Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting Out of the Pig Business...

Well, we aren't actually getting completely out of the pig business, but for the time being we may be taking a break (hopefully a short break). Thanks to a bunch of great people who were interested in our pork we are going to end up processing all of our pigs (minus the mister). Two will be going to customers freezers and one is going to be ground up into ground pork and ground Italian sausage for the End of Month Meals program that we have at our church (serves almost 200 meals each night during the last week of the month in the winter).

But, since we are going to be virtually pig-less pretty soon I am beginning to think about the next set of pigs. While I was mostly pleased with this batch (minus a few small things) the Hampshire in the cross isn't something that I'm totally interested in having. Lately I have been going through phases where I was against purebred livestock and then I am for it. Right now I am for it to an extent...

Way back in 2007 I wrote about a couple of heritage breeds that I was reading about at the time and now I feel like I'm in the same boat again ... not really know what to get. This is what I'm sure of at the moment. I would like to get purebred stock right now, maybe just a bred sow or two if possible, and possibly a few feeder pigs to have for the summer grilling season. I am not sold on any bred for sure, but I'm beginning to realize that it will have more to do with what is available rather than what I want the most.

Another thing that is a huge requirement right now is getting hogs that are currently being raised the way that I want to raise my hogs ... outside on the pasture. I would like to buy from a farm that is practicing pasture farrowing and finishing so that I have a better chance of getting pigs that will work with my system. Since I want to start small I think I can go ahead with the purebred stock.

A few breds that are bouncing around in my head now are: 1.) Red Wattle - Somebody should probably convince me one these, 2.) Gloucester Old Spot - I have heard these are the ultimate pasture pig, 3.) Tamworth - This is probably one of my favorites right now, and 4.) Berkshire - Should I jump into the growing popularity of this bred?

I would love to hear your thoughts/votes/breeders close to me!

P.S. There is one half still available if you would like some pork. Just shoot us an e-mail if you would like more details.


Greg said...

Ethan, I have heard good things about all those breeds. I know of a farmer in Kansas that has Red Wattle that he raises on pasture. I will have to get you his name when I find it. He is very happy with that breed and markets them direct and as well as through a broker. As for Gloucester Old Spot I haven't heard a lot about how they are in today’s market. All I hear about them is how proficient they were in the past at cleaning up orchards. That gave them apple-flavored pork.

One thing that I would say is if you are going to go with purebred heritage hogs make sure you are breeding them to keep with the characteristics of that breed. Then use their benefits in your marketing. This will benefit you in the sense that you can use that in marketing and increase your niche. It also helps increase the genetic base of that breed so there is more diversity within the breeding stock that is available.

Back at the Small Farms Today conference ALBC held a Swine Initiative Meeting. There were producers, consumers, and marketers that came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities in raising and preserving heritage hog breeds. The meeting went too long and had to be continued outside of the conference. In the next ALBC newsletter there is going to be an article highlighting the conclusions. If you are not a member I will get you a copy once it is published.

Walter Jeffries said...

I'm less enamored with the idea of pure bred stock than having stock that works for our place and sells well. A mix of heritage breeds is what has done it for us. We started with the best I could find, looking at their parents, of local stock and then bred for the traits we wanted. We select the best of the best for breeding with each generation and eat the rest, or rather they go to market. This means about 0.5% of the males and 5% of the females get a chance to breed. The result is each generation does better and better on our pastures, in our climate, producing long pigs with marbling, excellent flavor and a good temperament - the last is important for the people working with the pigs and it produces calmer animals that taste better.

Customers are interested in heritage but when I explore deeper what it is that they are looking for I find that what they are really concerned with are issues like:

7) No GMO - they don't want a Monstersanto pig.
6) Not the "other white meat" dry bland pork.
5) No growth hormones.
4) No antibiotics.
3) Back fat on the meat.
2) Flavorful.
1) Marbling in the meat.

A lot of the criteria are negatives, that is to say avoiding this or that, in addition to wanting fat in the meat, marbling and flavor.

On top of that, they want humane treatment, animals really out on pasture and many people like the not grain/commercial feed aspect. These aren't really breed aspects but they're other issues people mention.

Some people do like seeing the different colors of pigs, I enjoy it, but that is never a high ranking issue for those I've talked with. It's more of a garnish.

