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Pastured Pig Breeds

 
Jon Wisnoski
Posts: 21
Location: Ontario, Canada
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Hello all,

I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions for pig breeds that would work best on pasture with grain and forage, in Ontario, Canada.

I only notice a few Berkshire when checking local Kijiji. Anyone have any experience raising them none-conventually.
 
Paul Ewing
Posts: 127
Location: Boyd, Texas
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I think you would do better looking for breeders that are raising their pigs outdoors than to worry about breeds themselves. I have run Chester Whites, Yorkshires, Durocs, Hampshires and crosses of those, which are all considered horrible confinement breeds by most hobby farmers, on pasture here in Texas with only a bit of problems with sunburn on the white pigs. The key is to get your stock from as similar of an operation as you can so you know the genetics are there to survive. If you are looking to sell a story more than a product, you can look into the so called "heritage breeds" but realize that before the 1970s or so all pigs were pasture, woodland, or dry lot raised. They might have small farrowing barns, but that was about it.

As far as Berks, they have a reputation for good meat and very good marketing behind them so it is probably a good middle road band wagon to jump on. I think I will concentrate more on Durocs with maybe some Hampshire crossing for terminal feeder pigs in the future. Durocs also have a very red marbled meat and are a nice hog that I have been impressed with.

Tamworths are a noted breed that gets a lot of press, but they are smaller and slower growing from what I have heard. They also carry the "Heritage Breed" surcharge for breeding stock. Interestingly most of the "heritage breeds" are Southern hogs so I am not sure how many there will be up in Canada and how adapted their genetics are to your area. The colder climates than traditional pig zones would doubly point me to checking for local longer term breeders no mater what breed they raised.
 
John Devitt
Posts: 34
Location: Belfair WA
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I am looking into the Kune-Kune. It is a smaller pastured pig from New Zealand. Suppose to get fat on grass and is non-rotting. Main problem is that breeding pairs run $2000. Lots of crosses out there so buyer beware.

http://www.kunekunepigs.org/
 
Paul Ewing
Posts: 127
Location: Boyd, Texas
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Here is a very big word of advice. Start with a couple or three cross breed or farm run feeder pigs. Raise those first and find out if you are ready for pigs, even like pigs, and make your mistakes with a $50 to $100 pig before investing in $1000+ exotic animal bubble pigs. Pigs are pretty hardy animals, but can be killed accidently with too much salt, not enough shade or water on a hot day. Piglets can be crushed if the farrowing setup isn't good etc. Do a couple rounds of feeder pigs, then get a couple farm run sows and a boar and try your hand at raising your own piglets. Once you get feeding, housing, fencing, and marketing worked out, decide if you still want a special breed and if it will work out financially for you. It is going to be very hard to recoup $2000 in the meat market. You will have to play the breeding stock game and hope the bubble holds long enough to recover your money.
 
Paul Hallman
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John Devitt wrote:I am looking into the Kune-Kune. It is a smaller pastured pig from New Zealand. Suppose to get fat on grass and is non-rotting. Main problem is that breeding pairs run $2000. Lots of crosses out there so buyer beware.

http://www.kunekunepigs.org/


I purchased a boar and a barrow Kune kune. If you shop around you can get a much better price than $2000' especially if you don't intend to sell them as a perfect standard of the breed. I got the boar for 900 because he is missing his wattles. The barrow only cost 200. The gilt I'm buying only cost 1000 since I'm buying the breeding pair from the same breeder. Sometimes you can get a discount from breeders that way. There is a farm in Hayward, Wisconsin that over wintered their Kunes with out any issues and this has been the hardest winter we have had in Wisconsin in something like 100 years. As long as they have shelter, food and plenty to eat they should be good in Ontario. Although they don't get as big as other breeds they are really well tempered. I have them pastured with laying hens and they don't bother them one bit. They supposedly can fatten on grass alone, although I give them about a cup of feed a day. In the winter I'll feed them hay and a ration of food. Another perk is that since they have a short snout they hardly root at all.
 
