When you are thinking about raising a few pigs for your homestead, you’ve got tons of choices of breeds! Which breeds will suit you the best for raising pigs?
The best feeder pigs for homesteaders are crossbred pigs. The best pigs for homesteader raising breeding stock are: the all round breeds, Chester White and Yorkshire; the meat quality focused breeds, Berkshire, Duroc and Hereford; and the very docile breeds Gloucestershire Old Spot and Large Black.
Let’s start off by acknowledging that there is no “best breed”. There is however, the best breed to suit you and your situation and that is what I’ve designed this article to help you with.
Is Raising Pigs For Meat Worth It? will help you figure out your likely expenses for raising your own pigs.
Crossbred pigs are the best choice for feeder pigs
Crossbred feeder pigs are a hybrid, with a maternal breed mom, usually a York or Landrace, and a meat breed sire, usually Hampshire, Berkshire or Duroc. Hybrid pigs have the advantage of hybrid vigor, meaning they are faster growing and hardier than purebred piglets.
I know that crossbred pigs are not a breed, but stick with me here.
How Long Does It Take To Raise A Pig? goes over the time you’ll need to plan for your pig and the common things folks do to make it take longer!
If you are wanting to raise a few feeder pigs for the freezer this year, look no further, seriously. Get a couple of crossbred piglets and be ready for the best pork you’ve ever had, and you raised it yourself!
Things you should know about Crossbred piglets:
- are hardy
- less expensive
- more likely to be available
- more likely to gain well for you (especially if you are a beginner)
- meant to be terminal (not kept as breeding stock)
If you are really hung up on getting a specific breed feeder pig, read the descriptions below and see which breed you think will suit you best.
If you just want great pigs, go with a crossbred. This is how I started out raising my own pigs, it truly is the best way to go.
Yorkshire is the best all round pig breed
Yorkshire is the best all round pig breed for keeping pig at home. They have good litter numbers, mothering ability, growth, hardiness and have a wide genetic base to choose your feeder pigs or breeding stock from.
Yorkshire is one of the more popular breeds of pigs raised, but that’s because they are growthy and versatile.
Yorkshire pigs are the perfect combination of a pig that is hardy enough to be outdoors, yet will still have plenty of pigs per litter.
This is a balance that most breeds do not achieve. It’s tough to get a highly productive pig that produces a good carcass, yet Yorkshires been able to do both. This is why they are so popular.
Things you should know about Yorkshires:
- you’ll have many choices of places to buy pigs from
- in my experience, they tend to be climbers. My York cross sow goes up on the side of the pen when she’s hungry, the other pigs don’t.
- get stock from a small farmer who selects for good attitude in breeding stock, commercial genetic lines are not what you are looking for
If I were looking for a great pig breed that’s good at nearly everything, I would choose Yorkshire. While they are not the best in any one category, they are the best package, overall.
Berkshire pigs are known for great meat quality
Berkshire pigs are known for being producers of very high quality pork.
Berkshire pigs outshine all other pigs in terms of meat quality from an eater’s perspective. Berkshire pigs are also known for having a good attitude, earning them the nickname “Lady’s pig” from British pig raisers.
The downside of Berkshires is having a lower average number of piglets litter.
Things you should know about Berkshire pigs:
- amazing meat quality, mostly due to marbling
- pigs have a good attitude
- tend to have low litter numbers
- breeders seem to focus on show breeding or meat quality breeding
I have also noticed a huge variety in conformation, mostly between show Berkshires and folks concerned only with meat quality, whose pigs tend to be fatter.
Neither one is better than the other, it’s more about choosing the genetics that best suit your purposes.
I am breeding my pigs up to Berkshire. I’ll never have purebreds, but I can get pretty close and customize the pigs to what I am looking for.
I am firmly on the meat quality side and have to be very choosy about which boars I use (when we A.I.) to make sure those boars are selected primarily for amazing meat quality, as well.
Nothing wrong with the show boars, I just prefer the other type of pig. I have used show boar semen, which produced great looking pigs. They were just a little to high strung for me, compared to some of the other genetics I have.
Chester White pigs are great all rounders
Chester White pigs are a wonderful, all round pig. They are hardy and good moms with a good amount of marbling for great pork.
Things you should know about Chester White pigs:
- bred to be used in outdoor systems
- great moms that are hardy
- smaller bodied than the Yorkshire
- will be harder to find
Tea Hills Farms are a local farm that sells mainly through farmer’s markets and online, to folks wanting high quality, pasture raised meats. Tea Hills uses Chester White/Berkshires cross pigs as the base for their pastured pig operation.
Duroc are fast growers
Duroc pigs are known for being hardy pigs that are efficient growers. Duroc pigs are a great choice for folks wanting a hardy pig that is quick to gain weight.
