Guide to Pig Breeds for Meat

Learn about the fascinating histories of, primary uses for, and identifying characteristics of well-loved pig breeds.

By Caleb Regan
Updated on October 11, 2023
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by AdobeStock/Deanna
Berkshire

Follow GRIT’s Guide to Pig Breeds for Meat to learn the fascinating histories of, primary uses for, and identifying characteristics of well-loved pig breeds.

On most farms, pigs are a staple. They are often a hardy bunch, which means care can be simpler than with other livestock, and they’re able to dispose of food that otherwise might go to waste. For what you put into raising swine, the payout can be very good in terms of meat production, grass control with grazing, and the overall joy of raising this smart, jovial type of livestock.

In the March/April 2009 issue of GRIT, we excerpted a book (Storey’s Illustrated Breed Guide to Sheep Goats Cattle and Pigs by Carol Ekarius) to bring you a swine breed guide. The following is GRIT’s Guide to Pig Breeds for Meat, referencing both Ekarius’ book and the folks at Oklahoma State University.

Small Pig Breeds for Meat

Guinea Hog

Ships brought the Guinea Hog to America from the Guinea coast of Africa. The slave trade propagated the breed throughout Europe and the American colonies. In the South, they’d become a common homestead pig, but they are relatively unknown today. Guinea Hogs are gentle and easy to care for, making them a popular choice for children’s zoos.

Functionality: Meat, lard
Appearance: Most are black, but they can be a reddish color, and are hairy; small (150 to 300 pounds and 15 to 20 inches tall at full maturity); upright ears
Size: Small
Conservation Status: Rare to see them today. They were once common in the South, but numbers have dwindled.
Origin: West coast of Africa
Known for: Foraging ability, agreeable temperament

Ossabaw Island

Ossabaw Island, for which these pigs are named, is a small island about 10 miles off the coast of Georgia. Ossabaw Island pigs are direct descendants of Spanish pigs. Since they spent many years isolated on the island, they more closely reflect Spanish breed traits. Ossabaw Island offers very little food during the spring season, so Ossabaw Island pigs have adapted to be able to store more food than any other breed. These hogs are best-suited for the southeast, because they thrive in heat and humidity.

Functionality: Feral, meat
Appearance: Black and white spotted or just solid black; coarse hair; small, upright ears with a long snout
Size: Small
Conservation Status: Critical
Origin: United States
Known for: Ability to store fat; foraging ability; being wild, feral and somewhat exotic

Tamworth

The Tamworth Swine Association states that this English breed is distinctly bacon-type. They were brought to the United States in 1882. It’s a small breed when compared to others, so it’s caught on slow with American hog producers who prefer thicker breeds. The ham is generally muscular with a firm lean rump.

Functionality: Bacon
Appearance: Reddish in color; muscular top and long rum with rounded back; upright ears and long snout
Size: Small
Conservation Status: Threatened
Origin: England
Known for: Tasty bacon

Medium Pig Breeds for Meat

Berkshire

Oliver Cromwell’s army is said to have discovered the Berkshire in the shire of Berk. They were originally sandy-colored, which explains the sometimes reddish, sandy color of hairs in their white spots. Later, the breed was crossed with Siamese and Chinese blood. Records indicate the bloodstream has been pure for the last 200 years. Berkshires are thought to have been brought to America in 1823.

Functionality: Meat, terminal sire (a breeding male used to generate market animals, usually hardy and good meat qualities)
Appearance
: Black, with white spots that may or may not have a brownish-red, sandy tint in them; spots on the tip of the tail, snout and four white-stockinged feet; short, perky ears pointing skyward; short snout
Size: Medium
Conservation Status: Healthy U.S. population
Origin: England
Known for: Meat and hardiness, terminal sires

Chester White

Originally known as the Chester County White, as in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the place of origin. The Chester breed itself originated in Jefferson County, New York, then was bred with Yorkshire and Lincolnshire breeds from England. Between 1815 and 1818, a white boar was introduced in the mix, and the Chester White was born. The first Chester White Record Association began in 1884. Several other associations branched out, until all were consolidated into the Chester White Swine Record Association in 1930.

