Thanks to all who purchased pigs from us this spring!
Petunia and Primrose
Berkshire Pigs for Small Farms by Carol Ekarious
Berkshire pigs are an excellent choice for farmers who want to raiseheritage livestock with a taste consumers appreciate. Not so very long ago, almost every farm had a few pigs, which were often dubbed “the mortgage lifter” thanks to their easy profit potential.
But in recent decades, pigs moved from the farmstead to the factory farm, as small-scale farmers couldn’t possibly compete with corporate operations with 1,000 or more animals raised under one roof.
Small-scale farmers are once again finding that there are potential profits—and lots of excellent meat in keeping pigs: The trick is to keep niche breeds that produce higher-quality meat and to market directly to consumers (and chefs) who are interested in taste, humane treatment of animals and better stewardship of the environment.
One of the pig breeds that farmers are finding to work well for these consumers is the Berkshire. This pig is hardy, has good mothering capabilities and performs very well outdoors, especially when grazing on pasture. This pig breed's meat is darker than commercial pork and far more flavorful than the pork found in your grocery-store freezer.
Berkshire Pig Breed Characteristics Color: Black with white points (legs, face and tail). Dark-colored skin reduces sunburn.
Body type: Very deep-sided with a strong, uniform arch of back and muscular, firm build. Short neck and short, blocky legs with strong feet.
Head: Relatively short snout. Seen from the side, the face has a slightdish-shape with a large jowl and an upturned nose. Ears are medium-sized and erect.
Size: Medium to large animals, around 600 pounds at maturity.
Temperament: Excellent disposition. Friendly and curious.
Production traits: Good mothering ability with high milk production. Hardy, performs well in outdoor operations.
History of Berkshire Pigs Berkshire pigs are one of the oldest identifiable breeds. These black pigs, with white “points” (white areas on their feet, snout and tail) were documented in the English “shire of Berks” more than 350 years ago and made their way to the United States in the early 1800s. In 1875, breeders formed the American Berkshire Association, making it the first breeders group and swine registry in the world.
Pigs come in two essential types—the lard type and the bacon type. As the name suggests, lard pigs produce higher concentrations of fat, which traditionally was rendered for cooking and the production of lubricants. These pigs are compact, with thick muscling, short legs and deep bodies.
Through the end of World War II, the market for lard (a key ingredient in products ranging from cosmetics to explosives to pharmaceuticals) was strong, but after the war, cheaper vegetable-based fats found their way into American diets and petrochemicals largely replaced lard for commercial and industrial uses. The declining market for lard caused demand for lard pigs to collapse and breeders began selecting for leaner hogs.
Initially the Berkshire pig breed thrived, thanks largely to its exceptionally tasty meat, but as the pork industry consolidated under the control of just a handful of large corporations in the 1980s and 1990s and efficiency of production became the name of the game, the Berkshire population plummeted. The “pork industry” simply wasn’t interested in Berkshires because they were slower growing, didn’t produce as much lean meat (which the industry believed was the only thing consumers would buy) and didn’t perform as well in confinement as the Duroc, Hampshire and Yorkshire pig breeds.
Despite these setbacks, some independent farmers who were members of the ABA kept breeding registered hogs.
"Berkshire producers didn’t open their books [to non-Berkshire bloodlines], they never changed and the breed is intact,” says Mike Telford, Marketing Director for the ABA’s Berkshire Meat Products program. “The breed has tremendous meat quality and today’s consumers, both nationally and internationally, are really seeking out high-quality meat products.”
Thanks to this consumer-driven demand for good meat, Berkshire numbers are again climbing and there is opportunity for small-scale producers to profit from these pigs. Chefs are becoming major promoters of Berkshires in the U.S. Tom Boyce, Chef de Cuisine at Wolfgang Puck’s flagship Beverly Hills restaurant, Spago, is one of the Berkshire’s fans.
“I love the richness of the Berkshire pork—and the fact that most farmers raising them are treating them better and doing a better job for the environment than the commodity-pork producers. They are raising them in an artisanal fashion.
“It is the only kind of pig we use here at Spago,” Boyce says. “And we have it on the menu at least a couple of times per month. The response is always excellent; everyone absolutely loves the flavor.”
Berkshires really do make ideal animals for small-scale production.
They are rugged and reliable animals. They take well to pasture life, getting a lot of their own feed from grazing and digging for acorns.
Not only are they hardy and active foragers, Berkshire sows are also excellent mothers. They are really calm. Sows are great milkers, so the piglets grow quickly.
Berkshire litters tend to be a little smaller than some of the commercial crossbreds, about 8-9 piglets.
All in all, if you are looking for a good pig for a small-farm enterprise or you just want to eat your own pork like Grandpa used to raise, then the Berkshire might be the breed for you.
Carol Ekarious is author of Hobby Farm: Living Your Rural Dream for Pleasure and Profit (Hobby Farm Press; 2005).
Our Sow and Boar Pedigrees
Dam and Sire pedigree listed above.
We are presently accepting deposits to hold pigs until weaning. Please e-mail us below if you would be interested in a purchase. All boar pigs have been castrated and thus will be sold as feeders. All the gilts have good underlines, several with perfect 7-7. These gilts will make great breeding stock or they can be purchased as unregistered feeders. Breeding stock will be registered with the American Berkshire Association as part of the purchase price.
We do not currently offer shipping. Out of state customers will be responsible for the cost of any health certificates that may be required for interstate travel.
Registered Gilts: $250.00
Registered Boars: $225.00
Unregistered Gilts: $135.00
The above prices are for pigs sold at weaning (6-8 weeks of age) with an approximate weight of 40 lbs. Older pigs are sold based on weight at time of purchase. Please contact us for additional pricing information and availability of pigs for sale.
A non-refundable deposit of 50% of the total purchase price is required to hold all pigs. The balance is due and payable in full at the time the pigs are picked up here on the farm. Orders for pigs and the required down payments are taken only after litters have arrived.
To be notified when breeding stock and feeder pigs become available or if you have any questions, please e-mail us.
Let us know what you are interested in: breeding stock, feeder pigs, quantity and the sex. Thank you!