With its diminutive stature and gregarious personality, the long-haired, blue-black Guinea hog stands out from the herd. Just 2 feet tall and less than 300 pounds at maturity, the curly-tailed, pint-sized porker was once common on small farms throughout the southeastern United States, where its thrifty metabolism was prized for converting vegetable waste into a manageable amount of meat.
But the massive, corn-fed breeds favored by industrial farms have displaced the Guinea. The breed has dwindled to fewer than 200 annual registrations, earning it a place on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s critically endangered list.
Farmer Gra Moore, of Carolina Heritage Farms in Florence, South Carolina, keeps a herd of 80 Guineas in addition to other breeds. Unlike larger breeds selected to tolerate confinement and fixed rations, the Guinea thrives on forage. “They eat a lot of vegetation that other pigs won’t,” says Moore.
On the farm, the Guinea’s compact size makes it well suited to rotational grazing. “They’re like sheep with snouts,” says Karma Glos, who also raises Tamworth pigs at Kingbird Farm in upstate New York. “Put them on grass and they’ll forage all day—they actually prefer grass to grain.” It’s easier to accommodate the Guineas than the larger Tamworths, says Glos, who provides calf hutches for their shelter. “The big pigs toss those around like playthings,” she says, “but the Guineas don’t move them at all. They sleep five to a hutch.”
Like most of the breeds on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, the Guinea faces sure extinction without a cadre of devoted diners creating demand on farms. Butcher’s Guild member Craig Deihl, who buys whole Guineas from Moore, serves up everything but the oink at Cypress, the Charleston restaurant where he serves as executive chef. With its rich, dark red color and melt-in-the-mouth texture, there’s no mistaking the meat of a Guinea hog for “the other white meat.” And because of the Guinea’s small size—typically about 100 pounds at slaughter—the chef is limited only by his imagination, not by the need for specialized butchering equipment.
Photo: David Brown