Pigs

Is Berkshire Pork the Best? Everything You Need to Know About This Breed of Pig

berkshire pigs

Berkshire pigs are some of the best pigs you can raise for meat.

In fact, this breed is regarded as one of the oldest, identifiable breeds in Britain from which it originated. It is also the first breed to record pedigrees in herd books. 

This heritage pig breed has several distinctive characteristics that you need to know about if you’re trying to find the ideal pig breed to raise.

With heavily marbled, juicy meat and a calm, even disposition, the Berkshire hog is one you should put at the very top of your list. Here’s why.

berkshire pigs

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What is a Berkshire Pig Known For? 

berkshire pigs

Here are the five main things a Berkshire pig is known for:

  • Excellent quality pork that is juicy, dark, and heavily marbled (also known as kurobuta pork)
  • Meat that is suitable for long and high-temperature cooking
  • The ability to easily convert grass and legumes into delicious Berkshire pork 
  • A dark black coloration with white on the snout
  • The ability to grow fast, even in suboptimal conditions 

Berkshire pork is distinctive from that you’ll find with most of the other breeds of pigs. The richness of the pork has made it a top choice and this is why it is preferred by a large number of consumers and chefs all over the world. 

When it comes to juiciness, tenderness, and flavor, you can’t beat Berkshire pork which is why it is unrivaled among other breeds of pigs. This heritage breed is highly regarded for its delicious and exceptionally tasty meat quality. Bear in mind, though, that due to its heavily marbled nature, it requires long cooking and high-temperature cooking. 

Here’s a video with some more information about why you should raise the Berkshire, hailed as the “kobe beef” of pork.

Physical Characteristics of Berkshire Hogs

berkshire pigs

The Berkshire pig has distinct characteristics when compared to other breeds of feeder pigs. Here, we have listed some characteristics and behaviors of the Berkshire pigs below. 

1. Color

Berkshire pigs are essentially black except for some white points on the lower legs like socks, a white splash on the snout of each pig, and also the tip of the tail. Due to their dark-colored coat, Berkshire pigs have an added benefit as they are not inclined to get sunburned like the light-colored feeder pigs. 

2. Body type

The Berkshire pig is a lard pig in that it has a lot of fat content. It has a deep-sided body type with a strong, consistent back curve and well-developed muscles. It has a short neck and block-like legs with sturdy feet. 

3. Head

The Berkshire pig when seen from the side has a slight dish-shaped face with a relatively large jaw and an inverted nose which is sensitive. The ears are medium-sized and are erect or slightly leaned forward.  

4. Size

Berkshire pigs fall into the average to large breed category in terms of weight, which is why it is fitted for pig farming and hobby farms. 

The Berkshire boar weighs about 280kg (600lb) on average while the sow weighs about 220kg (500lb). This is amazing when you consider the fact that the piglets weigh only a few pounds at birth. However, it takes less than a year for a pig to reach 90.7kg on a scale

In regards to height categories, the average Berkshire will be between 27 and 29 inches tall. Their long body structure constitutes their sturdy look. 

5. Climate Adaptability 

The Berkshire pig is docile and incredibly intelligent. It easily survives in different climatic conditions and is best suited in an extensive farming system. Due to their inability to produce sweat, pigs generally have a hard time cooling off which is why it is important to keep them in a cool environment. 

6. Temperament 

The Berkshire pig is known for its excellent temperament. It is friendly and intelligent, like most other breeds of pigs. Although it isn’t necessarily a stand-out in this category, it isn’t a slouch, either. 

7. Production Traits

They have effective child nurturing and protecting skills with high milk production. Berkshire is quite hardy, and performs well when left to its own devices outdoors, especially when grazing on pasture. It has excellent feed conversion rates

Berkshire Pig History And Background

berkshire pigs

The Berkshire pig is a rare breed in England but is becoming increasingly more common in the western world, including the United States. The origin can be traced to the Faringdon and Wantage regions of the English County of Berkshire, from which it derived its name.

