October 1, 2010 at 8:29 am #16306
I am often asked why I chose to raise Heritage Pigs instead of one of the more common moderns breeds. Why do I travel halfway across the country for one pig? Why do I raise the pigs on pasture? Why do I spend so much for my pigs when I can get some Heinz 57s for $40 on Craigslist?
An American Yorkshire breeder, who raises hundreds of pigs in large facilities, remarked that we were wasting our time with these silly, floppy eared pigs; that they weren’t “real” farm pigs anyway. What he failed to understand is that the Heritage Pig industry was only at the start of its evolution. We aren’t in this to breed millions of pigs and stuff them into buildings. It is farms like his that have helped to generate our business. We are moving in a different direction.
In my opinion, the Heritage Breed business has one overall goal to fulfill: to save the breeds. There are two strategies we can follow to help make this happen. We need to get more people to eat Heritage pork and we need to convince small farmers to breed Heritage pork. These two strategies are complementary if we understand them.
Unfortunately, many chefs don’t choose to cook Heritage pork because it doesn’t look like the traditional meat they get from large distributors. They are used to the light colored, very lean and, IMO, cardboard tasting meat that comes from modern breed pigs. “The Other White Meat” didn’t do us any favors. When they see the red colored, marbled meat of Heritage pork, with the variability in cuts, they often don’t know what to do with it and don’t know how to creatively market it to their customers. We are working to change that, but first we have to make Heritage pork much more desirable to restaurants.
One of the ways to do that is to help encourage groups like Slow Food to talk about our pork and to host heritage pork events. If you live near a large city there is a Slow Food group that you can get involved in. They host special events where they highlight local food sources and food from Heritage sources. Chefs from niche restaurants attend these events and are looking for new products. What we have to do is to help them understand the product, how it is raised, why that is important and how to market it to their customers. A donation of a pig or two to a Slow Food event can do much for your marketing efforts and provide huge benefits to us as a whole.
Once more people want to eat our pork we will find more small farmers wanting to raise it. We are also lucky in that our pigs are actually better for small farms than modern breeds. There is an evolutionary path that is common for Heritage pig breeders.
There are basically two types of pig farmers. The most common is the farmer who wants to maximize profits by raising the most marketable type of pig in the most numbers. They turn to modern breeds that do well inside large buildings in large numbers. The other type of farmer is the small farmer. Often, first time small farmers look for cheap pigs to start with. They end up with a York or Landrace cross and try to raise it in a barn, just like they see other farmers do. When they get tired of the smell, cost of feed and unpredictable temperament of their pigs, they either stop raising pigs or they start researching to find a pig that requires less feed and doesn’t scare them.
That’s when they become a Heritage pig farmer. They learn that most of the old breeds can do well if raised outside on pasture. These pigs require less feed because they can get a majority of their dietary requirements from free grass, browse and critters living naturally on the land. The farmers also learn that their pigs are cleaner and smell better raised on pasture. Their pigs seem happier because they get to behave naturally; there is less stress for the pig and therefore less stress for the farmer. It is harder to sell their weaned piglets because so many people only know about white pigs selling for $40 each, but a small farmer doesn’t need a large number of customers and there are increasing numbers of people, like our small farmer, who become aware of the benefits of pastured pork and are willing to pay more and travel farther to get some. This is the type of farmer who buys Large Black pigs, or GOS pigs, or Mulefoot pigs…
What it will take is more effort on our part to make our pigs more attractive to people who want to breed pigs and restaurant owners who want a niche product to generate interest in their restaurants. There is a real evolution going on with interest in good, healthy, sustainable food and we need to be a part of it.
BrianOctober 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm #20426Member: AR
Brian, Thanks for putting this all in perspective. It is appreciated. We are new to the LB family and have thoroughly enjoyed raising our 3 girls and 1 guy. We are learning all about this new breed and are reading everything we can get our hands on regarding how to tell if they are in heat, how to watch etc. This website has been a godsend for us.
Waltina and Will Hanna