The American Guinea Hog is a small, black, landrace swine breed unique to the United States. Prior to 2006, this pig was referred to as Guinea Hog, Guinea Forest Hog, or “yard pig.” The American Guinea Hog Association (AGHA) changed the breed name to American Guinea Hog when the association was formed in 2006. 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 were made in 1956, 1988, and 1990.
Breeding-up programs for pigs were highly encouraged in Agricultural bulletins at land grant universities. It’s 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 registered today’s American Guinea Hogs.
Typical American Guinea Hogs are solid black, as is the Improved Essex who influenced them. However, the breed may have also been influenced by Berkshire due to breeding-up programs, the original Essex breed with a white list (neck band) that produced the Improved Essex, and Chester Whites and Gloucestershire Old Spots, according to written history and DNA testing. Current 21st century breeders that practice line-breeding or 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 will cause breed confusion with the Berkshire.
A condition called vitiligo also occurs in the breed, causing hair to turn white, turning a black hog “blue” and turning the eyes blue. Sometimes this reverses as dramatically as it occurs. Historically there have been blue Guinea Hogs that were born blue who produced black or blue offspring at birth. The last documented hog with this description 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 fade to black before maturity. Some have reddish tinges to their ears or develop maroon shading or even look bright red before age one year. Inevitably these individuals mature as solid black or with red tinges only.
American Guinea Hogs are well-suited for raising in the forest, orchard, and pastured land. Homestead owners expect them to forage for much of their own food. This can include eating rodents, snakes, grass, roots, nuts, garden beds after harvest, orchard windfall fruits, and corn stalks. Breeders that raise milk animals provide excess milk or whey to the pigs. Guinea Hogs are hardy and efficient, gaining well 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. Sweet feed and corn in general will put too much weight on this breed. Its fertility will be negatively affected by obesity. Monitoring body condition is essential to guide breeders in order to increase or decrease inputs as needed. If boars, non-lactating sows, lactating sows and shoats are mixed within the same paddock, feeding cannot be efficiently managed. Dominant boars will take food needed by lactating sows, for example, and piglets will not get the nutrition they need to grow.
A hallmark of the American Guinea Hog is temperament. The breed is known for intelligence, easy trainability to fencing, verbal commands and routines, and for complying to boundaries set by the breeder. 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 boars around gilts or sows in heat. Animals that are overtly aggressive to humans should be culled.
Although they can reach sexual maturity as early as 3-5 months (male and female), the recommended breeding age is between 8-12 months for successful litters and mothering. The suggested age for a gilt’s first farrowing is between 12-14 months. Breeding twice a year and before age two will help fertility throughout the sow’s life and provide the most meat/breeding stock/replacements for similar inputs, providing value for the breeder’s output overall
Females go into their heat (estrous) cycle every 12-21 days if not bred, beginning as early as three months. Heat indicators are swollen vulva, discharge, and excitability. 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.
The number of teats on a sow range from 9-16. inverted teats and less than twelve teats can cause problems feeding piglets. Pigs’ teats may vary from even, wide spacing to scattered, close spacing. 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. Good survivability in litters of 6-10. Some smaller sows produce litters of twelve to thirteen with 100% survivability. Smaller litters may be more consistent in size.
Sows will live up to 14 years and raise viable litters from age one to age eight years. Some breeders have raised a sow to age ten or even twelve with viable litters. Boars will live, breed, and produce viable offspring to age 17. The longest living American Guinea Hog boar documented was twenty-two years old and in a zoo setting.
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. It was 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. This allows 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, great temperament and manageability, smaller size, dense black hair that offer sun protection, good mothering ability, hardy litters, high survivability to weaning, sound body type, lively movement, healthy feet, strong legs, and long life. Note the wide variability in size, meat production, litter size, and teats in the facts above. These have been strongly impacted by close inbreeding and selection practices among homesteaders. Now that the breed is distributed among the lower 49 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 appearance like a Berkshire could lead to a similar result due to breed confusion and interpretations of the breed standard.
Confusions of Breed Origin
The word Guinea has multiple meanings. It is often used to describe a diminutive animal, such as “Guinea Cattle,” sometimes used for Florida Cracker Cattle, a relatively small breed that weighs only 500 pounds. In addition, Guinea is a republic in Africa. Guinea fowl are endemic to Africa. Guinea is also an old English coin. When the rodents Guinea Pigs were brought from South America by sailors, their price was one guinea, according to some sources. Because of this confusion of meanings, American Guinea Hogs were referred to at times as African Forest Pigs.
Red Guineas are a large, red hog imported to America, possibly from Africa, during the colonial period as early as 1804 by Thomas Jefferson and other colonial farmers. During this time, African slaves were actively imported. Oral history conflated the slave trade with the Red Guineas, as they could have boarded 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.
It is interesting to note that an obscure Virginia community named Guinea exists today just 140 miles from Monticello where the Red Guineas were raised. The name of the community is as obscure to them as it is to today’s AGH breeders. The most commonly told story is that during the Revolutionary War, Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British were housed in the area and paid in British guineas. There are also tales of sailors who were shipwrecked after a voyage from Guinea in West Africa. Another story is about land rented to farmers for one guinea a year. (A Guinea State of Mind by Jackie Nunnery, December 12, 2018 The House and Home Magazine online)
The point of these examples is that the word guinea appears in many connotations for a wide variety of reasons. There is little reason to believe that the large Red Guineas from 1804 are the same breed as the black Guinea Hogs found in the United States as early as 1811. It is believed that Red Guineas helped to form the Duroc breed. Many new AGH breeders are on a mission to “bring back the red line of Guinea Hogs” without clear evidence that there once was such a bloodline.
Several AGH breeders and historians are using Google Docs to locate references to Guinea Hogs prior to the Civil War, and comparing that to the history of the Improved Essex which has a similar phenotype to today’s American Guinea Hogs. That history will be fleshed out more fully sometime in 2021. It is apparent, though, that the Improved Essex hogs imported to the United States and popularly used to “improve” local, “coarser” breeds helped develop the now registered American Guinea Hogs. Today, however, it is its own breed and uniquely American.