Guide to Heritage Hog Breeds
Wallow around with these five heritage hog breeds.
A couple of Tamworth boars take a look over the sty door.
Once an essential part of any diversified farm, pigs have played an important role in agriculture – providing meat, fat, leather, bristles and more – for millennia. Some experts say pigs were domesticated as early as 11,000 B.C., and you’d be better off asking the question of where domestication didn’t occur than asking where it did. On the farm, pigs were often extensively managed and expected to forage for acorns, glean fields after harvest, consume dairy and brewery waste, and eat windfall fruit from orchards.
Not so long ago, hundreds of pig breeds were kept busy in backyards and on homesteads across the country. However, as the pork industry moved toward ever leaner and longer carcasses, increased production efficiencies, and confinement operations, many historic breeds fell out of favor. Today, fewer pig breeds remain, and many are dwindling in number. However, plenty of these pig breeds are perfectly suited to the small holding or homestead.
In the spirit of summertime barbecues, or “pig-pickin’s” as they’re called in the South, let’s explore some historic hog breeds and the unique histories, flavors and personalities that are influencing the rebirth of the sustainable agriculture movement.
Gloucestershire Old Spot
Noted for its distinctive white coat with black spots, the Gloucestershire Old Spot (GOS) pig looks like the Dalmatian of pig breeds. The breed (pronounced Glos-ter-sheer) originated in Gloucestershire, England, in the 1800s. They often were found on small farms where they were the “pig of all trades” used for cleaning excess whey from cheese making, harvesting windfall apples from the orchards, and gleaning the residue from the cider press. The breed’s reputation as an excellent grazer and forager earned it nicknames like “Cottage Pig” and “Orchard Pig.”
Known for its meat with a flavor to savor, the pig became wildly popular in Great Britain during the first half of the 20th century. Gloucestershire Old Spots were imported into the United States, but their popularity never reached a level as high as the United Kingdom. After World War II and the shift to industrial food production, the breed lost popularity in both Britain and the United States.
Today, thanks to their great maternal skills, friendly dispositions and self-sufficiency, the Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs are making a comeback. Though boars reach mature weights of more than 600 pounds and sows average about 500 pounds, they are good-natured and relatively easy to handle. The breed is an ideal option for the farmer or homesteader looking for delectable meats from pasture-raised pigs.
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