This breed of black pig became widespread all over the world after its initial introduction, including in places like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and found its way to the United States in the early 1800s. The American Berkshire Association was founded in 1875 in Springfield, Illinois by a group of breeders and importers, making it the first breeders group and swine registry established in the world.

Despite being a favorite of Queen Victoria, the Berkshire later became a rare breed in England, fading out with the advent of commercial breeds around World War II, until its recent renaissance.

Interestingly, the original Berkshire had colors varying from tawny brown to black to sandy red. However, the color pattern of the Berkshire we see today was influenced by the introduction of Chinese and Siamese blood.

Farmers who want to raise heritage livestock with a flavor that people enjoy may want to consider Berkshire pigs.

Pigs are, once again, becoming a profitable investment for small-scale farmers raising pigs for meat, as well as a source of high-quality meat for people who raise pigs on hobby farms. The key is to maintain specialist breeds that produce higher-quality meat and advertise directly to consumers and chefs who are concerned about taste, animal welfare, and environmental stewardship. 

Berkshire pigs are one such breed to consider!

Fun Facts About Berkshire Pigs

berkshire pigs

Berkshire pigs are an interesting breed. Here, we have listed some facts about the breed that you should know about.

Intelligence

Pigs are among the smartest household animals in the world. They are intelligent, often said to be smarter than dogs.

Berkshire pigs are quick learners due to their ability to focus even better than dogs and their non-aggressive temperament (something you won’t find in all pig breeds).

Gilts and sows provide excellent care for their piglets and can easily become long term members of the farm family. 

Attitude

Berkshire pigs are recognized for being easy to train and for readily yielding to directions. Berkshires are interactive and attentive pigs who thrive in a positive atmosphere.

Your Berkshires may prove to astound you with their excellent memory and ability to learn and catch up on hints quickly. This is largely due to their non-violent temperament.

Compassion

The Berkshire breed of pig is compassionate, mainly due to their intelligence. Their sophisticated brains enable them to experience both unpleasant and good emotions!

This means they can experience pain, depression, excitement, and a variety of other emotions, including compassion.

Social Animals

Berkshires have a naturally curious personality and are also friendly towards people. They may occasionally enjoy physical interactions too. 

They are one of the heritage breeds that are known to be gentle towards other animals including people. These black pigs are also known to be excellent mothers and do well when allowed to farrow naturally and forage on pastures. 

Breeding Berkshire Pigs

The Berkshire sow has great mothering skills and is quite docile. They take very good care of their piglets and may become aggressive to ensure the safety of their young ones. Berkshire sows are great milkers, a characteristic that enables the rapid growth and good weight gain of the piglets. A sow can produce 9 to 12 piglets per litter. 

Sows may have a slightly longer gestation period than other similar breeds of pigs. The gestation period may range between 114 days to 120 days. This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage of the breed but something to consider for sure, especially if you do AI breeding and need precise dates as part of your breeding plan.

Berkshire Pigs Pros And Cons

berkshire pigs

Typically, every animal including humans has its imperfections. All pig breeds have their pros and cons. Berkshire pigs have more pros than cons, but of course, it’s important to learn what they are to fully understand their breed.

Pros

The greatest benefit or advantage of Berkshire pigs is their genetic purity. This is one of the few breeds in the world that hasn’t been excessively modified through breeding for certain characteristics. 

Berkshire pork is regarded as the best heritage pork available. It is a global commodity that is considered a delicacy in many places, much like Kobe beef.

They are not picky about their diet, either. Berkshires are friendly and sociable, easy to raise with other breeds of pigs if you so choose. 

Cons

There are very few negatives associated with raising Berkshires. They tend to stay in good health with proper care and aren’t prone to many genetic health issues.

The only thing to note about Berkshire pigs is that they are highly sensitive to changes in the environment, which is one reason why these pigs aren’t often raised as commercial meat pigs.

