Ark of Taste
The Guinea Hog is a small, black breed of swine that is unique to the United States. Also known as the Pineywoods Guinea, Guinea Forest Hog, Acorn Eater, and Yard Pig, the breed was once the most numerous pig breed found on homesteads in the Southeast. Today there are 600 registered hogs, according to the America Guinea Hog Association.
Hogs were imported from West Africa and the Canary Islands to America in conjunction with the slave trade. The imports were documented as early as 1804 by Thomas Jefferson and other Virginia farmers. These large, square animals were called Red Guineas, because they had red or sandy colored hair. Red Guineas were common throughout the mid-Atlantic region during the 1800s. The breed disappeared as a distinct population in the 1880s, when most of the red breeds and types of hogs in the eastern United States were combined to form the new Jersey-Duroc breed. Although extremely rare, occasionally Guinea hog breeders of today find red highlights in the hair of their Guineas and even more rare, is a completely red individual born.
The name Guinea occurs again a few decades later in the southeastern United States, though describing a different animal entirely a small, black hog common on homesteads across the region. Guinea Hogs were expected to forage for their own food, eat rodents and other small animals, grass, roots, and nuts, and clean out garden beds. The hogs were also kept in the yard where they would eat snakes and thus create a safe zone around the house. These Guineas were hardy and efficient, gaining well on the roughest of forage and producing the hams, bacon, and lard essential for subsistence farming.
Guinea Hogs were widespread, and descriptions of them varied. Generally, the hogs were small, weighing 100-300 pounds, and black or bluish-black in color. They had upright ears, a hairy coat, and a curly tail. Beyond this, conformation varied, as hogs could have short or long noses and be “big boned,” “medium boned,” or “fine boned.” It is likely that many strains of Guinea Hogs existed. Since most of these are extinct, it is now impossible to weave together all the threads of the Guinea Hog story into a single neat piece.
The Guinea Hog became rare in recent decades as the habitat of the homestead hog disappeared, and it survived only in the most isolated parts of the Southeast. During the 1980s, new herds of Guinea Hogs were established, partly in response to the pet pig market.
Several mysteries confuse the breed’s history. The relationship between the historic Red Guinea and the Guinea Hog may be simply the common use of the term “guinea” to refer to an African origin. “Guinea” may also refer to the small size of the hogs, somewhat akin to the description of miniature Florida Cracker and Pineywoods cattle as “guinea cows.” The Guinea Hog may or may not be related to the Essex, a small, black English breed which was imported to the United States in about 1820 and used in the development of the Hampshire. Essex hogs were known to exist in the Southeast until about 1900. The Essex hog’s history is obscure and it eventually disappeared some time later that century. “Guinea Essex” pigs were used in research at Texas A & M University and at the Hormel Institute in the 1960s, though there is little information -available about those stocks.
Though the Guinea Hog would greatly benefit from additional research and description, it is clear that the breed is genetically distinct from improved breeds of hogs and merits conservation. Like other traditional lard-type breeds, however, the Guinea Hog faces great obstacles to its conservation. These hogs do not produce a conventional market carcass, since they are smaller and more fatty than is preferred today. Guinea Hogs are, however, appropriate for use in diversified, sustainable agriculture. They would be an- excellent choice where there is need for the services of hogs (such as grazing, rooting, tilling compost and garden soil, and pest control) and also the desire for a small breed. Under such husbandry, Guinea Hogs would thrive, as they always have.
Photo courtesy of Jeannette Beranger