Functionality: Meat, crossbreeding
Appearance: White, some black spots on skin are permitted for registration; long body; straight back; floppy ears
Size: Medium
Conservation Status: Healthy
Origin: United States
Known for: Meat, hardiness, production in variety of settings

Hereford

The earliest known Hereford hogs are said to have existed in Missouri. The man who owned the pigs and was thought to have bred for the breed, R.U. Webber, would not cooperate with breeders on how exactly he bred them, so another group of breeders went to work between 1920 and 1925 to introduce a breed that had known genetics. None of the Herefords in existence today trace to Webber’s bloodlines.

Herefords are well-known and look very similar to Hereford cows; reddish-brown body and white face.

Appearance: Reddish-brown body with white spots on face, ears and possibly legs; slightly dished face with droopy ears
Size: Medium
Conservation Status: On the watch list
Origin: United States
Known for: Similarities to cattle breed with the same name; agreeable disposition and tasty meat

Mulefoot

Mulefoot pigs are named for a quality that distinguishes them along with Choctaw breed; they have syndactyl hooves much like a mule or horse. Also, this breed is unique to the United States, but is critically rare at this time. The origin of the Mulefoot pig is not known, but they were found in Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, throughout the southwest and in parts of Mexico.

Functionality: Meat, lard
Appearance: Most often black; syndactyl hoof; long snout
Size: Medium, 400 to 600 pounds at 2 years old
Conservation Status: Critical
Origin: United States
Known for: Syndactyl hooves; hardiness and foraging ability

Lacombe

The Lacombe breed was originally conceptualized and bred at the Canadian Department of Agriculture Research Station in Lacombe, Alberta; hence the name. The foundation stock was formed by taking top Berkshire sows from Canada and mating them with imported Landrace-Chester White crossbred boars from the United States. It took 12 years of selective breeding to arrive at the desired genetic output that is present today. In 1954, all Lacombes that entered the breed were backcrossed with Berkshires, and any offspring with black hair were taken out of the gene pool.

In 1957, Lacombe boars were made available to the public, and the first sows a year later. At that time, they were estimated to contain 56 percent Landrace, 23 percent Berkshire and 21 percent Chester White blood.

Today, they are the fifth most popular breed in Canada, and they were designed to thrive in Canada – especially the central part of the country – although they are present in other countries. They have high fertility, and they are very hardy and docile.

Functionality: High quality meat, high fertility in both boars and sows, terminal sires
Appearance: White; medium-sized; large, droopy ears; relatively short, strong legs
Size: Medium
Conservation Status: Population extremely low and typically not available to farmers as breeding stock
Origin: Lacombe, Alberta, Canada
Known for: Fast growth in both boars and sows, hardiness, docility, Canadian origin

Welsh

The history of the Welsh swine breed is somewhat unknown. These pigs have been present in Wales as early as records indicate. Special breed improvement began in the 1950s when it was realized they had desirable characteristics, such as the ability to thrive in farm setting, large litters, excellent mothering instincts and high-yielding carcasses. For breed improvement, Landrace blood was infused into the gene pool. Today, Welsh pigs are the third ranking breed in Britain, but there have only been a limited number of exports to other countries.

The Welsh pig has relatively short legs, and this makes the back and torso seem extremely long. Sows average around 10 pigs per farrow.

Functionality: Carcass yield, reproduction, cross-breeding with the Large White and British Landrace, two breeds not closely related
Appearance: White, short legs making the back seem long, slightly dished face, muscular
Size: Short but medium body build
Conservation Status: Healthy population
Origin: Wales
Known for: High carcass yield, short legs

Large Pig Breeds for Meat

American Landrace

Landrace pigs were originally bred in Denmark, and it was due in large part to this pig that Denmark had such a booming bacon-export business. In 1934, the U.S. Department of Agriculture received a shipment of 24 Landrace pigs from Denmark. Originally, the foundation for the American Landrace breed were pigs directly descended from the original imports, or those with a slight infusion of the Poland China breed. Shortly thereafter, 38 boars and gilts were imported from Norway carrying Norwegian, Danish and Swedish Landrace blood. These three variations of the Landrace are bred with the American Landrace today, broadening the breed’s genetic make-up.