They can detect even the tiniest change in their surroundings. These hogs are heavy and weigh a lot, yet because of their short legs, they appear very little, which means you’ll need a comprehensive management system. They are also surprisingly strong!

Another disadvantage is their rage. When they become furious, they have the potential to be destructive. Fortunately, these pigs are quite docile, so aggression is a rarity.

Berkshire Pig Lifespan

berkshire pigs

While pigs are prone to predators in the wild, on farms, however, Berkshires, when given proper care and management, have a longer lifespan and can exist for up to 6-10 years on the farm and live for 15-20 years as pets. At about 180-195 days following their birth, they begin to arrive at the market size of 113kg. 

If you’re raising Berkshires as feeder pigs, of course, they won’t live as long. Feeder pigs are usually raised only to six or seven months of age at best.

As you might know, pigs are generally omnivores, meaning that they can feed on both plants and other animals. As such, it is best to oversee what they feed on especially when grazing in the pasture.  

They are more vulnerable to health problems if proper care is not provided. Basic veterinary tasks for pigs like vaccinations, deworming, and medicating for common diseases like pneumonia all need to occur.

Berkshires tend to be more susceptible to common health problems because of their weak immunity that is associated with most purebreds.

How Much Does a Berkshire Pig Cost? 

berkshire pigs

Berkshire hogs are not widely available. So if you are looking to buy at least a piglet, except to pay between $100 to $150 at the very least. Mature hogs are definitely going to cost more – at least double this amount, if not more. 

To buy an average boar is likely to cost about $500 or more. 

Typical costs for gilts who have not yet been bred will be in the $225 to $275 price range.

Wrap Up: Why You Should Raise a Berkshire Pig

berkshire pigs

Here are a few final reasons to consider raising Berkshire pigs. 

Not a Picky Eater

Pigs of any breed, particularly Berkshire feeder pigs, have an opportunistic disposition when it comes to feeding. They will accept and eat anything that appears edible.

However, just because pigs can eat anything does not mean that you should feed them anything. Certain foods, such as spoiled food or raw meat, can still be hazardous to their health and impair their immune system. 

Clean Animals

Berkshire feeder pigs, contrary to popular belief, are clean and prefer to keep their living environment clean as well. They will designate a corner as their toilet area to avoid soiling their whole space.

This isn’t a trait that’s exclusive to Berkshires, of course. What’s unique about this breed, though, is that they actually prefer water to mud and aren’t as likely to build extensive wallows as other breeds. 

Good Pets

If you’re interested in raising pigs as pets, Berkshires are the way to go. They aren’t as territorial as other pig breeds and tend to be patient and quite sweet. 

Breeding

Berkshire pigs become sexually mature at six to seven months of age. Breeders that care for Berkshire pigs may prefer to breed them around one year of age, though, to ensure a healthy and safe pregnancy.

Although pig pregnancy success rate is usually high, Berkshire pigs are large and have a threatened population which is why the birthing process must be handled with utmost care. 

Despite these challenges, Berkshire pigs have good mothering skills and reproductive efficiency, compared to other breeds.

Litter Size

The typical number of piglets that can be born from most breeds ranges between 5 and 10 piglets.

Berkshire pigs, on the other hand, are generally expected to have 10 to 20 piglets when they give birth. 

Is Berkshire Pork Good? 

berkshire pigs

Berkshire pigs are excellent meat producers. Berkshire pork is exceptional because of its marbling, juiciness, and fat content The Berkshire breed of pig is a popular pig breed because they constantly produce high-quality meat. That’s why it’s such a hot commodity in so many countries around the world! 

If you’re seriously considering setting up a pig farm, the Berkshire breed of pig should be on your list. Although this isn’t a breed that’s always easy to find, the quality and high value of its meat should put it right at the top of your list. 

 

Do you raise Berkshires? If not, let us know your favorite pig breed in the comments!

Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Anna B

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