Are wooly Mangalitsa pigs right for your homestead?
If you’re considering moving away from conventional breeds to add a little diversity to the livestock on your small farm or homestead, Mangalitsa pigs are a great hog with a rich history.
Mangalitsa, also known as a Mangalica pig or Mangalitza pig, is a Hungarian breed of pig with a wooly coat. Though the unique breed looks like it may share ancestry with sheep, the Mangalitsa is pure pig.
“They are the only race left that has a wooly coat,” said Wilhelm Kohl, owner of Kohl Farms in Haslett, Michigan. “The other varieties that had wooly coats are extinct.” According to Kohl, Mangalitsas themselves were close to extinction several decades ago until efforts across Europe helped revitalize the breed.
“Now, it’s basically well established again all over Europe, from England to Italy all the way to Russia and Portugal,” Kohl said. “The first are in Japan as well now.”
Kohl was one of the earliest breeders of Mangalitsa pigs in the United States after the breed of wooly pig first came to the country in 2007.
“It’s a great hog,” said Sherry Sutton Zanardo, owner of Chickadee Hills Homestead based in Winter, Wisconsin. Zanardo has been raising Mangalitsas for five years and estimates now she has close to 200 on her farm. “We’ve gone through several breeds of hogs and our Mangalitsa is far and away our favorite.”
Why get a Mangalitsa pig
Though their coarse curls set the pigs apart aesthetically, the Mangalitsa’s wool has few practical uses. “The only thing the wool is used for is for tying flies for fly fishing,” Kohl said. “There some other tests to do other things, but it has not very successful because the wool is pretty coarse.”
Instead, the Mangalitsa is prized for its pork and fat.
“It’s known as the Kobe beef of pork,” Kohl said. “You’ll never eat any better tasting pork than a Mangalitsa.”
Tim Winkler, owner of Winkler Wooly Pigs in Windsor, California, explained that Mangalitsas are one of only a few pig breeds that have a finer bone frame, which changes how the tissue forms in their bodies.
“The skeletal frame is different from regular big boned hogs,” Winkler said. “Their bone structure that’s is of the reasons that the meat is very tender, because they have a different type of connective muscle tissue.”
Mangalitsas are also fattier than other breeds of pigs.
“Mangalitsa are a lard breed. They originally were designed to mostly produce fat,” Kohl said. “That means they have a higher fat than meat ratio, but the meat that you get is absolutely delicious.”
Some homesteaders may venture into butchering their Mangalitsa pigs themselves, but Kohl said for more squeamish owners, most professional butchers should be able to slaughter a Mangalitsa — just make sure the carcass is cut using a technique called seam cutting, which cuts along the muscles to remove the muscles and fat in tact.
“The hardship is what do you do with all that lard,” Zanardo said. Mangalitsa lard, she explained, is about 60 percent fat. “If you’re a homesteader you have to have a plan for fat because there’s a lot of fat. You have to find a way to use it if you want to make money on your hogs.”
Besides cooking with the lard every day, Zanardo said she also uses it to make lard soap and beauty products, as well as infusing it with salt and herbs to make a salumi called lardo.
Kohl said that because the Mangalitsas have such a nice disposition, many homesteaders will “raise them and train them and treat them like dogs,” but cautions against keeping Mangalitsas as pets.
“They get enormous,” Zanardo added. She said that Mangalitsa pigs can weigh up to 750 pounds, and the boars can tip the scales at 800 pounds.
“They have such a nice disposition you can hang out with them, but they prefer pigs quite frankly,” Zanardo said.
The benefits and challenges of Mangalitsa pigs for homesteaders
Experts agree that Mangalitsas are a great choice for small farmers and homesteaders.
“They’re really good for homesteads,” Zanardo said. “The mothering ability of the hog is incredible. They require so little care. They’re just awesome.”
“It’s a hobby pig for many people,” Kohl added. “They’re really cute.”
One of the benefits of Mangalitsas is that they are great grazers, which helps to tame pastures and reduce the amount of feed required by the pigs.