James Colbert
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I am a first time owner of hogs and after a bunch of research I decided on the American Guinea Hog. I am very happy with my decision. The breed is old and very resilient in both extreme heat and cold. They have a thick layer of hair which is good for keeping the sun off their skin and keeping them warm in the winter. They are docile allowing you to pet them and scratch them. I have never seen them be agressive towards humans or other animals like chickens and they gain weight on pasture without the need to supplement heavily with grain. They also are easy to butcher as they rarely get over 300 lbs. The meat is considered a delicacy and the breed is featured in the slow food ark of flavor. They are also relat
ively inexpensive I bought mine for about 100 each. I plan to sell the ones I have now for their meat but plan to use the proceeds to buy a male and three sows for breeding my own American Guinea Hogs.


 
Cj Sloane
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Paul Ewing wrote:
Tamworths are a noted breed that gets a lot of press, but they are smaller and slower growing from what I have heard. They also carry the "Heritage Breed" surcharge for breeding stock.


I have raised Tamworth crosses for several years & I'm happy with them. Since they're crosses they don't have the surcharge for breeding stock. A common cross in Vermont is Tamworth X Berkshire.

I kept one over the winter and she did fine.
 
Renate Howard
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I grow pot belly mixes. The pot belly pigs are small enough to be easy to handle, easy to home-butcher, and cheap to feed to keep the boar around. All the ones I've had have been great mothers, give birth unassisted and usually don't kill their babies (first time mothers do sometimes squish one or two until they figure out what they are!) So far I've crossed them with Tamworth and Guinea Hog and we've been very happy with the offspring.

Our ducks and chickens and even tiny baby chicks go in and steal their food at feeding time and other than accidentally stepping on their toes they've never harmed them or been aggressive at all.

They're not quite as tame as the Guinea Hogs, but I find an aloof pig is easier to butcher than one that really likes me. We have made pets of the breeder sows, and some of them were other people's pets that got too big.

Around here you can pick up an unwanted young sow or boar, already old enough to breed for around $35, so a very cheap beginner pig! And if they're pure pot belly, you can sell the offspring as pets or breeders or for food. Some charge $200 or more but I like to try to charge fair prices, so I stick with $35 each or 2/$60, no matter whether they're pure pot belly or a meat mix.
 
Al Senner
Posts: 59
Location: southeast SD (zone 4b/5a)
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I just read in Restoration Agriculture that Mark Shepard's favorite pastured pig in Lacrosse, Wisconsin in the tamworth. I dont know how he keeps them in the winter though.
 
Rob Yost
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Location: New Hamburg, Ontario
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Hey j wis, did you find some pigs? I am in Ontario as well and have raised a few Berk/Tam crosses on pasture. They are nice pigs and love to be outside (and root!!). I'm in southwest Ontario near Kitchener Waterloo. I can get you the contact info for the farmer I bought my piglets from.

Paul Ewing, good advise
 
mike clark
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its like buying a truck,they all work well,pick a color you fancy.if its for meat,i would get crosses,tamworth,berkshire,and large black,even old spot.most breeders have crosses from $40-100 for piglets.best of luck.
 
Susan Grimm
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We raise American Guinea Hogs. They are a small Heritage breed that folks used to raise on homesteads in the south. Some of their characteristics that we like are their calm personalities, their size (not more than 250 lbs), the fact they don't root as aggressively as some breeds and that their meat is Very flavorful.
 
Rose Konold
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Without a doubt, most have missed that these pigs will be in Ontario. The mangalista is a wooley pig, even has long hair on its legs and loads of body fat so is the best choice for wintering in the snow. That being said, the berkshire and berkshire crosses do well as they have a thick body fat, but make sure to look at them before buying as not all are the same. Another thing to look for to reduce body heat loss is a small erect ear. Good luck & and before you buy, please make sure you have a place to keep them dry at night and a means to get them food & water regardless of the weather.
 
