Breeding-up programs for pigs were highly encouraged in Agricultural bulletins at land grant universities. It is assumed that between 1845 and 1960, localized, unregistered Guinea Hog populations were enhanced and influenced by American Essex boars. The phenotype of an Essex hog in the late 1800s – based on drawings and description – is remarkably similar to the phenotype of some of today’s registered American Guinea Hogs.
Unfortunately, the word Guinea has multiple meanings. It is often used to describe a diminutive animal, such as “Guinea Cattle” – a term sometimes used for Florida Cracker Cattle, a relatively small breed. In addition, Guinea is the name of a republic in Africa. “Guinea fowl” are endemic to Africa. A Guinea is also an old English coin. When the rodents, “Guinea Pigs”, were brought from South America by sailors, according to some sources their price was one guinea. Because of the variety and confusion of meanings, what we now know as American Guinea Hogs were sometimes referred to as “African Forest Pigs.”
In addition, a large, red hog breed – Red Guineas – were imported to America, possibly from Africa, as early as 1804 by Thomas Jefferson and other colonial farmers. During this time, African slaves were also actively being imported and the Red Guineas could have arrived on the same ships. The Red Guineas from Africa share the confusing word “Guinea” with the small, black, Southern hogs. The similar name created confusion for historians, as well.
To further confuse the issue, an obscure Virginia community called “Guinea” exists today just 140 miles from Monticello where the Red Guineas were raised. There is little reason to believe that the large Red Guineas from 1804 are related to the black Guinea Hogs found in the United States as early as 1811. In fact, it is more likely that the Red Guineas were used to create the Duroc breed. Unfortunately, many new American Guinea Hog breeders are on a mission to “bring back the red line of Guinea Hogs” without clear evidence that there ever was such a bloodline.
Prior to 2006, this pig was referred to as Guinea Hog, Guinea Forest Hog, or “yard pig.” In 2006 when the American Guinea Hog Association (AGHA) was formed, they changed the breed’s name to American Guinea Hog. It was known as the “poor man’s pig” and was raised on small farms in the Southeast. Unlike imported breeds, there was no consistent system of registration, herd books, or pedigrees retained on them consistently prior to 2006, although attempts to organize had been made in 1956, 1988, and 1990.
Typical American Guinea Hogs are solid black. However, the breed may have also been influenced through breeding-up programs by Berkshire swine, which had white face and foot markings, as well as original Improved Essex, which had a white “list” (neck band), according to written history and DNA testing. 21st century breeders who practice line-breeding or who breed white-marked Guinea Hogs with other Guinea Hogs with white markings have produced more offspring with white marks since 2010. Some breeders like the “Berkshire” markings while others are concerned that these pigs will be confused with Berkshire pigs.
A condition called vitiligo that causes the animal’s hair to turn white also occurs in the breed This makes the hair of a black hog look “blue” and turns the eyes blue as well. Sometimes this condition reverses as dramatically as it occurs. Historically there have been blue Guinea Hogs that were born blue who produced offspring that were black or blue at birth. The last documented hog with this coloration was born in the 1990s in Georgia, and his offspring, Browns Blue Boy, was bred by Billy Frank Brown in Mississippi. Some piglets are born with a reddish cast that fades to black before maturity. Some have reddish tinges to their ears or develop maroon shading or even look bright red before they are a year old. Inevitably, at maturity these individuals turn solid black or only have red tinges.
Guinea hogs can reach sexual maturity as early as 3-5 months (male and female); females will go into their heat (estrous) cycle every 12-21 days if not bred. Heat indicators are swollen vulva, discharge, and excitability. The recommended breeding age is between 8-12 months for successful litters and mothering, though the recommended age for a gilt’s first farrowing is between 12-14 months. Breeding twice a year, and before the age of two, will help fertility throughout the sow’s life, and will provide the most meat/breeding stock/replacements, thus providing value for the breeder’s output overall.
Gilts and sows in heat will mount other gilts and sows. It is important to separate intact shoats of different sexes by three months of age to prevent unintended breeding. Sows typically allow their handlers to be hands-on with piglets, and boars are easy keepers. Even so, it is imperative for breeders to control the environment and use caution around sows with newborns, and with boars around gilts or sows in heat. Animals that are overtly aggressive to humans should be culled.
The number of teats on a sow range from 9-16. Inverted teats and less than 12 teats can cause problems feeding piglets. Pigs’ teats may vary from even, wide spaced to scattered, close spaced. Evaluate teats in both male and female pigs, as boars provide half the genetics for female offspring. Wider spacing allows piglets easier access to teats and greater survivability. The Sumrall bloodline has wider spacing than other lines.
Litter sizes tend to be between 6-10 piglets, with 8 being average. Litters of 6-10 generally have good survivability. Some smaller sows produce litters of 12-13 with 100% survivability. Smaller litters may be more consistent in size.
Sows will live up to 14 years and raise viable litters for 1-8 years. Some breeders have had a sow of age 10 or even 12 that produced viable litters. Boars will live, breed, and produce viable offspring to age 17. The longest living American Guinea Hog boar documented was in a zoo setting and lived to be 22 years old.
It is important to note that this is a landrace breed, in an early stage of breed development. The breed was most prominent in southern states, common in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Landraces are also known as local breeds or primitive breeds. “Landraces derive their unique genetic character from the usual combination of founder effect, isolation, natural selection, and human selection” (Managing Breeds for a Secure Future: Strategies for Breeders and Breed Associations by Sponenberg, Martin, and Beranger, 2017).
Landrace breeds have standards written as a breed description, allowing for more variability than breed standards do for a standardized breed. However, within the breed description, the breeder has a responsibility to select for the characteristics that make this hog enduring and appealing. These include hardiness, ability to forage, good temperament and manageability, smaller size, dense black hair that offers sun protection, good mothering ability, hardy litters, high weaning survivability, sound body type, lively movement, healthy feet, strong legs, and long life. The wide variability in size, meat production, litter size, and teats described above have been strongly impacted by close inbreeding and selection practices among homesteaders.
Now that the breed is distributed among the lower 48 states, it is important for breeders to thoughtfully consider selection criteria. In the 1990s, selection for small size during a pet pig fad contributed to their near extinction. Selection for larger size and Berkshire-like appearance could lead to new problems due to breed confusion and interpretation of the breed standard.
American Guinea Hogs are well-suited for raising in the forest or orchard, or on pastured land. Homestead owners can expect them to forage for much of their own food, including eating rodents, snakes, grass, roots, nuts, garden beds after harvest, orchard windfall fruit, and corn stalks. Breeders that raise milk animals may feed them excess milk or whey.
Guinea Hogs are hardy and efficient, gaining weight on the roughest of forage and producing the hams, bacon, and lard essential for subsistence farming. They grow fat when given grain, especially corn and soy. In most situations, a quart of feed twice a day will keep an adult boar, or sow with weaned young, in good condition; lactating sows with a litter require three to four times more feed. Generally, feeding sweet feed and corn will cause this breed to put on too much weight and become obese which negatively affects their fertility. It is important to monitor body weight and increase or decrease inputs as needed. If boars, non-lactating sows, lactating sows, and shoats are kept together, feeding cannot be efficiently managed. For example, dominant boars will take the food needed by lactating sows and piglets will not get the nutrition they need to grow.
The breed is known for its intelligence, easy trainability to fencing and boundaries, verbal commands, and routines.