Mangalitza buying guide
Chris Graham discovers that there's much more to the Mangalitza than meets the eye which, considering everything that meets the eye, makes it quite some breed!
The Mangalitza – a woolly pig breed traditionally found in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland – was recently almost lost when, in 1993, the total worldwide population of sows reportedly fell to fewer than 150.
However, thanks to the work of a small group of dedicated breeders, the Mangalitza has been brought back from the brink, and is certainly enjoying something of a revival in mainland Europe. It's being farmed on large units in Hungary, and has also been exported to North America as well as the UK.
Having been first imported into the UK in 2006, there are currently 11 female and seven boar Mangalitza lines to be found here. There are three distinct types within the breed; the blonde, the red and the unique swallow-bellied with its white
underline. All three types are very hardy, and the attractive the swallow-bellied version was developed in the 1800s, from a cross made between the blonde and the black Mangalitza.
Unfortunately, the black Mangalitza fell victim to the population crash in the 1970s, and was lost altogether. Apparently, the last examples on record lived in a herd maintained on the Serb islands, in the middle of the Danube river.
The fact that the breed has survived is a good thing given the advantages it can offer keepers; especially those living in the more remote corners of the UK. The primitive nature of the breed – there's a belief that there's Wild Boar in the genetic mix – ensures that these pigs, as well as being remarkably docile and friendly, are tough and hardy.
What's more, they're lively, active and make wonderfully attentive and extremely accomplished mothers. That said, they have a reputation for the
A A longer, more Wild Boar-like snout than on other breeds is the sign of a good, pure Mangalitza. However, there's a happy medium to be struck, and a snout that's too long isn't desirable. Obviously, this is a subjective matter, and can only be usefully assessed with the benefit of experience. Issues like this emphasise the importance of buying your animals from a recommended supplier, so that you start with the best examples you can get.
B As a general rule when buying, avoid Mangalitzas that appear too jowly, as this can be an indicator of an animal that's carrying too much weight.
C As with any pig, straight, strong legs are important but, on a Mangalitza, they should have a decent length to them as well. Of course, avoid animals that appear lethargic and down on their pasterns.
D Look for a good, straight underline with evenly-spaced pairs of teats. If you're considering a swallow-bellied Mangalitza like this one, make sure that it's as black as possible on its back, and as white as it can be on its belly. Also, there shouldn't be other signs of white anywhere else on the body. With the red, you're looking for a consistency of colour across the whole animal. It doesn't have to be dark red – 'strawberry blonde' is tolerated – but it must be an even shade all over. The same consistency rule applies to the blonde version; avoid patchy colouring.
E The Mangalitza isn't a breed that should feature exaggeratedly large hams. A noticeable overhang in this area can be an indicator of an overweight animal that's best avoided.
F A decent, flat back is another desirable characteristic. Avoid animals displaying either significantly humped or dished backs, as this is likely to point towards a weakness that may rear its head in the breeding pen.
G Hair length will vary seasonally; it's longer in the winter, but gets shed during the warmer months.
H The Mangalitza is a really energetic and active breed; its prick ears and good vision are factors in this. When buying – whatever the age of animal – never pick pigs that appear lack-lustre and uninterested in what's going on around them.
What to pay?
Expect to pay £60 for a decent Mangalitza weaner, £400 for an in-pig sow and £300 for a good boar.
Mangalitza meat is beautifully marbled with fat, which makes it flavoursome and succulent. But don't be put off by the fat content because it has a higher level of monounsaturated fats, which makes it ideally suited to long-curing and other charcuterie uses.
Docile and friendly
Ideal for charcuterie
Easy to live with
Still a rarity
production of small litters which may or may not be true; it rather depends who you talk to. Common consent has it that you should typically expect no more than about six piglets from a Mangalitza sow, however, some beg to differ and speak from experience, as we'll see.
The Mangalitza was once renowned as a Lard Pig, and was said to be capable of producing an impressive 70 litres of rendered fat. The breed has also carved out new niche markets in forestry projects, and the production of special hams and salamis; making use of its tough nature and beautifully moist and flavoursome meat.
What's on offer?
As I've already mentioned, the Mangalitza boasts several significant benefits to the small-scale, enthusiast keeper and yet, despite these, the breed continues to struggle in terms of overall numbers. The BPA's 2018 Bloodline Survey highlights the problem. It listed just 39 members keeping the Mangalitza who, between them, had only 91 sows and 24 boars.
Evidently, the Mangalitza hasn't been the runaway success that its devotees had hoped for following its introduction here 13 years ago. As a breed, it's failed to spark the imagination of the wider, pig-keeping fraternity and the big question, of course, is why?
Well, looking at things dispassionately, there are probably several factors which continue to hobble the breed's progress towards a more general
Friendly and fun; the Mangalitza offers novice pig keepers a great ownership proposition.
acceptance in pig-keeping circles. For a start, it's battling against some deep-rooted, pre-conceptions which, as we all know, are among the hardest to counter. There's a pretty widely-held belief that the Mangalitza is an awkward, difficult and 'wild' breed to keep and live with. But this is in stark contrast to the first-experiences of owners I've spoken to over the years. None has had anything but praise for this pig.
