American Guinea Hog: A Small Pig Breed for Homesteaders

A heritage hog breed, the American Guinea hog may be the best pig for your small homestead. Raise these hogs on pasture for superb meat and charcuterie.

| October/November 2015

Few animals are as useful as pigs on the homestead. They have provided their owners with valuable lard to cook with and flavorful meat for the table for thousands of years. To many, they represented food security through lean times, because, prior to refrigeration, pigs served as an on-the-hoof food-storage system. Pigs can also perform a number of tasks around the farm. Their rooting behavior makes them natural rototillers, and they can help control unwanted species, such as snakes and rodents.

When deciding whether pigs will work for you, don’t assume all breeds are similar. Hogs can grow into massive animals, with breeding boars tipping the scales at nearly 800 pounds, plus large sows with piglets can be dangerous for the inexperienced hand. Some breeds produce large amounts of meat (130 to 150 pounds per pig), which may be too much for a small family’s needs. A small breed such as the American Guinea hog may be the best choice for many homesteads. One Guinea hog will yield 60 to 80 pounds of pork.

This rare and storied breed has a fascinating history. One theory suggests the American Guinea hog could have a close association to the Improved Essex hog, a small British breed now extinct in the United Kingdom. DNA analysis conducted in 2014 by the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources Program, led by Dr. Yves Plante in collaboration with The Livestock Conservancy, found that the Guinea hog’s genetics consistently cluster it with the Gloucestershire Old Spots pig. Because the Old Spots and the British Improved Essex share the Old English Pig and unimproved Berkshire in their foundation, these findings support the idea that our American Guinea hog is, in fact, descended from the British Improved Essex hog, which British farmers favored because it was hardy and could feed itself by foraging.

During the Guinea hog’s heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most households were cooking with lard, and this breed produced it abundantly. As the use of lard diminished, so did the American Guinea hog’s numbers.

The breed was fairly common in the South up until the 1940s. These pigs were mainly kept on small farms and were used for meat and lard production, cross-breeding, and as yard pigs to till the garden and keep snakes away.

By the 1990s, there were fewer than 100 Guinea hogs left in the United States, and it is now considered one of the rarest heritage hog breeds.

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