If you’ve decided to add pigs to your homestead, the next question is, “which breed?” I am partial to the heritage breeds because they do well on pasture. Initially we raised Tamworths, which we purchased from a breeder in the spring. We’d raise them through the summer and butcher them in the fall. For a variety of reasons, I decided I wanted to start breeding my own pigs, although I was very intimidated by the size of full-grown Tamworths and other breeds of pigs that I’d met.
Introducing … the American Guinea Hog! Its history is as mysterious as they come, but one thing is clear — it was the homestead hog of choice in the southeast U.S. during the 1800s. Less than a decade ago, it was almost completely extinct with less than 150 breeding animals known to exist! Today it is enjoying renewed popularity, and its numbers have been rapidly growing over the past few years. Why?
- It’s less than half the size of most hogs! While many breeds of hogs can get up to 800 or even more than 1,000 pounds, the AGH adult weight is usually in the 250 to 300 pound range. This small size was one of the reasons it almost became extinct. It definitely did not fit into the factory farm environment. However, that small size is exactly what makes it attractive to homesteaders and small farmers.
- It has a sweet personality! Pigs have a reputation for being vicious omnivores, killing and eating chickens that are unlucky enough to wander into the pig pen, and some have even been known to kill people. Guinea Hogs, however, have a very calm, docile nature. While this may not be important to huge confinement farmers, it is very important for small farmers who will be working closely with their pigs and who have other animals and don’t want to worry about the pigs killing them. Of course, there have been a few Guinea Hogs that were not so docile, but most breeders are quick to send them to meat locker and not use them for breeding stock, ensuring that the breed as a whole continues to have a great personality.
- It grazes! While some heritage breeds of pigs will eat grass when on pasture, the AGH love grass and gobble it up as voraciously as if it were eating chocolate truffles.
- It has lots of lard! Although the average American consumer began to reject lard after the invention of Crisco, many people are beginning to realize that they were duped by marketing and that lard can play a role in a healthy diet. If you are interested in self-sufficiency, having pigs is the easiest way to produce your own cooking fat. Although you could grow sunflowers, corn, or soybeans, extracting the fat is a big project. Rendering lard can be done in a slow cooker or in your oven without purchasing any fancy equipment.
- It has outstanding flavor! Chefs have begun to sing the praises of the Guinea Hog from South Carolina to Chicago. One chef called it the Kobe beef of pork. It is especially popular with chefs who want to use the whole pig from snout to tail, and it makes excellent charcuterie.
- Because of all the unique strengths and benefits of the American Guinea Hog, they are easier to sell than other breeds of hogs, which is a sixth benefit for those of us who can’t eat all of the pork that our pigs produce. Their small size makes them more attractive for urban dwellers to purchase as a whole hog, which is the easiest way for a homesteader to sell a pig. You simply have to find one customer who purchases the pig from you, and then you take it to the processor as a courtesy to the buyer. You get paid for the pig, and the buyer tells the processor how they want the pig cut up and processed and pay them directly. Because you are not selling meat — you sold a live animal — you don’t have to deal with getting a license to sell meat, nor do you have to have an expensive freezer for storing meat, waiting for individual customers to come buy it, one pound of bacon and one ham at a time.
When we raised Tamworths, a lot of people would only want half a hog because they couldn’t wrap their brain around the idea of having 175 or 200 pounds of pork! With the AGH dressing out at half that amount, the number of customers is greater.
Of course, the four reasons I gave for having pigs on the homestead a couple of weeks ago is also true for the AGH. That means there is a total of ten reasons to have American Guinea Hogs on your homestead!
With the number of registered AGH in the US now well over a thousand it is much easier than it was a few years ago to find breeding stock, although if you are just planning to raise them for meat, you don’t have to buy registered pigs. And if there are not any in your area, piglets can be shipped by air just like dogs and cats, so you can find a breeder in another state and have the pigs shipped to you. Since you are charged by weight or kennel size (depending upon airline), it’s a good idea to buy pigs that have just been weaned, so you can save on shipping costs.