Spitz Faced

Our Berkshire Boar Spitz of the North

This is Spitz, our purebred Berkshire boar of our norther herd. He came to us in the winter of 2012. My hope is to add more marbling to our Mainline herd genetics since that is what Berkshires are known for. We already have some Berkshire in our mix of pig genetics and I would like to add a little more.

Breeding plants or animals is a long term project that takes generations and thus years to bear fruit. Pigs are rather gratifying in that they mature young at about eight months and have their first litter at a year. Litters are big, typically ranging from five to twelve and pigs have two to three litters a year. Compare that to cattle (1 calf every year or two) or sheep (1.8 lambs per year if you’re lucky) or worse yet, breeding humans (1 baby every one to five years). Mice and rabbits are pretty good but lack the extraordinary growth of pigs: from 3 lbs to 250 lbs in six to eight months! Aren’t you glad your toddler isn’t a pig!

This spring and summer we finally got to taste the results of crossing Spitz Berkshire genetics with our other lines of pigs: Mainline, Blackie, MainlinexBlackie, Tamworth, MainlinexTamworth, LargeBlack#2 and MainlinexLargeBlack#2. The results are f(l)avorable.

Flavor-wise they’re all excellent. My previous experiments clearly showed that most of the flavor comes mostly from diet which is predominantly pasture/whey plus veggies and fruit. A little contribution comes from genetics too. Both diet and genetics are important because…

Marbling is good on his offspring with some improvement there and more to come. Marbling, which is highly genetic and age related, enhances flavor since fat is the dominant flavor contributor in meat. The lean contributes less flavor but is where we get our protein. We already have decent marbling but I want more. Marbling is a characteristic closely tied with winter-ability…

Winter-ability did well again in the Mainline and Blackie crosses which are already strong for this. Spitz does well with winter although not as well as our Mainline. His offspring crossed with our Mainline did very well, bringing that characteristic from their mothers. Winter is a huge challenge in our climate and an important selection characteristic. It will be another year or two before we see his daughters from these mixes perform in cold weather farrowing – the ultimate test.

Speed of growth is good with the Mainline crosses being the best since we’ve been selecting them for a decade on that criteria.

Temperament is great across all the line crosses made with Spitz. To be expected as our other lines are already culled hard for good temperament and Spitz is a gentleman.

Over all the Berkshire x Mainline crosses were the best closely followed by the Berkshire x MainlinexBlackieline crosses. We have gotten several surprise super-growers out of these crosses of Spitz with our Mainline and MainlinexBlackie. These pigs grew much faster and larger than their same age cohort mates on the same diet. They remind me of Speckles, Spot, Big’Un, Petra, Anna, Big Pig, Australia and some of our other past super sized growers who made it into the breeder ranks. It is not unusual for there to be a range of sizes in a litter but in these cases they were 50% to 100% larger than their age mates and kept that advantage. All of these fast growers were male. One of them, Spitzson, we are watching and considering keeping as a breeder for next year.

Interestingly based on what I’ve observed at slaughterhouses and reading there appear to be two separate Berkshire genomes running around in the world. They’re similarly colored but one has short legs and are known to grow more slowly. Spitz line is the taller, longer legged Berkshire and faster growing. My guess is these two lines split somewhere. It is fairly easy to take a breed and modify it without even the addition of outside genetics just through selection pressures. Nature does this all the time. Evolution is a wonderful thing and pigs are very plastic.

Currently I’m maintaining several pure lines as well as crosses of those with the goal of continuing to improve our Mainline which is adapted to our climate and pasture management. I do this by shifting around which sows breed with which boar groups. Breeding and selection are a slow process. I look forward to seeing how all of these lines perform over the next decade as we continue to advance our herd genetics. My goal is a single line in the long run.

Breed the best of the best and eat the rest.

Outdoors: 74°F/49°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/63°F

Daily Spark: Patiences is a virtue. -Prudentius, 5th Century Poet

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to Spitz Faced

  1. Dennis Van Swol says:

    I was wondering… You’ve worked hard to breed out bore taint. Now, you introduced “foreign/outsider” genetics. Has any taint returned. My curiosity derives from my wanting to use AI but not wanting to import taint from the “outsider” genetics.

  2. In a decade or two, you’re going to end up with a Superpig line. They grow to market weight in four months, have litters of 18, are excellent with children, and will even do the dishes.

