7 Pasture Pig Breeds for the Small Farm
How to Choose the Best Pigs to Pasture Raise
Raising pasture pig breeds is talked about frequently in farming discussions. Not too far back in agrarian history, pasture pig breeds were more common. Keeping a few pigs intended for meat, on the family land, is part of our past and our future. Because most hogs are natural foragers, transitioning them to a more grass fed or silvopasture (wood lot) setting is successful. It is also possible to supplement their foraging and grazing with grain or hog feed.
“Pasture raised” means that the animal gets the predominant amount of nutrition from the pasture plants. Pigs are omnivores. Their diets are not limited to green plants and dried forage. In addition, omnivores will seek out insects and other sources of protein, such as worms and slugs. It is unlikely that a pig is vegan, unless it is kept in a controlled housing environment with carefully controlled feed. A pastured pig should be receiving a wide range of naturally occurring food.
Essential Items for Your Pasture Pig Breeds
There isn’t a lot of pig farming equipment needed but water is a necessity. Pigs love to wallow, and some can climb in and out of water troughs. This leads to muddy water which pigs love for a wallow. Wallowing cools the pig during hot weather, because pigs don’t sweat. When setting up your pasture for pigs, be sure to have a plan for providing clean water frequently.
Shelter for Pasture Pig Breeds
Housing for pigs can be a simple structure like a small Quonset hut, a large igloo-style dog house, a run-in shed, or a small barn building. You can close the pigs in at night or leave them to wander in and out as they choose. During colder weather if you heavily bed with straw, most pigs will burrow under and stay warm and comfortable.
Invest in Good Fencing
Pigs will roam far and wide if not contained by appropriate fencing. Spend the time and money before bringing pigs to the homestead. Training the pigs to an electric fence setup is needed in most cases.
We trained our breeding pigs to an electric pig fence when we first got them. While most of the time the wire is hot, even when it is turned off they don’t try to get past it. There are many different varieties of fencing that can be electrified. The electricity is enough to deliver an unpleasant jolt but not enough to do harm to the pig. There are netting style fences, hog panels, and lumber fences with an added line of electric about six inches up from the ground. The electric line should be low to the ground to discourage digging.
Rotating the Pasture Pig Breeds
The key to successfully raising pasture pig breeds is rotation of the areas. Having a minimum of four separate areas for the rotation gives the pasture or trees, and the soil/dirt time to recover from the rooting and foraging.
Breeds to Consider for Pasture Pig Breeds
While most pigs will happily graze, root, and forage in any setting, there are breeds that convert pasture and wood lot growth to meat better than others. The resulting meat from pasture raised pig breeds differs from pork products obtained from commercial confined hog operations. The flavor is different, deeper, and in some cases can vary between the breeds. Berkshire pork is closer to a red meat. Other breeds may produce a nuttier flavor. As with other species of meat and poultry raised on pasture, the taste will vary greatly from what is found in the local grocery store.
Take into consideration the general temperament of the breed. When you have pigs foraging in a pasture or wooded setting, you won’t want to walk through to check on them if you have an aggressive, mean pig in the pasture! Of course, any sow with piglets can be overprotective and aggressive towards a perceived threat. Therefore, having a well-thought-out fencing setup allows you to manage the pigs without putting yourself in danger.
The Tamworth is one of the heritage breeds listed on the American Livestock Conservancy registry. They are distinguished by the red or golden red color of their skin. Tamworths are great foragers and strong mothers. A lot of farmers choose the Tamworth because they are docile and friendly most of the time. They can be ferocious mothers when they feel their piglets are in danger. In addition, Tamworth meat is considered some of the tastiest pork. Converting a Tamworth hog to a pasture operation is easy since they are good grazers and natural foragers.
Berkshire hogs are a heritage breed that originated in England. The meat is darker than most other pork, and the taste is sought after by many high-end restaurants. The first time I experienced Berkshire pork was memorable! A friend gave me bacon and ham as a gift from her farm. The taste is definitely different than the Hampshire and Duroc crosses that we raise on our farm. Berkshires are considered a bacon breed, meaning they are leaner and raised for a meatier yield. Lard pigs convert more feed to fat than muscle, not a bad thing when you are looking to produce bacon that crisps up perfectly. Lard is a valuable farm product too. Research the breed you are interested in and learn about the average food conversion and meat type.
Mangalitsas are the most unusual looking of pigs. If it was possible to cross a sheep with a pig, this might be the result! The curly thick coat resembles wool growth, although it isn’t nearly as soft. Mangalitsas fall in the lard group of hogs, although the breed is very popular and the meat that is produced is delicious.
Red Wattle pigs are one of the larger breeds. The history of this breed is murky but thought to have been originally developed in Texas. The breed has been put on the Livestock Conservancy listing although current trends see it making a strong effort at returning to popularity. Homesteaders prefer the Red Wattle hog for its docile temperament, lean meat, and good mothering traits. The cute face and folded over ear tips add to its endearing look.
Originating in New Zealand, the KuneKune almost reached the point of extinction. Now the breed can be found on many homesteads. The breed is small, easy to handle, docile, and excellent at foraging. They are kept for many reasons including, pets, yard cleanup, and the smaller amount of delicious lean meat at harvest time.
Chester Whites were developed in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Known for large litter size and often used in cross breeding to increase this trait. You will need to provide sun protection for the Chester White. As with any of the white hog breeds, they will sunburn if no shelter or shade is provided.
Hampshires are a fairly common breed on farms because of their hardiness, and lean meat. You should find they do well on pasture and are often used as a cross to increase growth in other breeds. Our Hampshire sow has lived on pasture and forest forage her whole life and has produced two healthy, vigorous litters per year. Hampshires are easily recognized by the black body with the white belt around the shoulder area and are an excellent pasture pig breed.
Finally, if you have a favorite breed not listed above, it does not mean that your preferred breed won’t do well on pasture. Managing a pig farming business is about just that — management. When your pigs are not thriving on pasture alone, or are slow to reach market weight, adding grain or pig feed does not change the fact that they are raised on pasture. Pigs have simple digestive tracts and may take time to adapt to the change to a foraged diet. Feed your animal what it needs and it will perform for you and produce meat.