When those who raise livestock can’t find a breed that suits their needs, crossbreeding is often the answer. Individual animals are selected for desirable traits and carefully crossed to produce offspring that meet strict genetic standards.
This is how breeders developed a new pig breed known as the Idaho pasture pig (IPP), a relatively young breed that’s quickly gaining traction across the country. Kirstin Bordner, a commercial turkey grow out manager, said her foray into raising IPPs happened accidentally about five years ago when she was looking for a pig to finish for her freezer.
“It started with a conversation with a friend who was talking about Idaho pasture pigs,” she said, “how they’re raised on pasture and require less grain.” Bordner was skeptical but agreed to take a pig.
When she picked up the pig, she was told he hadn’t been castrated yet, and that he had breeding potential. Not long after the pig was on her Dornsife, PA, farm, Bordner noticed his easy-going temperament.
Since Bordner’s plan was to raise the pig for meat, she contacted her uncle, an experienced pig farmer, to castrate the pig. He looked at the pig and told her the same thing she’d heard from the breeder – that the eight-week old pig was “nice looking” and shouldn’t be castrated. He also suggested Bordner add a couple of sows to her farm.
The IPP is the product of crossbreeding three breeds: Berkshire, Duroc and KuneKune. “The Berkshire is for meat quality, Duroc for mothering and KuneKune for grazing,” said Bordner. “The vision of the people who developed the IPP was to develop a good pig for homesteaders.”
The young pig, dubbed Black Bart, remained a boar, and Bordner researched what it would take to raise pigs – specifically IPPs. She purchased a registered/bred IPP sow, a registered IPP gilt and an unregistered IPP gilt. Bordner was now the owner of four pigs, one of which would soon farrow. With help from her uncle, Bordner made a farrowing pen, and not a minute too soon – the bred sow had seven piglets that night.
As she learned more about pig nutrition and gathered information about the breed, Bordner created a Facebook page for her Mouse Creek Farm. She found that IPPs thrive on pasture and can be housed outside year-round with access to shelter. Perhaps one of the most important traits is the IPP’s easy-going temperament, which makes the breed ideal for families.
As Bart approached breeding age, Bordner installed perimeter fence to surround her farm and divided pastures with electric fencing. Prior to putting pigs on pasture, she trains them to respect the electric fence. “If they get out of a pasture, they’re still on the property,” she said. “Good perimeter fencing also helps with biosecurity.”
Although pigs are pastured year-round, Bordner supplements their diet to ensure good growth and healthy litters. “The amount of grain they need is based on the quality of forage,” she said. “They’re fed a custom meal with higher minerals, about two pounds a day. I rotationally graze the pigs just like cattle. Depending on how fast the grass grows, I move them every three days to once a week.”
Because the IPP is a grazing animal, an important breed trait is snout shape. IPP breeders strive for a medium length, wide snout that’s upturned, or dished, on the end. This allows pigs to graze more efficiently and discourages rooting.
Ideal grazing for pigs is on grass less than one foot tall. Some of Bordner’s pastures are in fescue, which she mows to discourage growth as she frost-seeds clover. While IPPs graze more than they root, the earthworms, grubs and dandelions of spring will bring out some rooting behavior.
While adult pigs will eat hay, young pigs eat only the leafy portions and leave the stems. “I started grinding hay,” said Bordner. “I mix alfalfa/orchardgrass with grain and start them on it when they’re piglets in the creep so they’re used to eating it. Last winter they ate 50% by volume ground hay in their feed, so there was no waste.” Pigs retained from autumn litters quickly learn to eat ground hay during winter, and when grass growth starts in spring, their gut is accustomed to a forage diet.
Bordner’s sows farrow twice a year, in spring and autumn. While IPPs can farrow and raise piglets outdoors if provided with a simple A-frame shelter, Bordner built farrowing stalls in her bank barn. Pens are open to pasture year-round so sows and piglets can go outside shortly after birth.
Mouse Creek Farm is currently home to nine sows and three boars, all registered IPPs. Since Bart is related to many of her sows, Bordner is diversifying bloodlines with an IPP boar and a gilt from Oregon and a gilt from Wisconsin.
When Bordner sells young pigs, she explains to buyers the importance of a 30-day quarantine period in good electric fence. “That allows bonding time as they’re learning about the fence,” she said. “By the time they’re out of quarantine, they’re trained.”
IPPs are ideal for those new to raising pigs. The IPP registry has designated regional representatives across the country to account for differences in weather, feed availability and pasture conditions. Bordner currently serves on the registry board and is the Northeast rep. This year’s breed association show took place in Ohio, where Bordner served as a judge and presented information about biosecurity.
Bordner said her first year raising pigs was terrifying because she lacked experience, but she quickly gained confidence with support and encouragement from other breeders. With experience raising IPPs, Bordner is working to continue improving bloodlines, focusing on the breed standard and emphasizing good temperament and suitability for pasture.
“This is a young breed,” said Bordner. “It’s amazing how they’ve taken off. We’re trying to get registered pigs to reputable breeders. It’s a good pig for homesteading – many owners have two sows and a boar. They have a good temperament and don’t have overly large litters. They’re easy to handle, easy to take care of and can be raised on grass. The whole IPP family is dedicated to helping the small guy succeed.”
The 2023 IPP show is slated for the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield, MO, with tentative dates of June 10 and 11.
by Sally Colby