The different meat pig breeds all offer different pros and cons.
So you’ve decided to get pigs for your farm.
Awesome! Now you need to figure out what meat pig breed or breeds you want to raise. I’m going to walk you through the 10 most popular meat pig breeds that are raised today.
Learn which breeds of pigs would be the best fit for your family.
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Pigs are great to have around. I personally enjoy knowing what goes into my food, so raising our own pigs at home has been a great choice for us. It’s also good to have a small source of income on the side from our pigs.
In this post, I’m going to talk to you about some of the different pigs breeds and what each breed has to offer as well as some things that you need to look out for in pigs. Hopefully this information will help you to make a more informed decision about which breed will best fit your needs.
Again, choosing a breed of pig for your farm is easier than you think!
Choosing a Meat Pig Breed for Your Farm
First, let’s see how pigs are similar…
First of all, it’s important to know that although there is variance among the different swine breeds, pigs are pigs.
They are monogastric omnivores.
The term monogastric means ‘simple stomach’ while the term omnivore means they consume both plant and animal material. Humans are also monogastric omnivores.
We are actually very similar to pigs in the way our systems work and function. That being said, pigs consume many of the foods that we can. They love many of the table scraps that we have left over. More on how pig anatomy works in another article.
Identifying Meat Pig Breeds
Now, pigs have been bred to create many different breeds to fit many different needs and niches. Each breed has something different to offer.
If you are interested in using artificial insemination on your farm with different breeds, read my post about artificially inseminating pigs here. If you aren’t sure that you want to use artificial insemination, read my article about why you should be using artificial insemination here.
Before we get started, there’s something I want to share with you real quick- Pigs can have ears that are erect and stand up or they can have ears that flop down.
If the name of the breed ends in “-shire”, that means the breed has erect ears. This will help you to identify the different breeds and make sure that you are getting the correct animal.
Color patterns are also important in identifying the breeds.
For more general information about identifying a breed of pig, check out Pork’s Major Swine Breeds.
10 Most Common Meat Pig Breeds
The Yorkshire is the most popular breed of pig in North America today.
They have erect ears and are solid white in color. To be more technical, they have pink skin and white hair.
They are typically large and fast growing, which helps make them the most popular breed.
Meat processors prefer white pigs such as the Yorkshire because the hair is light in color and doesn’t show up on the carcass as easily as a red or black haired pig.
True Yorkshires are not allowed any coloring or marks on them. They must be solid white.
Yorkshires are known to be good mothers, which is something you want in a pig breed. A bad momma will lay on her piglets and suffocate them. They also have larger litters, which is also a plus.
The Yorkshire breed has a motto of “The Mother Breed and a Whole Lot More”.
They have been bred to not only be productive, but to be productive for a long time.
The Yorkshire, being white skinned, is highly susceptible to sunburn and at minimum, needs easy access to shade during the day.
If you’re looking to have pigs that will produce large amounts of meat, live longer and be more productive, then you should consider Yorkshires. Yorkshires are able to pass these traits on to their offspring well, so they are also a good option if you are interested in crossing breeds on your farm.
For more information about the Yorkshire breed of pig, visit the National Swine Registry’s Yorkshire page.
The second most common breed of pig in North America is the Duroc.
The Duroc is a very distinct breed, as it is one of the only pig breeds that is solid red in color. They can range from a dark rusty red to a chestnut red.
The Duroc doesn’t have erect ears, but drooping ears. This gives them such a cute face!
Durocs are known for their longevity as well as fast growth, similar to the Yorkshire.
If you’re looking for a lean, fast growing meat pig breed, the Duroc just might be your man.
Durocs are also known for not only gaining weight quickly, but for gaining lean muscle mass quickly. When Durocs put on weight, most of it is going to be muscle tissue, not just fat.
The Duroc is originated from Northern Europe and has developed a thick skin along with thick hair in the winter time. This makes the Duroc more than suitable for colder climates or being raised outside. The dark skin and hair makes them less likely to sunburn. If you are interested in pigs that you can raise at least partially outdoors, then the Duroc would be a breed well suited for you.