    It must be fascinating, watching the genetics change. I suspect you’re familiar with the experiment in which foxes were domesticated, over many generations, in Russia, but on the off-chance you’re not, it’s a very interesting case study:

    • Aye, the foxes in Russia are a very interesting example of rapid evolution. It used to be thought that evolution was a very slow process but recent research has shown large jumps can be made very quickly. Stress on the species works wonders and a little Farmer Intervention can achieve a lot. As I have been known to say, “Evolve harder, evolve faster.”

  3. Trey Jackson says:

    I’d be interested in hearing how you keep track of all this genetic/heritage information – what you store, how you spot trends/improvements.

    It’s always interesting.

  4. Patrick says:

    Marbling, which is highly genetic and age related…

    So you’ve mentioned age affecting marbling before. Could you expand on your words a bit?

    I got a couple of purebred Berkshire barrows that are about 6 months right now – one is most definitely what you would call “market weight”. The other is a bit smaller. Basically, they could go to processing at any time. Quality is more important than timing for us. These are for our personal use, and that of our friends.

    I have been feeding them primarily Purina Sow and Pig Complete – we have 15 acres of heavy forest and grazing is neigh impossible. They get beech and acorn, plus good quality greens as we get them. And marshmallows – the kids like to share a few once a week.

    It might be a bit late to vary diet (this is our first try with pigs), but the time/marbling aspect is something I could still control. I assume that more time on the hoof is more marbling (in general), but at what point do we hit the “too much time” stage?

    I know this is all up to the individual animals and many variables not mentioned here, but your generalized experience would help. Thanks.

    • Young pigs have little marbling. Around six months they start to marble, that is develop fat in the muscle as well as developing some back fat. Note that this is my observation from our fairly low calorie pasture diet. On a high calorie candy diet, er, I mean corn based diet, the pigs fatten up a little earlier because there are so many calories in the diet. In a pen situation they would likely fatten more since they don’t get as much exercise as out on pasture. Basic growth.

      Pigs do vary in how fast they gain weight. This can be a difference of where they started, genetics, how good an eater they are, dominance and intestinal parasites which use up some of the food value. This is why a wormy animal may not gain weight well.

      Fat is where the flavor is predominantly laid down in the animal and this happens in the last month to three. What they eat does have an effect on how they’ll taste.

      When are they big enough? When they’re a size you want to slaughter at a time you want to slaughter. For your breed anywhere in the 225 to 300 lb live weight is common. Pigs can do well over the winter but most people don’t want to deal with freezing water so they slaughter in the fall as the pastures wane.

      What is too much? Watch the jowl area. If they get saggy they’re getting fatty. Lard is good eating though, especially from pastured animals.

      • Patrick says:


        I was looking to move from the candy (a soy-based complete feed) to something that would improve flavor in the last month or two. I researched nuts but cannot find a reliable source I would trust to supply food that goes into the family food.

        As for size, these Berkshires are already plenty big enough for us. The large one has large (but not sagging) jowls which he has put on in the last few weeks, but the smaller one is not nearly as muscled or fat (he is not puny, just not as big). The muscle on the big one is massive. He has always been proportioned like that – even as a piglet. I haven’t seen hams like that even at the state fair. They like to rub up against me and are now at the point they could easily knock me over without trying.

        They are active. They are penned, but not in a small one. More like a small pasture than a real pen. They have more than enough room to make a long run. If they are in the back area and see me jump in to work on something, they get excited and run to see me. They come up to speed like lightning. Those running seconds between top speed and stopping to greet me can be a little nerve-wracking. They are friendly and not aggressive at all, but to see a 200+ pound animal (the small one) moving faster than most dogs and coming right at you – all the while snorting – you get to wonder if they will ever be able to slow down in time. They do. But still…they ain’t dogs.

        From your blog we have been convinced to increase some natural foraging any way we can. That means we might have to string a good portion of the back woods with some electric fence, and maybe find some kind of forage that will grow in shade. Rotate pasture and augment as required. Don’t know. Still working on ways to adapt and overcome. The upside to our setup is the woods give great cover and keep these boys cool when it gets hot and humid – which it does during the summer. The patches of direct sun move around the woods, which is great cause they get the sun when they want it and avoid it on hot days. But that is not good for traditional pasture.

        Anyway, they are a fun pair. So much so that the wife wants to pick up six more. And just a few years ago she was an “LA Girl” working at movie studios…

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