looking for pigs and people with questions about pigs. The questions run the
gamete from which breed is best to how long will it take to grow them out.
Unfortunately, as with most things agricultural related the answer is .... it
depends. Why are you considering keeping pigs? How do they fit into your
overall plans? (we are big on integrated systems here).
So, once you have a solid idea of why you want pigs then we can talk about selecting a breed. If you want to raise a pig just for meat, have a barn and are just interested in feeding the crap out a pig and raising your own meat, then there is nothing wrong with the modern commercial white pig. In fact there are many good things going for them. They grow like crazy, they are easily able to
achieve 600 - 900 grams/day. Like all breeds an F1 cross will grow faster than a
purebred of any breed. Hybrid vigor is on your side. However, any animal that is
fed hard, will add on layers of fat. White pigs tend to add fat higher on the
carcass, so in the roasts area. If you are going to put them in a pasture they
need shade or a reliable mud patch as they are more active than most heritage
breeds and will burn and suffer from heat exhaustion. White pigs will mind
insect bites / stings more than a heritage pig as they do not have the fat layer
or the hair that heritage breeds have.
There has, in the past ten years been a resurgence in the heritage breed pigs. The most common breeds found in the maritimes are the Berkshire, the Tamworth and the Duroc. There are advantages to each.
The most common is the Berkshire, they are known for their rich flavour. They are the best at laying on inter muscular fat, also known as marbling. However, they also have a tendency to lay on excessive back fat, as much as two inches. This is highly individual and has a lot to do with how and what they are fed and their weight at slaughter. They are great for in the pasture, but they can sunburn and can suffer from heat stroke. Despite what you may have heard, they will not graze grass. They will tear it up, they are looking for roots and bugs They will uproot trees. Our current boar, has a fascination for rocks and has upturned granite boulders. The Berks tend to average 600- 650 grams of gain /day. They have only average litters, 6 - 10 piglets, but are are generally good mothers. Despite rumours to the contrary, Berkshires, and all heritage breeds for that matter, are not immune to or resistant to any of the "modern" diseases.
The Tamworth are your four legged tractors. They are built for digging. They are a long narrow pig, hardier than the Berk, and more self reliant but tend
to be a little more skittish than the other breeds. As they were originally bred
to be a bacon pig, they are long and lean with very little back fat and
marbling. Like all heritage breeds their meat tends to be darker and more
reddish than the white pig. They are slightly slower growing than the Berk, but
will put on much more fat than the Berk if pushed. Bigger litters than the
Berkshire, but tend to be much more aggressive, especially a sow with a litter.
In Gary's humble opinion, they are the prettiest of the heritage breeds. They
have a tough hide and coarse hair.
Finally the Duroc. Not as common as the other two breeds, they are not a true heritage breed. The Duroc that we know today is a modern pig and the first to be considered a "commercial' heritage breed pig. It originated in the U.S. and is
to be considered a terminal breed. They make an excellent boar to cross as their
genetics bring accelerated growth, while maintaining a relatively lean meat.
They tend to be a general purpose pig having both the length for the bacon and
the large shoulders and rumps for roasts and hams. They also tend to be poor
mothers, have average size litters and are the most aggressive of the heritage
breeds. They are less likely to tear up ground than the Berk or Tam, however
pigs are smart, they get bored and in the end, all pigs will root.
So, as I said choosing a breed depends upon why you want to keep pigs in the first place. It makes a significant difference to your bottom line when you work with the characteristics of any given breed. As with all generalities, the above information pertains to the predominant characteristics of each breed. There will be individual variances, so it is always advisable to meet with the breeder of and get a feel for the genetics and environment of your prospective purchase.