Lard vs Bacon Pigs


Katya & Ben with Weaner Pigs in South Weaning Paddock

Dr. Food commented on yesterday’s post:
A lean “bacon” breed? I never thought of “bacon” and “lean” in the same clause like that….

Pigs are categorized as being either:

  • Lard Pigs which tend to be short of body length (G>>L) and put on a lot of fat easily. These tend to grow more slowly and not as large but careful of generalizations like that – see the caveat about feeding below.
  • Bacon Pigs sometimes also called Meat Pigs which have longer bodies (L>=G) and develop higher levels of muscling. These tend to be faster growing and larger. The diameter of the loin muscle tends to be much larger than with lard pigs.

This is, of course, a generalization of a spectrum, not an absolute digital classification.

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You can make a Bacon Pig fat through over feeding and you can make a Lard Pig skinny through extreme dieting but it doesn’t change the way they muscle or their body conformation which are the more important factors in this characterization.

Some examples:

Tamworths tend toward the extreme end of the bacon pigs being long and lean. Through over feeding you can make a fat Tamworth pig.

Yorkshire (also known as Large Whites) are an example of the classic meat pig a.k.a. bacon pig. The Yorkshire is perhaps the oldest of the heritage breeds and because it is so successful it has become the foundation of many modern breeds. They have large muscles, grow fast and do not tend towards fat on a proper diet. Yorkshire is a large part of our Mainline genetics as they are also known for their excellent mothering ability and do well on pasture.

Duroc is a similar example that is also fast growing but is known for higher incidences of taint. We may have some Duroc a long ways back in our herds which may account for our Redline genetics but I would not bring in more Duroc because of not wanting to deal with the taint issue now that we have it bred out.

Berkshire is still in the meat / bacon pig end of the spectrum but shifting a little fat-ward on the scale with their marbling. They too grow quickly, large and have big muscles but not quite as much as the Yorkshire. It is to be noted that there are two distinctively different Berkshire lines. Ours is the taller, longer faced American Berkshire of which Spitz is a classic conformation.

Large Black are more towards the lard but still have good development and similarly to the Berkshire good marbling although not quite as much. We have two lines of Large Black, one of which has crossed with our Mainline to produce our Blackieline and the other of which is the Lotsline. Both are black and similar in body form but our Blackieline looks more like a black Yorkshire as a result of a decade of selective breeding for the characteristics that work on our farm such as upright ears, longer legs, faster growth, etc. The Lotsline has the classic Large Black conformation. My goal with these lines is to shift, among other things, the Large Black fat and marbling into our Mainline which is our oldest genetics where I’ve done the most work of selective breeding.

Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs are moving over to the lard side although they’re still pretty meaty. This is the traditional “Orchard Pig” used to clean apple orchards in the fall. All our pigs love apples, it’s not breed dependent.

Potbellied Pigs and Mangalitsa are towards the extreme end of the Lard Pigs being short bodied and very heavy on the fat, even prized for the fat. The Mangalitsa are specifically raised for their fat which is nearly the definition of the traditional lard breeds of pigs. These are two breeds we do not have – I’ve only seen a few Pot Bellied Pigs in person and photos of the Mangalitsa. There are many breeds of pigs – check out the Oklahoma State web site for a long list of different breeds of swine.

Note that within breeds there can be line variation as noted above about the Berkshires. The English Berkshire pig is much more towards the lard pig than the American Berkshire we have. Both came from the same originating genetics but were selected over generations for different needs resulting in different lines as discussed in the article “Classic White Sow.”

Note that all of the above breeds are heritage breeds and not “The Other White Meat” which the Big Ag commercial pork industry ruined in the 1970’s with their fear of fat. Even they have recognized that was not just a bad slogan but a bad move with their genetics so now they are working to get away from the ultra lean pale shoe leather product.

Keep in mind that Lard vs Bacon (meat) categorizations are a simplification of pig genetics. It’s one way of looking at a spectrum of pork but not the only factor in play as to what makes a good pig for a particular raising situation and market. It used to be that fat was highly prized so the lard breeds dominated. Now the bacon and meat is the primary objective.

If you ever see Mangalitsa bacon next to Tamworth bacon, both on the same diet and at the same slaughter age, you’ll see quite clearly why I use the term ‘lean bacon’. Both are bacon but the Mangalitsa bacon is mostly fat while the Tamworth bacon is mostly meat with comparatively little fat. Which is better depends on your needs and goals.

This all raises the question in many inquiring minds as to which tastes better. The answer is in what the pigs ate. That is why above I said “both on the same diet.” You literally are what you eat, or at least you taste like what you ate. Breed and age determine things like degree of marbling and tendency to put on fat as well as muscle development and growth rate but the flavor of the meat is in the fat and it is comes from what you ate. Feed for flavor.

All that said, if you want more fat then raise the pigs to a larger size, older age and ask for a female. After about 250 lbs or so they start putting on more fat than muscle for the same amount of feed, provided there are sufficient calories. Just as importantly, go with females, a gilt or sow, rather than males to maximize fat because females naturally put on more fat than males. For the maximum fat select a female over 300 lbs hanging weight – that’s about 420 lbs live weight. It takes longer to get to that size so farmers often charge a little extra per pound for that higher weight but this is what chefs order months in advance for charcuterie. The other option is to feed a high calorie diet but that alone can cause a problem with flavor as noted above. Pigs fed a high calorie diet such as corn fatten quickly but sacrifice flavor since the flavor is from the feed.

