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.
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.
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.
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.