Durocs are one of the more docile breeds of pigs. They are very popular in the show ring where they are often shown by young kids.
This combination of traits makes the Duroc a strong candidate for raising in almost any situation.
I have a Duroc sow, Bacon, that has been very productive in the past. She has had several litters, some with as many as fifteen piglets. She has also been able to raise full litters to weaning, which isn’t always seen, especially for some of the darker colored ‘meat’ breeds.
She’s also extremely docile. She tolerates my kids playing around and ON TOP of her. Literally she doesn’t even open her eyes most of the time.
For more information about the Duroc breed of pig, visit the National Swine Registry’s Duroc page.
This is personally my favorite breed.
The Berkshire is a black pig with white points. The pig should have white on all four feet, the face and the tail. All together, a Berkshire should have six white points.
They should also have erect ears.
Berkshires are another popular breed in North America, coming in third overall for the number of registered pigs.
You can think of Berkshires as the Angus equivalent in pigs.
Everyone knows that some of the best steaks come from Angus cattle. This is due to their ability to marble well.
Marbling is the intramuscular fat in a cut of meat. Marbling affects the tenderness and taste of meat. More marbling means a more flavorful, tender cut. Berkshires excel in this. Berkshires have been bred to keep this marbling ability, while many of the pig breeds today have been bred to not marble as well.
Pork is often thought of as “the other white meat” due to how lean the meat is from pigs raised today. Berkshires are an exception to that rule. The Berkshire meat is such a high quality meat that it is not only marbled well, but is even darker in color.
In fact, much of the meat that is produced in the U.S. from Berkshires is shipped overseas as a delicacy where it is sold as “Black Pork” at a much higher price! You usually won’t find Berkshire meat in the meat section of your grocery store.
If you’re interested in a breed that will provide you better quality meat, then look no further.
To learn more about the Berkshire breed of pig, check out the American Berkshire Association.
The Landrace is a white pig, similar to the Yorkshire.
However, the Landrace has drooping ears rather than erect ears.
The Landrace is a large, long breed of pigs. The Landrace was originally bred to create a long bodied animal that would create more bacon per pig. Bacon comes from the stomach muscling of pigs, so a longer abdomen meant more bacon.
Long bodied pigs also have longer loins, which creates more pork chops per pig.
Landrace mothers are known for their high milking ability and the large piglets that they give birth to.
They are often crossed with other breeds to increase the size and mothering ability to other breeds.
They are known for their ability to produce lean meat in the hams and loin. Overall, Landraces are long, lean muscular pigs that will create many pounds of meat product per pig.
If you want to have length for more bacon and porkchops per pig, or have sows that are highly productive and fertile, then Landraces may be the breed for you.
The Landrace is highly susceptible to sunburn like all white pig breeds and at minimum, needs access to shade.
I currently have a Landrace gilt now, Lucille. She is so long-bodied compared to my other two pigs, which are a Duroc and a Chester White. She isn’t as wide as them, but the breed does have wide individuals.
For more information about the Landrace breed of pig, visit the National Swine Registry’s Landrace page.
The Meishan isn’t a popular breed in the U.S., but for those interested in using pigs on their farm or homestead, I felt it was worth mentioning.
The Meishan is a Chinese breed of pig. They have a slower growth rate than many of the other meat pig breeds that I have mentioned.
Meishan pigs also tend to be fatty, but the meat has a good flavor, probably due to the extra fat and marbling found in the meat.
If you look at Meishan pigs, they almost look more like a pot bellied pig than a meat pig.
Meishan pigs are known to come in to puberty early. Many actually hit puberty by the time they are three months old!
Meishan pigs have unusually large litters. Meishan can have litters easily of 15-17 piglets, and litters of 20 are not unheard of.
If you are looking for a pig that will really produce babies for you, the Meishan may be the pig you need.