Hair on an American Landrace must be white for registration, and dark white spots are seen as undesirable. Freckles on the skin are permitted, but black hairs are not.

Functionality: Meat, and sows are known for milk-producing and being prolific reproducers
Appearance: White; long, straight back, with 16 or 17 pairs of ribs; muscular, even lean build; hams plump but trim; long rump; head long and narrow, while ears are flat, large, heavy and carried close to the face
Size: Large with long back
Conservation Status: Population good
Origin: United States (for the American Landrace), original Landrace from Denmark
Known for: Milk production, good maternal proliferation

American Yorkshire

Yorkshire pigs were developed in York shire (county), England. In England, the breed is still known as the English Large White.

The majority of sources indicate the Yorkshire first landed in America in Ohio, around 1830, about 60 years prior to the formation of the American Yorkshire Club. From 1830 to the 1940s, the American Yorkshire breed experienced some ups and downs, and farmers were tough to sell on the breed. One reason is because back then, lard was selling for the same price as muscle, so there was little reason to raise hogs for meat.

There was a spike right around 1940, and from 1957 to 1972, around 500,000 Yorkshires were registered with the American Yorkshire Club, compared to 200,000 during the initial 64 years. During these years, the American Yorkshire gained national prominence.

Functionality: Bacon, ham, pork in general; maternal
Appearance: White; long, straight back; upright ears, smaller than that of the Landrace; black spots on the skin are accepted for registration, but are undesirable
Size: Large and long, comparable to Landrace
Conservation Status: Healthy U.S. population
Origin: Bred in England
Known for: Meat, mothering ability

Duroc

The Duroc was developed in the United States in the Corn Belt and in the East. Its original name was Duroc-Jersey, and the early history is somewhat unclear as to exactly what the mixture of breeds was from which the Duroc was derived, but New York state is the first-known state where Durocs existed. They gained national recognition at the Duroc-Jersey show at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. They claim the highest conversion rate of feed to meat of any breed raised in the United Staes today.

Functionality: Meat, terminal sire
Appearance: Red skin with red, brown, or even black hair. Relative to other pigs, the Duroc has what you would call an athletic build in the realm of pigs. Short, floppy ears; short snout
Size: Large
Conservation Status: Healthy in the United States
Origin: East coast United States
Known for: Unequaled conversion rate of feed to meat; tasty meat

Gloucestershire Old Spot

The Gloucestershire Old Spot came from the Berkley Valley of England. The exact location of origination is unknown, but breeders started a registry in the shire of Gloucestershire in 1912. The Old Spot is among the largest of breeds in England. Around 1950, the breed nearly became extinct, but has recovered and today exists in large numbers in Britain. In past times, they were known to eat scraps on farms in Gloucestershire, and that trait continues today as they are known for their excellent foraging ability.

Functionality: Meat, lard
Appearance: Predominately white, with black spots; huge, floppy, droopy ears, medium-sized body with a curved back
Size: Large
Conservation Status: Critical. Numbers were never high in the United States., but around 1990, they were almost entirely gone. Americans had to import some from England, and today there are a couple dozen breeders.
Origin: Gloucester, England
Known for: Hardiness and foraging ability

Hampshire

There is some doubt as to the exact origin of the Hampshire breed, but most agree that these pigs are descended from the Old English breed. It’s one of the oldest American original breeds in existence.

Most identifiable by the white, belt-like stripe that circles the body around the front quarters, some importations of the Hampshire breed were made between 1825 and 1835. Desirable characteristics that the Hampshire is known for are prolificacy, ability to forage, hardiness and high quality of meat.

