.

So these animals thrive in an outdoor system that requires them to be efficient. Many of these animals were raised in such a way that they could do well virtually on their own with minimum inputs for shelter, feed, and water.

Commercial vs. Heritage Pig Breeds

Heritage pig breeds are very different from a lot of the commercial breeds that you see today.

Modern pig farm breeds are usually the white pigs like Yorkshire or Landrace crosses. This is typically the meat that you will see in your local grocery store. These breeds are a little special. They require a little bit of extra knowledge and husbandry skills to make sure that they are thriving in the environments that you have for your operation.

Unfortunately, these breeds were bred to be efficient in an “indoor” environment; removing them from a natural environment into an artificial environment. These artificial environments, called CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) created the “ideal” habitat for growing hogs quicker and bigger.

By reducing environmental impacts to pig growth, such as being too hot or cold, . Having limited space by enclosing the pigs allowed them to gain weight and keep the weight they gained because they wouldn’t be able to exercise their body through running and rooting.

If you were to put any of these commercial pigs out on pasture, they would not do the best. Part of the reason why is because they weren't bred to have high functioning immune systems since they lived in a theoretically sterile environment. They weren't bred for high functioning resistance to outdoor diseases because they're not outdoor pigs.

This is why heritage breeds really work better for an outdoor system. Heritage breeds are more resilient. They might have internal parasites like roundworms or external parasites such as pig lice but their immune systems can handle their presence at low parasite levels.

They have a natural tolerance towards many diseases and parasites that most commercial pigs and operations just simply do not have. That's no shame against them… that's just facts.

So always consider these factors when thinking about what kind of pig to raise.

9 Heritage Pig Breeds

If you really want to dig into heritage breed pigs (or any heritage livestock breeds for that matter), check out the Livestock Conservancy website. They have detailed descriptions and histories of each heritage breed.

Most heritage breed hogs are endangered, threatened, or critical. Because of that, we want to make sure that we do whatever we can to conserve them. Here is a quick overview of each of these breeds.

1. Gloucestershire Old Spots

Gloucestershire old spot pigs are excellent foragers that produce delicious bacon. This breed dropped in popularity after World War II because the focus shifted to commercial breeds, but they are still excellent for small farms and homesteads.

Type: Meat & Lard Breed

Best Use: Bacon, Loin (Whole & Chops), Roasts, Ham, Sausage/Ground, and other retail cuts Recommended Association: Gloucestershire Old Spots of America

2. Large Black

Large Black Pigs are large solid black heritage breed pigs that are efficient on pasture as they are great foragers. Their large ears flop over their eyes which protects the eyes when rooting.

Type: Lard Breed

Best Use: Charcuterie, Sausage/Ground, Roasts, Loin (Chops), Ham, Lard

Recommended Association: Large Black Hog Association

3. American Guinea Hog

American guinea hogs date back to the early 1800s. They do well in forested or pastured settings and they are known for having great temperaments.

Type: Lard Breed Best Use: Charcuterie, Sausage/Ground, Lard,, Suckling BBQ Recommended Association: American Guinea Hog Association

4. Meishan

Meishan pigs were selectively bred to be highly productive on a roughage diet as well as having an early age of sexual maturation. Their meat can be greasy, but they are great for lard and charcuterie.

Type: Lard & Meat Breed

Best Use: Charcuterie, Sausage/Ground, Ham, Lard/Back Fat Recommended Association: American Meishan Breeders Association

5. Red Wattle

Red Wattle hogs are large hardy pigs with a rapid growth rate. They are excellent foragers and produce well-marbled and flavorful meat.

Type: Meat Breed

Best Use: Bacon, Loin (Whole & Chops), Roasts, Ham, Sausage/Ground, and other retail cuts

6. Tamworth

Tamworth pigs are lean heritage hogs with high carcass yields that do well in forested areas.

Type: Meat Breed

Best Use: Bacon, Loin (Whole & Chops), Roasts, Ham, Sausage/Ground, and other retail cuts

7. Hereford

Hereford hogs are early maturing pigs that thrive on pasture and in confinement as they are both good foragers and grain efficient.

Type: Meat Breed

Best Use: Bacon, Loin (Whole & Chops), Roasts, Ham, Sausage/Ground, and other retail cuts

8. Mulefoot

The Mulefoot is a critically rare breed that is known for its ability to fatten up easily and its quality meat production.

Type: Lard Breed Best Use: Charcuterie, Sausage/Ground, Roasts, Ham, Lard

9. Ossabaw Island Hog

Ossabaw Island Hogs are small heritage breed pigs that fatten up quickly and store a large amount of lard for their frames.

Type: Lard Breed

Best Use: Charcuterie, Sausage/Ground, Suckling BBQ, Lard

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