Then there are those who like to criticise the meat produced by the Mangalitza; mostly – it seems – because it's simply different from the norm. True, it's much darker to look at, and is
well marbled with fat but, as you'll see if you refer to the 'Meaty treat' panel, this is actually a very positive aspect. Not only does it boost succulence levels and flavour potential, but it also makes this meat particularly suited to any number of tasty charcuterie applications. So, it's important that people realise that the Mangalitza has a serious contribution to make in the specialist foods sector.
Something which may also be seen to count against the Mangalitza in today's 'have now' society where speed is king, is the breed's relatively slow growth rate. This, of course, is something you can't really dispute; you either
accept it and get on with life, or you don't. Finally, there's the level of general ignorance that surrounds the Mangalitza. The fact that the breed remains very much on the fringes in popularity terms, helps ensure that the myths and half-truths are perpetuated. there simply isn't the mass of keepers out there needed to put the record straight. Hopefully, though, features like this one will start to redress the balance.
Unfortunately for the Mangalitza, the perception among many about the meat quality leads to a quite commonly held belief that it's too fatty and, therefore, unpleasant to eat. This simply isn't the case, assuming that the pigs have been properly reared. The thickness of the fat layer under the skin really is determined by the way the animal is fed, as with any other breed. The Mangalitza isn't a pig that has a reputation for running to fat but, like the rest, it will over-eat given the opportunity. However, keepers who are aware of how their pigs are growing and developing, and who manage feed consumption efficiently, shouldn't have any problems at all with this breed.
You might also imagine that the sometimes abundant, curly coat can make it more difficult to gauge body condition, as it might disguise what's going on underneath to some extent. However, those in the know say this isn't the case. Although the body hair is certainly curly, it's usually tightly curled, so actually follows the line of the body quite closely. Therefore, it remains perfectly possible for any attentive keeper to visually assess how things are progressing. As always, though, there's no substitute for implementing the hands-on body scoring techniques if you want the most accurate body condition assessment of all.
Despite the current, low number of registered Mangalitza keepers, sourcing stock isn't the struggle you might think. Admittedly, you may have to drive for an hour or two to find your nearest breeder, but this shouldn't really be an issue if you're genuinely keen to get started with the breed.
As far as day-to-day management is concerned and despite its often less-than-flattering reputation, the Mangalitza is a pretty docile pig. It's easy and friendly to live with and, given that it's a prick-eared breed, it's naturally more alert and aware of its surroundings than some of the lop-eared types. Nevertheless, given appropriate levels of human interaction and good husbandry, there's no reason why the Mangalitza shouldn't be as well-adjusted and enjoyable to keep as any of the more popular, rare breeds.
Of course, it could also be the case that the Mangalitza has been slow to catch on because it has an odd-sounding and unusual name, which potential keepers haven't heard of so aren't drawn to. There's also the fact that, being relatively obscure, the Mangalitza doesn't get the same sort of publicity as the more mainstream, native breeds. As a result, it slips under the radar in many instances, and fails to benefit from the sort of exposure levels it deserves.
I visited Mangalitza enthusiasts Rebecca and Mark Gray as part of the research for this feature and, chatting with them about breeding, everything seemed remarkably straightforward. However, the couple were keen to dispel another misconception that Mangalitza litters are small – 11 piglets certainly isn't unheard of,
One of the most engaging things about Mangalitza piglets is that they are born striped – like little, hairy humbugs! Of the three colour options, the swallow-belly piglets are born tawny-coloured with black, horizontal stripes, the reds are red with black stripes, while the blonde ones are light with black stripes. So, you can tell immediately what colours you've got. The stripes, though, disappear once the youngsters reach about eight weeks old.
The pure examples of the three colours do breed true, but introduce any crosses into the breeding mix and subsequent breeding will produce a random selection of all three. It's the swallow-bellied version that appears to be the most popular, although the blonde runs it a close second. People seem to love this one too, especially since it looks somewhat like a pig-shaped sheep!
So it's clear that the Mangalitza has much to offer the domestic pig keeper. It's a breed that will reward attentive owners with affection and interest; its natural inclination is simply to get on with life in a straightforward, no-nonsense fashion that can be ideally suited to those with busy lifestyles. This is a pig that's rugged and durable yet friendly, docile and always approachable at the same time. It lives life at its own pace and, while by no means the quickest to grow, will reward its keepers with meat that must surely rank among the best there is for those with speciality pork products in mind.
The Mangalitza's unique appearance may not be to every pig fancier's taste but, for those seeking something that's out of the ordinary but nevertheless productive and easy to keep – even for a first-time keeper – this is most definitely a breed that takes a lot of beating.
The genuine article?
If you want to buy a Mangalitza pig, make sure you are getting the real thing. Remember that without a pedigree, it's just another pig. If you want to sell Mangalitza pigs by name, or Mangalitza pork, then your pigs must be pedigree registered. Only registered pigs will be included on the Breeds at Risk Register, as part of the national conservation effort to save our native breeds. For advice on buying your Mangalitza pig contact your breed rep (refer to the Mangalitza breed page for contact details).