For more information about the Meishan breed of pig, you can visit the Livestock Conservancy’s Meishan page or the American Meishan Breeders Association. If you like the idea of raising Meishan pigs, then you’ll want to check out my post about raising heritage livestock breeds.
6. Chester White
The Chester White is another solid white meat pig breed with droopy ears.
Chester Whites are a durable breed that is known for their excellent mothering abilities.
The Chester White is often crossed with other breeds to improve their mothering abilities, similar to the Landrace. You could cross Chester Whites with other breeds to pass on the excellent mothering ability to the offspring.
The Chester White has been shown to wean more pigs per year than the Yorkshire, Duroc or Hampshire meat pig breeds.
This is due to the excellent mothering traits they have. Chester Whites are most commonly used to breed with other breeds to improve mother traits.
The Chester White, like other white meat pig breeds is highly susceptible to sunburn and needs, at minimum, access to shade.
The boar that we have right now, Kody, is a Chester White. He’s a retired show pig. He weighs almost 650 pounds, so he’s massive. Despite being so large, he’s extremely gentle and has the best personality. He will talk to you and eat out of your hands.
He’s very well muscled and has amazing muscling down his back. He’s had several litters of pigs and has passed his good looks on to his babies. He is also gentle enough that my kids play with him. He has even been around his own babies and is gentle around them as well.
To learn more about the Chester White breed of pig, visit Certified Pedigreed Swine’s Chester White page.
The Hampshire is the belted breed of pig.
They are black in color with a white ‘belt’ that circles the abdomen and loin of the pig behind the shoulder. The belt can be narrow or wide, as long as it completely circles the pig.
Hampshires have erect ears.
Hampshires produce high quality, lean carcasses. Their superior ability to produce lean carcasses has led them to become one of the most popular breeds to use as sires. If you want to use Hampshires as a sire breed, read my article about what you should look for when choosing a boar to use.
However, they do have the ability to carry the gene that causes Porcine Stress Syndrome, or PSS.
PSS is a condition that causes pigs to become overly stressed very easily.
Pigs with two PSS genes will be severely affected. PSS is a recessive genetic disorder. A pig that is affected with PSS will stress itself to the point that the muscle tissue is compromised. This leads to poor carcass and muscle quality.
If you have Hampshires, you will want to make sure that they are not affected by the PSS gene.
You can do this by using genetic tests to ensure that they are not affected by the gene.
You will also be able to see if they are a carrier for the gene. If they are affected or are carriers of the gene, then you will have to be careful of the pigs that you breed to these affected animals.
Hampshires create lean carcasses with large cuts of meat.
However, they should be used carefully due to the PSS gene that they could carry. Most reputable breeders or sire companies test all pigs for the PSS gene, so you can easily find Hampshires that are free from the gene.
For more information about the Hampshire breed of pig, visit the National Swine Registry’s Hampshire page.
The Pietrain is a easily recognized meat pig breed that is white in color with black spots. They are often referred to as “Spots”.
Pietrain pigs have erect ears. The Pietrain has the ability to produce high yields of lean meat.
However, the Pietrain is a known carrier for the gene that causes Porcine Stress Syndrome (PSS).
Because it carries the gene for PSS, genetic testing is a must.
Most owners of Pietrains will breed them to breeds that do not carry the PSS gene in an attempt to minimize the possibility of breeding two PSS positive animals together.
The Pietrain is slightly more susceptible to sunburn where it has white skin. Due to this, it needs access to shade during sunny days.
To read more about the Pietrain or spotted breed of pig, visit the Pig Site’s Pietrain page.
The Hereford breed is considered one of the newer meat pig breeds and is very distinct in appearance.
If you are familiar with cattle breeds, you’ll see that the Hereford pig has the same markings and colors as the Hereford cattle breed. The body is red and has white on the face, under the belly and at least two of the feet should be white.
Herefords have drooping ears.
They are popular with small farmers and homesteaders because they are quite prolific and create a more fatty product than some of the mainstream meat pig breeds.