Luke Groce
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Location: Louisville, KY
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I raised pigs for the first time this spring (19 hogs on rotating pastures/woodlot), and found that my berkshires and Tamworth/Large Blacks did great. The pure-bred large blacks were not as good at growing, staying healthy, and were harder to manage and keep trained to electric fence. But every breeder is going to be selecting and managing differently. So I agree with the advice to try to find a farrower with a similar management system.

On the coldness side, with mature pigs living outdoors, of the full sized heritage breeds: I would suggest planning to finish them out before the worst weather gets there. We don't live where we farm, so we raise our pigs on a vegetable farmers calendar in zone 6. This worked well for us. We got piglets in April and May, and slaughtered from September through next week (last four go in on Wednesday). The last few haven't gained much weight since we started getting temps in the teens, but are waiting for space in the freezer and on the butcher's calendar. But they were already over 250 in November. If I were getting started in Ontario, I would start some piglets indoors in March, get them trained to electric fence, and get them on pasture when you have that spring flush of grass up and going real good. And then hopefully they are 250+ pounds before the wind chill hits 0F. The woods are a good place to keep them shielded from the sun, but also the cold wind. They know how to find a perfect spot to bed down together, and will even make use of a fallen log, or plow up a little earthen bank to shelter themselves.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We raise pigs year round in the central mountains of northern Vermont. Cold climate. Pasture. No commercial feed. Weekly deliveries to area stores, restaurants and individuals. Farrow to finish and soon to cutting.

We have Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black (2 lines), Tamworth and our Mainline, Blackieline and Redline (not Tam) crosses all on pasture using managed rotational grazing. We've been doing this for about twelve years and not feeding any commercial hog feed / grain. Most of what our pigs eat (~80%) is pasture followed by about 7% dairy (mostly whey), then apples, a little spent barley and occasional treat of dated bread which works great for training. See more about how we pasture and feed them on this page: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/pigs and follow the feeding and grazing links.

Speaking from our experience with what we have on our farm of the pure bred lines - all of these are heritage breeds:
Yorkshire are the best mother, best growers, best pasturers but very alert and a little lean. Yorkshire is perhaps the oldest heritage breed and has very good genetics which is why it became the foundation of so many other breeds;
Berkshire have the marbling I want and are second best growers. Good on pasture. Good mothers. Quite alert;
Large Black have some marbling are very calm, good mothers, slower growers, good on pasture. We have two separate lines of these; and
Tamworths are calm, okay summer pasture mothers, poor winter mothers, lean, slowest growers. I have some with 18 teats in this line - not a normal Tam characteristic.

From our cross lines:
Mainline is the one I've been working for the longest period so it is the best of all of our lines. This is primarily Yorkshire x Berkshire x GOS with something else in it. They are the fastest growers, best mothers, best on pasture, good marbling towards the Berkshire, excellent wintering;
Blackieline is high teat count (all our lines are 14 as base, this line tends toward 16), high litter counts (this is more controlled by diet, stress, matings, boar and other factors so don't put too much emphasis on that when picking lines - do use it as a tendency), many of the Blackieline farrow three times a year of their own choice, winter litter well and are excellent mothers. Slower growing than the Mainline but faster than the pure lines; and
Redline is a variant of the Mainline that is slightly slower growing than Mainline but faster and bigger than Blackieline and a deep mahogany red as adults. Excellent mothers. Slightly leaner than Mainline.

All the lines we have now do well in our cold environment through the winter on hay and in the warm months on pasture as their primary diet. That was not always the case. When we started there were clearly pigs who did not winter as well. They stopped growing in the winter or slowed down. I culled them hard and with each generation what was left to breed improved our genetics. What we have now winters very well and most of the lines farrow well right through the cold seasons. There are tricks to it such as wind blocks, deep bedding packs that compost, etc. See: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/deep-bedding-pack