Things you should know about Duroc pigs:
- hardiness, these pigs are a great choice for outdoor pig raising
- known for high feed to gain ratio, meaning they gain weight quickly
- get your pigs from a small farmer who selects for breeding stock with a good attitude
Duroc pork also has a dedicated following as the pork of choice, especially for BBQ. Compart Family Farms specializes in Duroc genetics, specifically for meat quality and has a whole line up of cuts specifically with BBQ lovers in mind.
Hereford pigs are meaty and gentle
Hereford pigs are becoming more popular. They were a rare breed, but have increased in numbers due to their meatiness and good attitude.
Things you should know about Hereford pigs:
- nice pig to work with
- known for good meat quality with good attitude
- variety of genetics, be careful which pigs you buy
I needed a boar to use on some 75% Berkshire breeding age gilts that I am keeping. My boar is their dad, so I needed another option! I decided to go with a Hereford that was available. He looks good and is well behaved.
If you’ve read the Berkshire section, you know I’m breeding up to Berkshire, so why use a Hereford? That’s easy, I needed a boar and liked his build and demeanor. He truly is a sweetie.
If I were looking for more of a homestead type pig that still had great meat and growth quality, I would go with Hereford as my pig breed of choice.
A cautionary tale:
As with any livestock, be sure the pigs you are seeing live up to the standards of the breed. While this is true of all pigs, and all animals for that matter, I’m putting this caution in the Hereford section for a reason.
Here’s the story: I was shopping for a Berkshire boar last year and was at the Kidron Auction to see what was available.
There was a Hereford boar that was a terrible example of the breed, the only thing that really was Hereford about him was his coloring!
He had terrible conformation, tall and stilty, and nearly zero meatiness. This pig was a very poor example of the breed. If this was the only Hereford I had ever seen, I would steer clear of the breed, he was truly that bad.
However, I have just purchased a Hereford boar that I love, so that boar last year was an oddity, not the norm for the breed.
I’m telling you this so you can be on the look out for meatiness and correct structure in your pigs. The right coloring does not get you what you need, your pigs must have a meaty build and a good attitude.
Be choosy and if you don’t see what you are looking for, go somewhere else.
Large Black are calm and great moms
Large Black pigs are known for being great moms, raising large litters on pasture, while having a people friendly attitude. They will be slower growing than more common pig breeds.
Large Blacks have a few very dedicated followers due to their sweet nature.
Things you should know about Large Black pigs:
- wonderful attitude
- mainly used in outdoor systems
- will be slow growers
- may be hard to find in your area
- few genetic lines available
I have never raised any Large Black pigs, however I have noticed they are gaining popularity with folks raising pigs outside. Check out Six Oaks, a farm in South Carolina, that raises and sells Large Black cross pigs.
Triangle K Ranch is a farm in Ohio that is passionate about Large Black pigs and the importance of conserving these unique genetics and only have wonderful things to say about the breed.
The Livestock Conservancy has a great article on the history of Large Black pigs and a breeder’s list if you are interested in learning more about the breed.
Gloucestershire Old Spot are docile and great moms
Gloucestershire Old Spot, usually written as GOS, are a rare breed from England known for being gentle, good moms and great foragers.
GOS are actually becoming more popular as folks get into raising their own meat and want a nice, easy going pig to work with.
Things you should know about GOS pigs:
- known for gentle nature
- mainly used in outdoor systems
- are a rare breed so they can be hard to find
- will be slow growers
- few genetic lines available
This is another breed I have no experience with raising. Joyce Farms of North Carolina sells meat to folks who care about taste and how their animals are raised, GOS is their heritage pork pig of choice.
As with all rare breeds, they are rare because there are not a lot of breeding animals left. This means that getting the genetics you need for your pigs, like when you need to replace a boar, can be tough.
The Livestock Conservancy has an excellent article on GOS, if you are interested in breed history or a breeder’s list.
Avoid buying the new breeds or small breed pigs
Avoid buying any new breeds of pigs or small breeds of pigs for your first time raising pigs.
The new breeds of pigs that are out there seem to have a huge variety in size and shape, that’s concerning. A breed should be standard, maybe with color variety, but definitely with standard sizes and conformation.
What I see folks advertising still has way too much variability to breed true, which is the whole point of a breed!
Unusually small breeds of pigs are a poor choice for beginners
The small sized pigs are also a poor choice for the beginner. These pigs are going to be slow growers that very few people will want to buy piglets from you, unless you are an all star dedicated marketer.
With standard size pigs, you can always sell your extras to the auction, a butcher or as a half or whole pig. That will be tough with this small of a pig.
I’m not saying these small breed pigs are bad pigs, I’ve not personally had any of them or any of the new breed pigs, but they are very limited in what you can do with the piglets.
Let’s say you have two sows and a boar. Think about this: what are you going to do with 2 litters of 8-10 piglets, that’s 16-20 piglets to move on to customers, twice per year! You’ll need plenty of repeat customers for this to work.
I see people getting out of these small breeds, putting their stock up for sale and I don’t see a lot of takers. I know these pigs are cute, but please heavily consider how you’ll handle the business aspect of your pigs before you buy them!