Pig Breed Guide

article image
Alan Carey/Photo Researchers Inc.
These piglets might grow up to be a financial boon to a farmer.
WEB EXTRA: Five Additional Pig Breeds

On most farms, pigs are a staple. They are often a hardy bunch, which means care can be more simple than with other livestock, and they are 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, which you can purchase here) to bring you a swine breed guide. The following is GRIT’s guide, referencing both Ekarius’ book and the folks at Oklahoma State University.

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
Population: Healthy U.S. population
Origin: Bred in England
Known for: Meat, mothering ability 


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)
: 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
Population: 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
Population: Healthy
Origin: United States
Known for: Meat, hardiness, production in variety of settings 


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
Population: 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
Population: 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 

Guinea Hog

Slave 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
Population: 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 


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
Population: Healthy
Origin: United States
Known for: Hardiness, high-quality meat 


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
Population: On the watch list
Origin: United States
Known for: Similarities to cattle breed with the same name; agreeable disposition and tasty 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
Population: 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
Population: 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.


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.

The Mulefoot won a recent blind taste test comparing pork of eight different heritage breeds. The event was held January 26, 2009, at Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia.

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

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 descendents 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
Population: Critical
Origin: United States
Known for: Ability to store fat; foraging ability; being wild, feral and somewhat exotic


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.

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

Online Store Logo
Need Help? Call 1-866-803-7096