I've been working and weeding our genetics hard for over a decade. Our goal is animals that do well in our climate outdoors on a pasture based diet. Each year we improve them in the new generation. Ultimately I see merging all the lines into a single line in the long term future but for now I maintain them as separate lines. Realize that "heritage" breeds were developed either intentionally to deal with local resource and climate issues or they were created accidentally from reduced populations. The third case is where a flaw such as mule's foot or wattles were used as a defining characteristic to create a new breed for novelty. All are valid reasons and ways and often multiple factors were involved. Heritage breed does not mean worthy, just that its been around for a long time. Also realize it takes a long time and a lot of animals to create a breed. A breed is a line that breeds true in subsequent generations maintaining the breed specific characteristics. We have about 400 pigs on pasture which represents thousands of animals over the years which I have selected from but I do not feel we have a separate breed, we have lines. A line is a thread of breeding like a family tree. Creating a breed is a decades long process that requires far more animals, perhaps an order of magnitude more, to get them to breed true with each generation. It also requires having a clear understanding of your breeding goals and that may take years to figure out. I mention this because I see some people claiming to have created "new" pastured breeds which are really cross lines.

Pasturing any breed is more challenging than simply grain feeding out of the commercial hog chow bag where someone else has thought out the nutrition for you. Grain isn't evil, it's just expensive. I enjoy the thinking. I like using my local resources. What we have most of all is pasture so that is the dominant resource I use for feeding all of our livestock. If you want to pasture any breed there are some things to think about:

Managed rotational grazing is key. This is not free-ranging. Move the animals. More smaller paddocks moving faster are better than fewer larger paddocks moving slower. If you don't know how to rotational grazing, get sheep. They're excellent easy grazers to learn on. Pigs rotational graze very well but are harder than sheep to get right. We learned on sheep in the 1990's. See:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Managed_intensive_rotational_grazing
http://www.sugarmtnfarm.com/?s=rotational%20grazing

Good pasture is key - pasture is more than grass. Seed is cheaper than feed. We cleared forest back to the original field walls and planted soft grasses, legumes, brassicas, millets, amaranth, chicory and other forages. Exactly what you choose will depend on your soils and climate. We're USDA Zone 3 on steep mountain land with thin gravel soils. I fence with the contours so the animals naturally help to create terraces, catching the water and soil from flowing downhill. See:
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/10/01/perfect-pear/
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/06/05/qmains-milk-bar-fencing-seeding/
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/04/19/fencing-2/

Good pastured genetics is key - within any breed there are those who have been selected for confinement vs show vs pasture. Get pigs from someone already doing it the way you plan to do it if you want a leg up in the genetics. See:
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2015/01/13/classic-large-white-sow/

We find that mixed species grazing is better than single species grazing. Our farm is a system of multiple types of plants and animals working together however the only thing we sell is the forestry products and the pork. Farming is what we do, it pays the mortgage and brings in our weekly paycheck. To do that I have found takes some specialization on the sales end as well as vertical integration. There's lots of talk about being diversified, and that works in practice, but don't be scattered. It takes a lot of anything to supply more than a few customers and to supply accounts on a weekly basis year round takes a lot of focus. Grow into it slowly.

When selecting a breed, ideally get them from someone raising pigs the way you want to do it and ideally in a similar climate so the pigs are adapted. This gives you a leg up on starting out with good genetics. Particular breeds are more a matter of overall conformation characteristics like color, ear shape, body shape, lard vs meat pigs, growth rate, adult size, etc - these really personal preferences. The flavor is in the fat and that comes from feeding, not breeding.

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in northern Vermont
USDA Zone 3
 
John Lewis Morgan
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Walter Jeffries wrote:We raise pigs year round in the central mountains of northern Vermont. Cold climate. Pasture. No commercial feed. Weekly deliveries to area stores, restaurants and individuals. Farrow to finish and soon to cutting.

We have Yorkshire, Berkshire, Large Black (2 lines), Tamworth and our Mainline, Blackieline and Redline (not Tam) crosses all on pasture using managed rotational grazing. We've been doing this for about twelve years and not feeding any commercial hog feed / grain. Most of what our pigs eat (~80%) is pasture followed by about 7% dairy (mostly whey), then apples, a little spent barley and occasional treat of dated bread which works great for training. See more about how we pasture and feed them on this page: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/pigs and follow the feeding and grazing links.