Also see:
Lard vs Bacon Pigs
Pig Page
Four Sows and Pigs
Classic Large White Sow


The picture at the top shows a group of piglets who were recently weaned and are now in the second paddock of the South Weaning Paddock where they are learning about fencing, dogs, people and weaning. They’ll eat that paddock down in a day or two and then move on to the next. The paddock they left will regrow and be ready for another group of weaner pigs in about three weeks to a month. Weaning is a valuable time to do taming and training of the young pigs.

Outdoors: 74°F/54°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/62°F

Daily Spark: Caffeine can be a fiend’s best friend.

L is the length and G is the girth of the pig. The ratio of these numbers on a finisher pig in good condition (not skinny, not fat) is a fair indicator of Lard vs Bacon breeds. If L>=G then it is probably a bacon / meat breed. If G>>L then it is probably a lard breed. See “How to Weigh a Pig with a String” for more details.

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About Walter Jeffries

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13 Responses to Lard vs Bacon Pigs

  1. Edmund Brown says:

    I’m sure you’re aware of this, but for other readers of your blog – pointing out the embedded energy difference in muscle vs fat explains much of why lard pigs are “slow growing”. Fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as protein, so an animal has to eat far more calories for each unit of gain it puts on as fat rather than muscle.

    I am interested in raising marbled pork, and I wonder how much of a growth rate penalty pursing it will impose.

    • Well, for an inexact comparison, it seems that our Berkshire take about a month longer to get to market weight than our fastest growing and the Large Black are a little slower than that. Berkshire has more marbling of the two and the Large Black more back fat (sub-dermal fat).

      However, our fastest genetics is our Mainline which includes some Berkshire in the mix. Some might argue that the Mainline cross is faster because of hybrid vigor but research shows that effect does not last down the generations. However they base that on random selection. I do very hard selection, only about 5% test as breeders. This hard selection is probably the factor. Those lines that I have spent the most generations doing hard selection are the fastest growing since that is one of the characteristics I select for.

      There is also a strong sex effect. Boars grow significantly faster (+10%) than barrows who grow about that much faster than gilts. Research has shown that the boars are more efficient at converting feed to meat.

      Then there is the effect of climate. The pigs definitely grow faster during the easy warm months of summer. There are two immediate reasons I can think of for this: 1) fresh pasture is better than stored hay and 2) in the cold of winter some calories go to keeping warm.

      If you want good marbling, use good genetics, feed sufficient calories and perhaps most of all raise them to a sufficient age. Young pigs don’t tend to have much in the way of marbling.

  2. James Swift says:

    I would say there is a third aspect at work here. That of the Chinese breeds that got brought over and bred into European breeds in the 18th/19th centuries. They are characterised by a flat face and the British Berkshire and Middle White are the prime examples. Superficially they look like lard pigs but actually very different to e.g. Mangalitzas but different type of fat and have great meat when young – meant for meat. Anyway, more later. In a rush!

  3. We’re going to process a 400+ lb Large Black gilt in the morning, and if she looks anything like her sister, her belly will have way too much fat to be reasonable bacon. We raised Tamworth’s a few years back, and they were definitely a very different hog beneath the skin. We prefer sausage to bacon (heresy, I know…) and mix the extra fatty belly in with lean trimmings from elsewhere to convert roughly half the hanging weight into sausage. If I remember when we’re working, I’ll take a cross section picture of her fresh fatty bacon and post it tomorrow. It’ll be pretty obvious why they’re called “lard pigs” rather than “bacon pigs.”

    • Bobby says:

      Did you take the picture of the belly meat?

    • Two of the things I’ve found over the years is that not only does the breeding, the genetics, make a difference in lard vs bacon pigs but also it is very important the feed and then the age of the pig. Younger pigs tend to be leaner and have thin bacon. Older pigs, especially on a grain diet, tend to have fatter bellies. On the high calorie grain diets such as those based on corn the bellies of older pigs can be very fatty no matter what breed. I’ve seen that in Yorkshire, Berkshire, Duroc, Tamworth, Large Black, Landrace, crosses, Mangalica, Potbellied, etc. The breeding definitely enhances it though.

  4. Kati says:

    Walter,

    I was wondering if you would do a post describing the benefits and drawbacks on each of your lines and your goals with them?

    Thanks,
    Kati

  5. Farmerbob1 says:

    Walter, I wandered through this page following some recent comments and noted that the text size was smaller than normal on the right side. I believe you fixed one of these before, so I’ll mention it again.

  6. Joy Butler says:

    Honestly I had no idea that there are different kinds a pigs that produce different kinds of bacon. It is interesting that the different genetic make up of pigs basically determine how their lives will play out. It is comforting to learn that pigs are not stuffed until they are fat enough to eat and instead are allowed to grow before they end up on my plate.

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