Functionality: Meat, terminal sire
Appearance: Black with white belt-like stripe around the front legs and belly, extending as far as the middle of the torso
Size: Large
Conservation Status: Healthy
Origin: United States
Known for: Hardiness, high-quality meat

Large Black

The Large Black has its origins in Devon and Cornwall, two areas in the southwest part of England. They are, indeed, large – just a little smaller than Yorkshires – and always black. The big, droopy ear is another distinguishing characteristic of the Large Black. This breed was imported to America in 1985 – because of their productivity in rough conditions – and they also exist in South Africa and Australia.

Functionality: Meat – predominately bacon
Appearance: Always black, gray skin with black hair; big, floppy ears and a long snout
Size: Large, slightly smaller than Yorkshires
Conservation Status: Listed as Critically Endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
Origin: England in the Devon and Cornwall areas
Known for: Production in rough conditions; very tasty meat, especially bacon

Large White

The Large White breed is the top breed in England. And if you consider the Yorkshires in the United States direct descendents of the Large White, this is the most popular breed worldwide. Nearly every country in the world that values swine and swine production has, at one point or another, imported the Large White. This breed and its descendent Yorkshire are found in all crossbreeding involving three or more pigs worldwide. Most popular (or at least known as Large White) in England and Northern Ireland.

Functionality: Excellent quality of meat; great maternal qualities
Appearance: White; smallish, upright ears; long body with a straight back
Size: Large
Conservation Status: Largest of any breed
Origin: England
Known for: A rugged, hardy breed where the sows have large litters, high milk production and good maternal instincts. Also, very tasty meat.

Minzhu

These pigs hail from extreme northern China. They were introduced to the United States through an effort headed by three organizations: the USDA, the University of Illinois, and Iowa State University.

The cold, dry climate of far northern China makes this breed tolerant of extremely cold temperatures and bad feeding conditions. Minzhu is believed to be mean “folk pig.” As a result, they have a tendency to be slow-growing and fatty, but the meat from the Minzhu is generally regarded to have a great taste.

The Minzhu, because of their feeding tolerance, will forage on poor feed and other roughages, and they are very disease resistant. They are recognizable by their long, coarse black hair and grow a dense, woolen underbelly hair in the winter, enabling sows to give birth (farrow) in an open shed at temperatures as low as 40 degrees with no problems. Litter rate averages 15 to 16 piglets.

Functionality: Good-tasting meat, maternal farm by-product and roughage cleanup
Appearance: Long, coarse black hair with long bristles; dense woolen underbelly in the winter; large body size with narrow, level back and loin
Size: Large body size; sows grow to just under 3 feet tall
Conservation Status: Healthy population, mostly in China
Origin: Northern China
Known for: Tasty meat; long, bristly hair; hardiness

Saddleback

The Saddleback came into existence by combining the gene pool of the Essex and Wessex breeds in England. Both the Essex and Wessex Saddleback pigs contributed to the development of the Hampshire prior to 1820, so the exact breed contributions are unknown. Foundation stock of the Hampshire was exported to the United States beginning in 1825 (introducing the American Hampshire).

The Saddleback and Hampshire breeds’ similarities begin with the appearance. Both are black with a white belt-like stripe – varying in width – that starts at about the front leg and runs down around the belly. The belt is seen as a mark of low heritability, but the size of it varies and has from the earliest existence of the breed. The white may extend almost the entire length of the body, or the opposite may be the case.

Saddlebacks are meat pigs that have excellent maternal characteristics. They are a large breed and are excellent milkers. They have been used to produce sows that are cross-bred with white pigs for commercial production.

Functionality: Meat, sows used for commercial reproduction
Appearance: Black with white stripe of varying size, droopy ears
Size: Large
Conservation Status: Healthy population in the United Kingdom
Origin: England
Known for: Appearance with the white belt; sows have large litters

Knowing what pig breeds for meat are best for your operation is key to success.

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