Speaking from our experience with what we have on our farm of the pure bred lines - all of these are heritage breeds:
Yorkshire are the best mother, best growers, best pasturers but very alert and a little lean. Yorkshire is perhaps the oldest heritage breed and has very good genetics which is why it became the foundation of so many other breeds;
Berkshire have the marbling I want and are second best growers. Good on pasture. Good mothers. Quite alert;
Large Black have some marbling are very calm, good mothers, slower growers, good on pasture. We have two separate lines of these; and
Tamworths are calm, okay summer pasture mothers, poor winter mothers, lean, slowest growers. I have some with 18 teats in this line - not a normal Tam characteristic.

From our cross lines:
Mainline is the one I've been working for the longest period so it is the best of all of our lines. This is primarily Yorkshire x Berkshire x GOS with something else in it. They are the fastest growers, best mothers, best on pasture, good marbling towards the Berkshire, excellent wintering;
Blackieline is high teat count (all our lines are 14 as base, this line tends toward 16), high litter counts (this is more controlled by diet, stress, matings, boar and other factors so don't put too much emphasis on that when picking lines - do use it as a tendency), many of the Blackieline farrow three times a year of their own choice, winter litter well and are excellent mothers. Slower growing than the Mainline but faster than the pure lines; and
Redline is a variant of the Mainline that is slightly slower growing than Mainline but faster and bigger than Blackieline and a deep mahogany red as adults. Excellent mothers. Slightly leaner than Mainline.

All the lines we have now do well in our cold environment through the winter on hay and in the warm months on pasture as their primary diet. That was not always the case. When we started there were clearly pigs who did not winter as well. They stopped growing in the winter or slowed down. I culled them hard and with each generation what was left to breed improved our genetics. What we have now winters very well and most of the lines farrow well right through the cold seasons. There are tricks to it such as wind blocks, deep bedding packs that compost, etc. See: http://SugarMtnFarm.com/deep-bedding-pack

I've been working and weeding our genetics hard for over a decade. Our goal is animals that do well in our climate outdoors on a pasture based diet. Each year we improve them in the new generation. Ultimately I see merging all the lines into a single line in the long term future but for now I maintain them as separate lines. Realize that "heritage" breeds were developed either intentionally to deal with local resource and climate issues or they were created accidentally from reduced populations. The third case is where a flaw such as mule's foot or wattles were used as a defining characteristic to create a new breed for novelty. All are valid reasons and ways and often multiple factors were involved. Heritage breed does not mean worthy, just that its been around for a long time. Also realize it takes a long time and a lot of animals to create a breed. A breed is a line that breeds true in subsequent generations maintaining the breed specific characteristics. We have about 400 pigs on pasture which represents thousands of animals over the years which I have selected from but I do not feel we have a separate breed, we have lines. A line is a thread of breeding like a family tree. Creating a breed is a decades long process that requires far more animals, perhaps an order of magnitude more, to get them to breed true with each generation. It also requires having a clear understanding of your breeding goals and that may take years to figure out. I mention this because I see some people claiming to have created "new" pastured breeds which are really cross lines.

Pasturing any breed is more challenging than simply grain feeding out of the commercial hog chow bag where someone else has thought out the nutrition for you. Grain isn't evil, it's just expensive. I enjoy the thinking. I like using my local resources. What we have most of all is pasture so that is the dominant resource I use for feeding all of our livestock. If you want to pasture any breed there are some things to think about:

Managed rotational grazing is key. This is not free-ranging. Move the animals. More smaller paddocks moving faster are better than fewer larger paddocks moving slower. If you don't know how to rotational grazing, get sheep. They're excellent easy grazers to learn on. Pigs rotational graze very well but are harder than sheep to get right. We learned on sheep in the 1990's. See:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Managed_intensive_rotational_grazing
http://www.sugarmtnfarm.com/?s=rotational%20grazing