Herefords are excellent candidates for farmers who plan on putting their pigs on pasture. They perform well grazing on pasture. They put on weight and fat easily on pasture. Many breeds require heavy feeding in order for them to gain substantial weight, but not Herefords.
They aren’t as prone to sunburn as some of the white meat pig breeds are, so they can handle being in the sun more as well.
The Tamworth is often referred to as “The Other Red Breed”.
Tamworths are always a light golden-red color. They also have erect ears. They also have very long snouts, giving it an appearance similar to wild boars.
The Tamworth is one of the oldest meat pig breeds.
When comparing it to other breeds, it is more similar in appearance to wild boars or photos of pigs that you may see from the 18th Century.
Tamworths are smaller than some of the more popular breeds seen today. They are shorter bodied than almost any other breed.
Tamworths are good mothers with excellent milking ability. Good mothers have a high milking ability. This is an extremely important characteristic and ability. Mothers with high milk production will raise healthier babies. The more milk she an produce, the more piglets that she can raise and put weight on.
They are quite hardy and easily adapt to many different environments. They are more than equipped to be raised outside on pasture.
Many Tamworth pigs are bred with wild boars to create a specialty meat product that is more ‘gamey’ in flavor than traditional pork.
Tamworths are well suited to being raised outside or on pasture due to the fact that they are highly resistant to sunburn.
To learn more about the Tamworth breed of pig, check out the Tamworth Swine Association site.
What are you looking for?
I know some of this information is probably running together at this point. It’s a lot of information to take in. Do I want to focus on lean meat products or do I want a breed that is going to have more piglets?
The first thing that you need to do is figure out what is important to you.
A good thing to do is see how much pork you purchase in a month. Make a list and write down how many pounds of bacon or sausage your family goes through. Write down how often you buy porkchops.
If you see that you buy more bacon or sausage than you realized, then you may want to focus on a breed that is going to have a fattier carcass. When the pig is harvested, the fat from the carcass is trimmed off of some of the cuts such as the porkchops and ribs. This fat can then be added to the ground meat to give the sausage the fat content that it needs to bind together.
Why Will You Be Raising Pigs?
Before you start choosing a breed of pig for your farm, first think about why you are getting pigs in the first place.
If you are going to raise pigs for your family and others, then you will want to look at some of the more prolific meat pig breeds.
Landraces are good mothers and have larger litters. None of the breeds surpass the Meishan however in being prolific. If you really want a lot of piglets, then you may want to look at the Meishan.
If you are interested in selling some of your pigs commercially, then the meat pig breeds that you will need to look into will be determined by your local market.
Your local market may have a preference for white haired breed (which is very common!) or there may be a preference for meat quality over frame size.
If you are considering breeding and selling pigs commercially, then do your research ahead of time. Don’t get set on a particular breed until you make sure that you can market those animals.
The same thing goes if you are interested in doing show animals.
If you have children that are raising pigs for 4-H or FFA projects, then go to a few shows in your area. See what people are showing and what is winning or placing high.
Don’t be afraid to ask people questions about their animals after the shows. Most people are more than happy to talk to you about their animals.
This has been extremely helpful for me. You may be looking at two different animals on two different farms.
If you are taking pictures of the animals, you can sit down later and compare the two.
This allows you to make a better decision, especially if you are breeding for specific traits or characteristics. If you are wanting to purchase pigs that are really wide bodied, comparing pictures side by side will let you look at that.
So many meat pig breeds, now what?
Overall, the main thing for you to focus on when choosing meat pig breed for your farm is going to be figuring out what you and your family need.
You can really start to narrow the options when you figure out what you want. And don’t forget that you don’t have to conform to one particular breed.
It’s totally fine to crossbreed! If you want to create fattier pigs that are more prolific, you may be interested in crossing Berkshires and Landraces or Meishan pigs.
Find what works for you and go with it!
Do you already have pigs? What meat pig breeds do you have the best performance with? Let me know!