In October 2010, we were on a homeschool field trip, at the oldest farm in our county, Spence Farm, Fairbury, IL. One of the newer animals there was a pair of American Guinea Hogs. Once, several years before, we’d raised two pigs for the summer and had them processed in the fall so we had some home-raised pork. They were fun and full of personality – and in the end – quite tasty. We’ve never considered raising our own pigs for breeding because they are entirely too huge for our little farm. Then I saw the Guinea Hogs. They get to be only 300-400 pounds – instead of 1,000 or more for standard pigs. They are very hardy, gentle, and friendly – perfect for a small farm. In fact, that’s what they were originally intended for. They were a perfect homestead pig for the first Europeans to come here. They are quite hairy and deal well with cold temperatures, they are great at foraging and good mothers. Being small, they are easier to handle. With the advent of larger farms, the smaller breeds started to be raised less frequently, and just 10 years ago there were only about 35 American Guinea Hogs left in our country. A few dedicated people have worked hard to bring the breed back and now there are several hundred.
So, back to the field trip… Their sow had a relatively new litter at that time – her second. Her first litter had been 3 boys that were in a different pen. And they were for sale. So a week later, after a little research and preparation, we bought our first American Guinea Hog. He promptly slid through his fence and our 12-year-old son and I spent about 30 minutes trying to get him back in his pen. Then I scrounged up whatever chicken wire I could find and tied it up over the sections of fencing that was apparently much too large for the small pig. We named him York, which according to our baby name book, means, “estate of the boar”. That seemed appropriate for our boar. A month later we bought a gilt (young female). We picked her up on our youngest daughter’s birthday, so we let her name her. She chose Chocolate, because she is black. A month after that, we bought another gilt. (Keith’s theory is we should have 2, in case one dies.) While trying to pick a name for her, we realized that York and Chocolate sounds like a candy, so we named the last gilt Peppermint Patty. So together, the names are Keith’s favorite candy bar! We plan to name any other ones we keep after other candy bars, too.
After an attempt at raising them in portable pens that we move around our yard daily, as many owners of these pigs do, we decided permanent housing was a better option for us. After the new goat barn was finished and the goats moved into it, we modified their old 8’ x 12’ shed for the pigs. Each girl has half of the building and her own outdoor pen. York has a pen set up between and adjoining both girls’ pens, plus his own shelter to get out of the wind, rain, and snow. There is a gate leading into each of the girls’ pens, so when we want him to breed with one, we can just open the gate and let them roam together for a couple of months. When it’s close to farrowing time, we put him back in his own pen and then can let him in with the other girl. With this plan we hope each sow will have 2 litters a year, each a couple of months apart.
On October 21, 2011, Chocolate had her first litter! Unfortunately, it was the coldest night this fall, and 7 of her 10 piglets were dead when we went out to do morning chores. But there are 3 wonderfully cute little girl piglets alive and we’re thankful for that. Patty is due to have a litter in the next few weeks. We hope to sell some now and then to other people who wish to help bring the American Guinea Hog back to popularity by breeding them. But the point of having pigs is also to have meat, so we will keep a few each year for ourselves and hopefully we’ll have enough to sell to others. We’ll post information on that when they are available.
As much as we want our pigs to be able to forage, we simply don’t have that much space. So the majority of their diet is a commercial pig feed, with the addition of extra eggs from our hens, extra milk from our goats, whey from cheese making, extra garden produce, some of the weeds we pick, and some alfalfa hay.
Keeping these pigs has been great fun for us. They are so friendly and personable. They love to be scratched and rubbed. York has been known to lie down and roll over like a dog for a good belly rub! When it’s hot in the summer they love to be sprayed with the hose to cool down and then roll in the mud. This summer York dug himself a hole as large as he was that we filled with water every couple of days. He just spent hours laying there, staying cool. The only downside is that when you go in their pen you can count on getting your legs or pants muddy from pig noses rubbing on you.
We are also members of the American Guinea Hog Association and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, both of whom are dedicated to helping bring back breeds of farm animals that are in danger of disappearing. If you want more information on the American Guinea Hog, you can go to either of their websites.