Good pasture is key - pasture is more than grass. Seed is cheaper than feed. We cleared forest back to the original field walls and planted soft grasses, legumes, brassicas, millets, amaranth, chicory and other forages. Exactly what you choose will depend on your soils and climate. We're USDA Zone 3 on steep mountain land with thin gravel soils. I fence with the contours so the animals naturally help to create terraces, catching the water and soil from flowing downhill. See:
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/10/01/perfect-pear/
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/06/05/qmains-milk-bar-fencing-seeding/
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2012/04/19/fencing-2/

Good pastured genetics is key - within any breed there are those who have been selected for confinement vs show vs pasture. Get pigs from someone already doing it the way you plan to do it if you want a leg up in the genetics. See:
http://sugarmtnfarm.com/2015/01/13/classic-large-white-sow/

We find that mixed species grazing is better than single species grazing. Our farm is a system of multiple types of plants and animals working together however the only thing we sell is the forestry products and the pork. Farming is what we do, it pays the mortgage and brings in our weekly paycheck. To do that I have found takes some specialization on the sales end as well as vertical integration. There's lots of talk about being diversified, and that works in practice, but don't be scattered. It takes a lot of anything to supply more than a few customers and to supply accounts on a weekly basis year round takes a lot of focus. Grow into it slowly.

When selecting a breed, ideally get them from someone raising pigs the way you want to do it and ideally in a similar climate so the pigs are adapted. This gives you a leg up on starting out with good genetics. Particular breeds are more a matter of overall conformation characteristics like color, ear shape, body shape, lard vs meat pigs, growth rate, adult size, etc - these really personal preferences. The flavor is in the fat and that comes from feeding, not breeding.

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
in northern Vermont
USDA Zone 3



Walter,
Thank You.

Entering into my second season pasturing Mulefoots and Mulefoot/Tamworths. Your info here and on your website has been enlightening.

John
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Thank you Walter for such expert advice. We are just now able to purchase our first two hogs, we are going with Guinea Hogs, we have a breeder very close and will be going to see them next weekend to pick out our two and pay the deposit. These will be ready for us to pick up around the end of August or first part of September. Now that we have made the arrangements we have to get at least two pasture areas ready since we want to do rotational grazing. Your knowledge is very appreciated, has saved me a lot of wrong direction research.
 
Adam Hoar
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We just started doing pasture pigs this year, I was all wrapped up in breed choice and then I kept hearing, "when you start out just get whatever pigs you can. As long as they have 4 legs and a curly tail they will do fine." So far that has worked out. We only have five and I dont plan on breeding any so im not concerned about genetics or any of that. I just want to learn the system and ensure I can grow pigs well in my woods. After a few years of doing that I might worry about breeding them.

I do want some tamworth crosses and have found a breeder of them for next year but for no other reason then they are close by.
 
Cj Sloane
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Still, it might be easier if the breed was inclined to eat pasture and root and forage.
 
Adam Hoar
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Walter- Awesome write up I have learned a lot from your website and posts here.

Cj Verde wrote:Still, it might be easier if the breed was inclined to eat pasture and root and forage.


I think it is more important to get piglets from a system as close to yours as possible. I would rather have a random breed that was born on pasture then a "pasture" breed born in a CAFO.

We bought 5 white pigs and they are doing awesome and growing well and doing exactly what I would expect a pig to do. If you are starting out I think it is more important on the techniques then getting stuck on the breed, plus most heritage breeds are 1.5-1.75 times more then the regular breeds. If you are planning on breeding your own then I would definitely look for breeding stock designed for what I wanted to do.
 
Cj Sloane
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Cj Verde wrote:Still, it might be easier if the breed was inclined to eat pasture and root and forage.


I think it is more important to get piglets from a system as close to yours as possible. I would rather have a random breed that was born on pasture then a "pasture" breed born in a CAFO.


Where would you get CAFO born piglets around here lol! I always buy from a friend or Craig's List and since I can check out the digs I've always been satisfied. People mostly have Berkshire x Tamworths anyway because they do well here.
 
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