Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Homestead: Hamming it Up

 I have to admit I love pork. Ralph does as well, so swine are going to be a fixture on our homestead. I have not raised a lot of pigs in my lifetime but the ones I have had were both very good eating and quite enjoyable creatures to watch and care for. They are smart, social and extremely clean. They graze more than I expected and they cleaned up the left overs from the cattle. I let mine free range in a fairly large field behind the house and just fenced areas I did not want them in, this didn't always work out but for the most part they were no trouble at all. They loved vegetables and assorted table scraps and I often got stale bread locally for them.

Retrieving Peachy, Paddy, Fang and Bonnie from the neighbors yard, 1988.
See post July 11, 2011. 

Ralph's grandparents always had pigs. They were let run in the woods behind their home and rooted the woods for acorns and hickory nuts. I loved the story of the hog butchering in "Little House In The Big Woods" By Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hogs who have a chance to eat windfall  or waste nuts and fruit taste much better than grain fed hogs. And so much of the butcher hog is useful.

We also want to render and use our own lard. This means we want our pigs to graze more and eat as little grain as possible. This will  make a better quality product to render.

We know this low grain high forage diet will mean they are slower to get to market weight but we believe it will be worth the extra time.

When we looked into a specific breed of hog for our farm we had quite a time of it. There are a surprising number of heritage breeds that would fit our requirements.We visited the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy [Pigs] a lot. We liked The Large Black, The Mulefoot and The Hereford Hog.

Mule Foot Hogs
The Mulefoot is an old American Breed noted for having a single hoof instead of the cloven hoof pigs usually have. They are a smaller breed maturing between 400 and 600 pounds.They produce darker colored meat than modern store pork but then the commercially raised pigs do not get out and ramble around a field to get their food. We liked the idea of raising a breed that is listed as critical. They will produce a smaller more useful sized carcass for us to use and they graze and forage well in woods or on pasture.

 Mulefoot hog resting

Single toe of the Mulefoot hog

Mulefoot Chops 

The Large Black also interested us. They are a big long bodied hog that has produced fine quality pork and lard for pioneers and farmers for years. They fell out of favor when the demand for lard dropped and pigs began to be raised in confinement. These big black pigs prefer to roam and do not handle tight confinement well. They are listed as critical with the ALBC. 

 Large Black Boar

Large Black Sow with Piglets, [Photo Courtesy of the LBHA

This is a Heritage breed that shows a bit more of the modern influence for thick lean bacon hogs. The Hereford Hog breed was developed in the USA in the 1930's. They are named for their wonderful coloration of Red and White, very similar to Hereford cattle. Ralph and I were attracted to that very thing at first but when we looked into the breed more we found they are very suited to being a small farm or homestead pig. They mature to butcher weight quickly, in 5 to 6 months, they do well in both confinement and at pasture and they have quiet  gentle dispositions. Mature boars can weigh up to 800 pounds and sows reach 600. This breed is of a slightly more modern structure with piglets being shown successfully in 4-H and the carcass qualities being lean and meaty.

 A top quality Hereford Boar, Southern Chaos.

 Note the wonderful red and white markings.

 Hereford Hog Pork Cutlets
*Special Thanks for the previous photos to Southern Chaos...The Hereford Hog

Then much to our surprise we found one more breed of hog that fascinated us. Mangalitsa. This is a very old breed that was bred in Hungary for Royalty. They are the funniest looking pigs we had ever seen being covered in a very wooley coat. However once we stopped laughing we found out they are  fantastic hogs for the table. They are fatty in the old style but that adds to the extremely flavorful meat. They have been imported to the US and are growing in popularity as a gourmet swine. Their meat has been featured on Iron Chef and graces many tables in fine restaurants.

 A Johnston County Mangalista ham, retailing for $275.00

Better yet Mangalitsa sows will happily rear their piglets outside and on pasture or in woods. They have been bred to forage on lower quality feeds for centuries. These pigs certainly caught  our more ways than one!

A Mangalitsa sow in winter in the woods.

Our homestead hog search has had some unexpected results that leave us smiling. All the breeds that have made our list will work well for a homesteader. It gets down to trying them and seeing which one you really do like. We hope to try at least two of these breeds right on our farm to see them work up close and personal so to speak. We do want pigs that are low maintenance and require little or no confinement. We believe it is healthier for them and also for us. 

In closing we will need a pig that can look after itself, forage in our woodland, be freindly and quiet to handle, raise and rear its piglets in a more natural way without farrowing crates or expensive housing, they have to have a useful carcass producing top quality meat and lard for our home use  so our pigs have to be a swine of all trades.  We are really looking forward to the Great Pig adventure and Hamming it up!



  1. Hi Fiona. We have been looking into pigs as well, but we are looking for a much smaller version. One that has caught our eye is the American Guinea Hog. Full grown they only weigh 150 to 200 pounds. They are healthier on pasture than on grain. Grain tends to cause reproductive problems as well as too much fat.

    One of the reasons we are drawn to them is their smaller size. If the time comes that we have to manage without electricity, which means no refrigeration or freezers, we want a smaller carcass to deal with. We feel there would be less chance that the meat would go bad before we either processed or ate it. The fact that they do very well on pasture is a definite benefit as well.

    Thank you for the information. It gives us more to think about.


    1. You bring up an excellent point about size. We had read about the Guinea Hog. They are gaining popularity for that point.

      I had a Vietnamese Pot bellied Pig years ago for a pet. She got quite big...400 pounds and I found out to keep them small you have to severely limit their food!
      We plan on dealing with carcass size by butchering in the fall or early winter and canning or dry curing as much as we are able to.
      There is just so much to learn.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. This is something we want to do, we just need to get an area set up for them. Great post :)

    1. Are you going to raise them in a small pen or try a field or wooded area?

  3. I was thinking about the Forest Guinea Hog, too. They are noted for their excellent fat (lard). I had raised two of them and found them to be smart, gentle and just the right size.

    1. Isn't it interesting to see that "Lard" is coming back into the kitchen! Of course it has to come from a pig that has not been fed or raised commercially with all the drug use and feed additives used in the commercial system. Thank you for visiting!