Ag 101: A Breed Above the Rest

Hog production in the United States is a scientific business. We rank third in world production of hogs and Iowa ranks first in the nation.  As human population continues to increase, hog production also continues to increase to meet the growing demand. This is possible through improved breeding, feeding and management programs.  There are many breeds of hogs.  No one breed is perfect. Breeds are chosen to meet specific criteria chosen by the producers. Breeds of swine can be grouped in two different categories, ‘terminal’ and ’maternal’. Terminal breeds are known for their fast rate of growth and their carcass quality while maternal breeds are known for their large litters. Different breeds bring different benefits to the farm and to the dinner table.  Hogs are hardy, intelligent, and relatively easy to care for.  There are eight major breeds of hogs that are commonly raised in the United States.  Often the breeds are crossed in the hopes that the offspring will exhibit the best qualities of each parent.  The five darker breeds are: Berkshire, Duroc, Hampshire, Poland China and Spot.  The three white breeds are: Chester White, Landrace and Yorkshire. Some produce better cuts of meat.  Some have larger litters.  So…which kind of hog would you raise? The terminal breeds include Berkshire, Hampshire, Spot, Duroc, and Poland China. The Duroc is a breed that is noted for fast growth and good feed efficiency.  On average, Durocs need less feed to make a The 2009 Great Yorkshire Showpound of muscle. They are cherry red in color with droopy ears and a short snout. They have more of an athletic build than other breeds.  Duroc hogs are generally hardy and forage quite well.  They produce a very desirable carcass. That paired with the muscle quality and fast growth rate makes them prized. Another terminal breed, Hampshire, is black with a white belt that extends from the front legs over the shoulder.  The headHampshire-Pig-983191[1], legs and tail are black. They have erect ears and their faces are longer in shape and are straight forward in appearance.   Their great ability to forage makes them a good choice for small scale operations.  They also have long life spans and are a leader in carcass quality. The maternal breeds of hogs are Yorkshire, Chester White and Landrace. Yorkshire is the most sought after breed.  They are generally excellent mothers of large litters (10 to 14 piglets). This hog type has an extremely long frame, white erect ears, and short noses with occasional freckles.  Yorkshires have a slower growth rate, but are very durable and prolific.   They have yorkshiresuperior mothering skills and are often referred to as the “Mother Breed”. Baby pigs  are weaned when they are two to four weeks old. They are called “nursery pigs” until they reach 50 pounds and “growing/finishing pigs” until they reach about 240 pounds. At 240lbs. they are called hogs. When looking for the ideal hog, breeders seek the structurally sound, healthy, thick muscled, highly efficient hog with a large body frame. Today there are extremely controlled selection and breeding programs for specialized crossbreeding.  But just as important to farmers is the ability to have a prolific, healthy herd.  As with so many variables and things to consider, today, raising pigs is a science and I personally am thankful to those who work so hard to benefit those of us that enjoy pork on our tables! Since there is so much to talk about with pork, look for part 2 of this blog post later this week. We will look at the specific cuts of pork.

  • Sheri

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