“They’re very good pasture pigs. Most of the Mangalitsas are kept outdoors,” Kohl said. “People want their connection to their pigs, want to treat them humanely and have a good feeling for the pigs.”
Their feeding habits are different as well. “They’re not protein driven,” Winkler said. “They need about half of what a normal pig would eat per day. They’re a really good pig for sustainability.”
Kohl said that Mangalitsas love acorns and will also eat vegetable scraps, especially pumpkins. During the grazing season, feed is supplemental, as they get most of their nutrients from grazing on pasture. During the winter, however, they may require some supplements.
“They are not a standard industrial hog. Because all the research has been done on that animal, the feed is not adequate for [Mangalitsas],” Zanardo said. “We feed them a lot of boiled eggs or peanuts or anything we can find with vitamin E. If it’s summertime, it’s not a problem because they get vitamin E from grass.”
Because of their wool, Mangalitsas are resilient to extremely cold climates.
“Here in Michigan, it gets down to minus 30 degrees [Farenheit], and it’s no problem,” Kohl said. “They just need protection from the wind and a little straw to make a nest.
“They’re really fatty, they’re really hairy, and they really love the winter,” Zanardo added. “They don’t need heat lamps. I have never lost a baby to the cold, ever.”
Mangalitsas can also adapt to warmer temperatures.
“There really doesn’t seem to be a limitation where you can raise them,” Kohl said. “There are people raising them in Florida. They shed a lot of their hair in Florida.”
To help the wooly pigs cope with summer temperatures, though, Zanardo recommended giving them some cold water, preferably in the shade.
Though Mangalitsas are not technically a heritage breed in the United States because they have only recently been introduced to the country, Kohl said that because of the long, wild lineage of Mangalitsas, they are also not susceptible to a lot of the diseases that conventional pigs are.
Compared to conventional pigs, Kohl said, Mangalitsas also “don’t need anything special” in terms of housing, but proper fencing is important because they are social pigs that like to forage.
“If you don’t have electric fencing, you’re in for some challenges,” Zanardo laughed.
Mangalitsas are more expensive to care for than other breeds, though. Mangalitsas are also slower growing than conventional pigs, so you need to keep and feed them for longer before you can profit off the meat. Kohl explained that they need about 15 months to reach full maturity compared to regular pigs take slaughter weight in six to seven months.
They also have smaller litters; Kohl explained that while a standard pink pig probably has an average of twelve to fourteen piglets per litter, Mangalitsa average about seven piglets.
How to properly buy a Mangalitsa
One of the greatest challenges of adding a Mangalitsa to your homestead is responsibly purchasing a purebred pig. Though the breed is thriving compared to several decades ago, conscious breeding choices must be made to keep it that way.
“Mangalitsa are extremely inbred,” Winkler said. “Unfortunately, without good stewardship, the breed is going to go extinct.”
While buying Mangalitsa, Winkler said to ask for genealogy records and the history and origin of the pigs.
“If you ask the right questions you’ll get the right information,” Winkler said. “I recommend, out of respect for the breed, homesteaders buy animals that are from good lines that demonstrate all the characteristics that you want to see out of a Mangalitsa.”
Zanardo explained that while other rare hogs have registries that track bloodlines, such a registry does not yet exist for the Mangalitsa, so it is easy to accidentally purchase a cross breed from an unreliable source.
“You really have to go to the most reliable source,” Zanardo explained. The downside to that, she conceded, is that the pigs can be more expensive; she estimates that a purebred piglet from a reputable seller can cost up to $2,000, compared to a couple hundred dollars for conventional piglets.
If you are willing to take on the cost, though, Mangalitsas can be a charming and tasty addition to your farm or homestead, with the added benefit of helping the genetic diversity of the world’s livestock.
“Like anything in the world, it comes down to how committed you are to doing something at the grassroots level,” Winkler said. “That challenges people to be involved with something that’s worth getting involved in.”