Recently, I discussed our concerns about inbreeding with agricultural experts at the USDA. They studied the genetics as listed on our registration papers gathered at the time and determined our inbred coefficient was around 20%. A 20% relation is nearly equal to half siblings. Since this was based on only a few herds, that number may change as we obtain more pedigree information from new farms, but even if it doesn’t, he did not feel this was detrimental at this point, as long as we manage it so it does not increase. That is where the LBHA can help.
Our herd book software can provide a valuable tool in determining the best match for any registered pig. The association can take any two pigs and prepare a proposed inbred coefficient for the cross from those two particular animals. If you like that number then you know you have made a good choice. If not, you can keep searching until you find a replacement boar that will give you the coefficient you desire.
We often get calls from people asking which breeder we would recommend or how they can find a pig close to home. The reality is this is a rare breed that has been pulled back from the brink of extinction so the first consideration should be the particular pig, not the breeder or what’s conveniently located. Some of the breeders you see on our list drove over a thousand miles to obtain their breeding stock. Many waited on breeding lists for years before they got the opportunity to drive long distances to buy those pigs. Although the pigs are much more plentiful now, the need for picking just the right pig has not changed, and that means you may have to drive.
If you are a potential breeder and looking for your foundation stock, then you will most likely have to travel to two different farms to buy your pair, and those two farms may not be anywhere near each other. I would advise you to first start with a female. You will know a good female by judging her dam and sire against the breed standard. Even at weaning, it’s very hard to know how a pig is going to turn out but usually they develop just like their parents. Once you have made your selection for one or more females, now it’s time to find a boar.
In deciding on a boar, again, you should compare his parents against the breed standard. Before you waste your time doing that though, make sure you should even breed that male to your females. Ask for the pedigree information for both the dam and sire and email that information along with your females’ information and the association can prepare a proposed mating for you to see how related, or inbred, the offspring will be. Once you find a match you are happy with, then judge the breeder and the pig and you should be very happy with your selection.
Each farm is unique and has a different protocol but many farms do not allow visitors close to their animals due to health concerns. Bio-security is important so don’t assume the farmer has something to hide just because he does not want you in his pig raising area. He should be able to email you pictures of the sire and dam (side, front and back) so you can judge their conformation before you make the trip. They should also be able to give you the registration numbers and pedigree information so you can have the association do the comparisons early in your consideration. The breeder should also be eager to answer any questions you may have related to how they raise them (pasture or confinement) what they feed them, and their health routines.
Once you think you have found a breeder you trust and a pig you want to buy, what do you do with the in-breeding information you have received? Well first, you need to have a good understanding of what inbreeding (or more often called line breeding) means. Every breed that was ever created whether it is pig, horse, or dog, was done so by breeding closely related animals with a particular set of traits to produce a unique breed. The inbreeding does not stop there. Every “blood-line” was created by further selection in a particular breed, usually by a specific farm, to “set” or establish a particular trait that breeder desired. In horses, some blood lines are considered “hot” or maybe another is believed to be more athletic. That’s why a certain sire of any breed can become very popular and father numerous offspring and the owners take pride in saying they have an animal from whatever the famed blood line of the day happens to be. Often, that famed sire will be bred back to his daughters and/or grand-daughters and the offspring become even more desirable.
The thing we must remember in animal breeding is animals pass on undesirable traits just as easily as they do desirable traits. When you begin to line breed and inbreed you run the risk of compounding problems. The best way to fight that is to cull and cull hard. By that I mean kill any animal you find undesirable and cull consistently in order to stop those bad genes in their tracks. Although it is very hard to cull something so rare and valuable, it should be done and we’ve done it.
One year we had several sows that had small litters, aborted their litters or did not conceive at all so of course we were concerned. After ruling out any medical or weather conditions that could have affected their productivity, we slaughtered several healthy young sows in the prime of their life. Unfortunately, we later learned it was not bad genetics at all but moldy corn in our mixed feed from a mill that was trying to save money during the summer of constantly rising commodity prices. We discovered that when our most productive sows also began to decline and we knew what they were capable of. I lucked upon an article on mold toxins that described exactly what our sows where experiencing. One walk through the bowels of the mill turned up our culprit, moldy corn. We switched feed suppliers and the girls went right back to producing as expected. Thank God it was before they also ended up in the freezer.
It is easy to blame a problem on a pig but first we must look to our skills in animal husbandry before we decide they are at fault. If your sow is unproductive, is she over-fed and too fat? Does she have a diet with the minerals she needs? Have you witnessed the boar successfully and completely breeding here, not just attempting? Is he too fat or has he injured his hind legs? First, rule out other causes but if you are sure your animal has a bad trait, put him/her in the freezer. It is the only way we will preserve and improve this wonderful breed of ours.
Now that you have the information you need to make a wise selection, buy your animals with confidence and continue to learn all you can about raising them. Help us preserve this breed and pass it on to our children and grandchildren in a better state than we found them. This is an exciting time for the association and if you are contemplating buying your first pig, it’s an exciting time for you too. Join the association today so we can help you make an educated decision on breeders that will further benefit the overall health of this breed. Large Black Hogs will change the way we feed America, I have no doubt about it, but let that change first start with feeding our families and communities the best pork on earth.
Written by Kay Wolfe