Meet the Meishan Pig

Learn more about this heritage breed and decide if the petite pig is ideal for your farm

Photo Courtesy Laura Jensen

Of all the breeds we work with at The Livestock Conservancy (TLC), the Meishan is among the oldest and most unique. Dating back thousands of years in central China, they were a classic “village pig,” treasured in the countryside of the Taihu Lake region, near the city of Shanghai. Meishans’ wrinkled face gives them the appearance of a Shar-Pei dog, and the curve of their jaws makes it seem like they’re always smiling.

These smallish, grey-colored pigs reach a mature weight of 350 to 400 pounds by about 3 years of age. Perhaps the most well-known value of the Meishan is its prolificacy: Sows can produce enormous litters of more than 20 piglets. They typically have 16 to 18 teats (though some have more than 20), which allow them to easily raise large litters. Because of their productivity, Meishans were imported to Europe in the 1800s. Many floppy-eared European pigs we see today owe that characteristic to the Meishan.

The breed served as a valuable food resource until recently, when native pigs in Asia began to be replaced with modern commercial animals. Only about 1,600 purebred Meishans remain in the world today, with nearly 80 breeding pigs in the United States. The remaining pigs in China are under strict governmental control, and are mostly used for crossbreeding. At TLC, the breed has made the Conservation Priority List.

Photo courtesy Laura Jensen

Coming to America

The story of the Meishan in the United States starts with the importation of 99 pigs in 1989 for a joint research project conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Iowa State University, and the University of Illinois. These animals were split into three herds, which were used to study the breed’s hyper-productivity. The study concluded in 2008 with some of the pigs being butchered, and, by 2016, the remaining descendants of the original 99 pigs had been dispersed.

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