Quality food is one of the essential and luxurious parts of homesteading. Taking control of your food, includes taking control of your meat. For your best pork, check out these six heritage pig breeds for your homestead!
If you’ve had pork from a family farmer you know the difference between store-bought and local meat is staggering. Once you’ve had meat from a local farmer you won’t be able to stomach feed-lot pork.
Heritage breeds are ancient breeds, bred for specific characteristics. Things such as hanging weight, rutting ability, fertility, size and more are all carefully weighed when selecting breeding pairs for these breeds. And the history behind them is fascinating.
I prefer heritage breeds over newer ones or hybrids because they tend to be hardier – the genetics are selected with health and longevity in mind. I especially like to find breeds that have been local to our area or similar areas for generations. I believe they will be better suited for our climate and environment.
In this post, I’ll go over the top six heritage breeds that you can use on your own homestead.
Heritage pig breeds
Red wattle is commonly identified through their color (which ranges from light blonde-red to a deep rust-red) and distinctive wattles. Sometimes, they appear to have small black markings on their belly, and typically weigh 800–1,000 lb (360–450 kg).
They reach their table weight quickly, making them excellent for raising for meat.
Though large in size, these red hogs are not difficult to raise. Besides their rapid growth rate, they are gentle and have incredibly mild temperament.
They are a very fertile breed, with the sows birthing 7-12 piglets in each litter, which makes them an excellent money-maker.
They also have impressive foraging ability, and adapt to a wide range of climates, making them a good choice for small-scale, independent producers.
Not to mention their tender and juicy tasting meat just like that of beef!
There’s not much information about the origin and history of red wattle heritage pig breeds, but it was believed to have been introduced in the country by its ancestors through the Gulf of Mexico.
When French colonists brought these hogs to New Orleans, they began to populate and reach the forest of Texas.
Unfortunately, they are now included on the threatened list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) with only less than 1,000 registrations in the United States yearly.
Large Black Pig
Large Blacks have been bred for their large size and their foraging ability. They have their black color to protect them from sunburn (especially in hot climates), and large ears that fall over their faces to protect their eyes while foraging.
Originally from Devon England, Large Blacks were bred to thrive on either pasture, or woods, or difficult land. It was a successful breed in the early twentieth century and later on exported to other countries like Australia, Argentina, South Africa, and the United States.
However, it almost became extinct in the 1960s after World War II when the intensive animal husbandry began. When commercial pork operations moved into large barns, “outdoor breeds” lost popularity.
This caused a number of outdoor breeds, including large black pigs to decline, eventually enlisting them as endangered livestock in 1973.
With a large, deep, and elongated body, these heritage pig breeds have strong foraging and grazing abilities.
Their maternal instinct is also extraordinary as they can conceive, wean and raise litters of 8-12 piglets at a time.
And while consumers love the flavor and quality of their lean meat, producers on the other hand, consider them as a good option for pastured management systems.
Originated in China, Meishan Pigs may be the oldest heritage pig breed in the world! Adult meishan pigs weigh around 275-375/300-400 lbs and have excellent maternity skills, weaning more than 20 piglets.
Their superior marbled meat makes an excellent choice for explicit cuisines in China and Japan!
They are also a popular choice among producers because of their very docile and quiet characteristics, enabling them to manage these heritage pig breeds easily.
If you are a small-scale, independent producer who has a small farm and able to provide a high fiber diet and roughage, then meishan pigs are a good option for you!
Today, Meishan Pigs are considered as another critical heritage pig breed that are restricted in zoos and some research facilities.
An American heritage pig breed, the mulefoot hog weighs around 400-600 lbs at maturity, and are known to have solid, non-cloven hooves that are advantageous in wet conditions.
They are typically medium-sized, with black body color (often with white markings) and have erect to semi-lop ears (similar to a wild boar).
Just like most types of heritage pig breeds, Mulefoot hogs are excellent mothers, able to wean as many as 13 piglets!
They are considered a valuable part of American history and are now a conservation priority (critical CPL status). As of today, they are the only heritage pig breed that has an established standard type since the 1900s.
Typically small, weighing around 90kg at maturity and less than 20 inches tall, Ossabaw Islands are intelligent and highly social breed.
Having been raised on an island where food is often scarce, these heritage pig breeds have strong survival instincts.
They can store fat in a different manner, can be thrifty and self-sufficient, and thrive in a low sugar level diet.
Ossabaw Island also has unique, dark texture meat, commonly roasted or cured to enhance the taste.
In the 16th century, when the Spanish and Portuguese explorers came to the United States, they brought with them different kinds of livestock for future food, and one of them is the Ossabaw Island.
It was thought that these heritage pig breeds were of Spanish descent, but later on discovered through DNA analysis that they are from Canary Island – an important stopover for the explorers during that time. Today, Ossabaw Island pigs, as another critical livestock, are isolated under the State of Georgia for preservation and research purposes.
Tamworth Pig is a heritage pig breed originated in Ireland, and is one of those that are exposed to outdoor life.
This means they are athletic, able to walk in considerable distance because of their strong, long legs, and able to hunt for food for their own survival.
Because of their low energy diet, they can produce lean and fine-grained meat.
Tamworth Pigs have erect ears and long lean bodies, enabling them to forage excellently and efficiently, and enabling them to easily adapt to various climate conditions.
In terms of mothering, they are noted to perform excellently with a litter size of 6-10. Overall, they are intelligent domestic pigs with 500-600 lbs weight at maturity.
When it comes to raising heritage pig breeds, one has to consider some important factors, such as environment and breed type. Overall, raising them is a challenging yet fun experience. Not to mention easy & direct access to fine quality, superior meat!