The actual heritage breed isn't what concerns them. It's that the final meat is top quality.

There are some people who are working to preserve the genetics of particular pure breeds, and that is a laudable goal so its available for the future. What I'm more interested in doing is creating a breed that works in our situation. That is the same way that the breeds came about in the past.


Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont

Rich said...

Wouldn’t it be possible (or even desirable) to ‘breed up’ to a purebred status? Since pigs reach breeding age earlier than most livestock, 5 or 6 generations could be produced in a relatively short amount of time.

I’m not totally sure about the dominant traits in swine genetics (i.e. is black dominant over red, etc), but I assume that if a Tamworth boar was crossed with something like a red Duroc sow, and the resulting crossbred gilts were bred back to a Tamworth boar, after 4 generations the resulting pigs would be 15/16th Tamworth (and would still look like Tamworths).

The crossbred sows would result in a slight increase in litter size (I believe hybrid vigor works that way in the swine world), which might help to pay for a portion of the breeding program (due to increased cost of the purebred boars).

Your breeding program could serve multiple purposes; helping preserve a heritage breed, providing crossbred sows to other people interested in raising pigs on pasture or ‘breeding up’ to a purebred status, and being able to enjoy the benefits of the hybrid vigor (for a while) due to introducing some genetic diversity into your breeding population.

Do any of the heritage breed associations have similar breeding programs designed to increase the amount of registered stock, linking breeders of crossbred sows to owners of registered boars?

desertrat said...

We, at the Gloucester Old Spots of America registry, think you'd love a breeding pair of Gloucester Old Spots. They're historical, docile, beautiful, and produce lovely, tasty meat. You'd be doing much to conserve the breed and have a receptive market for your pork. Check us out at: Robyn

Steven said...

I've been more than happy with the way our 3/4 Red Wattle barrows foraged, grew, and tasted. One didn't like to be touched and the other loved to be petted. I actually could sit on his back and scratch him. Our 3/4 RW gilt looks even meatier and has a little less arch in her back. She has never liked being touched but isn't scared to have me close. Lately she's been letting me scratch her when she's eating though.

Her and our young purebred Red Wattle boar have been roughing it this winter in about 1/3 of an acre with a nest of straw, and a piece of plywood leaned against the fence to keep ice off the nest. (we'll build something when we have more hogs)They get some "hog feed" and a few gallons of corn here and there plus the pecans are still falling each time there is a good wind.
We've heard nothing but the best about the meat and I love it! A big issue could be how calm they were to load. With a little feed in a bucket they loaded into the trailer with NO DRAMA and no excitement. I've been a little less happy with some pork that I know had loading problems.

Oh, and our gilt will now stay behind a single wire of electric that is off!

Ethan Book said...

Thanks for the good comments everyone. Lots of good stuff to think about and take into consideration.

Desertrat - Maybe you can help us hook-up with a GOS breeder in Iowa. According to the website there is a member one town over, but I haven't been able to contact them yet.

Walter - I was hoping you would comment and you do give much food for thought. I suppose the only thing that I could say (and that you alluded to) is that we need to have the pure breeds out there so that we keep their unique genetics going.

The Farmers said...


If you are thinking of raising swine around your growing family I would highly recommend the Red Wattles. We have 5 RWs and I can let my littlest nieces and nephews feed them dog biscuits from their fingers.

Yesterday, I farrowed our first litter. It was Gertrude's first litter so I wanted to be on hand when the babies came. I sat in Gerty's house with her through the whole birthing. I even took pictures - some with flash. Gerty just grunted and went on with her business. I did dry off the piglets... though that wasn't really necessary. We now have 9 little oinkers doing just great!
RW are very adaptable. There are RW breeders from East to West coast and as far north as Canada and south into Florida. Most growers raise their hogs on pasture and field farrow.
All the things that previous comments have mentioned, the RW's have: Not the "other white meat", flavorful, well marbled meat and you would be helping to preserve a critically endangered breed.

Want to know more? You can visit our website: visit the pig page and our blog.

and check out:


Valley View said...

We've had Berkshires' here in Australia for the past couple of years. We find them great breeders, great mothers and able to handle all weather conditions. Ours have endured 40+ Deg C in the last week and -12Deg C in Winter.

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