ALBC Rare Breed Swine Initiative Update

ALBC Rare Breed Swine Initiative Update

By Jeannette Beranger & Marjie Bender

In November of 2008 representatives from each of the rare breed swine associations along with others representing conservation, marketing, and scientific study of the rare swine breeds met at the National Small Farms Trade Show in Columbia, MO. Funded by the Renewing America’s Food Traditions Alliance, the purpose of the meeting was to better understand the status of each of the breeds of endangered swine, the issues each faces, as well as the current face of the marketplace. The group endeavored to identify critical needs that are commonly shared among the breeds, and work to develop strategies for addressing these. The final outcome is a short list of potential fundable projects, appropriate partners, and next steps.

The specific goals the group decided upon were to identify issues and needs shared by most, if not all, of the endangered swine breeds, prioritize issues and needs, determine the major steps necessary to address needs, identify potential funding sources, and establish methods for continued communication.

The next step the group took was to come to a general consensus that identified the most pressing topics and concerns that rare breed swine breeders face and need assistance with. The central themes of concern were outlined by the group and prioritized. Three topics emerged that were ranked as equal in importance:

  • Marketing (breeding stock & products)
  • Bloodline Conservation, and
  • Breed Association support

ALBC staff returned to the office to begin the task of following up and beginning the process of addressing each outlined topic of concern. Some great strides have been made since the fall of 2008 in all of the three categories.

1. Marketing – Within the category of marketing, the group’s first suggestion was that the ALBC Breeders Directory needed to be refined and updated so active breeders are clearly listed as opposed to people that are owners but do not sell breeding stock. In response, this past winter and spring ALBC polled its nearly 4000 members. After hundreds of hours of work from both staff and some dedicated volunteers, the end result is the newly updated 2009/2010 ALBC Breeders Directory. This directory includes new sections specifically identifying breeders, owners of rare breed, and producers with products to sell. A target date for publishing the ALBC directory on-line has been set for next year with the 2010/2011 Breeders Directory in mind. Investigation is under way to identify software that will allow ALBC to manage its membership database so that the directory can be adapted for on-line access.

Marketing opportunities were created for ALBC members in the form of a virtual marketplace. In August of 2009 ALBC launched classified section on the ALBC website. This classifieds section now enables members to post listings to sell breeding stock, product, services, and other items. The software enables the seller to include photos and detailed information that can be broken down by breed under each species. The new classified section can be viewed at . The site can be viewed by the general public. ALBC members can post listings free of charge as part of their membership benefits package.

Our new Communications & Marketing manager, Jen Kendall has also made major improvements on the expansion of communicating with the press and with the ALBC website. A new blog has been created to promote ALBC and endangered breed activities in the field and also a Facebook page to help promote the issues surrounding rare breeds. The ALBC blog entitled “ALBC in Action” can be found at and the Facebook page can be viewed at . Both have become great avenues for getting information about grassroots efforts by producers and to give the general public more access to information about rare breeds.

Finally in the area of brand development ALBC is in the middle of developing a new member’s logo and “brand manual” that will be available for members by December of 2009. Members will be able to utilize these materials as tools to effectively market their rare breeds and products and articulately communicate the issues and concerns involved with rare breeds and their conservation.

2. Bloodline Conservation – Population analysis and bloodline identification for rare breeds is well under way. ALBC is negotiating a collaborative agreement with the University of Saskatchewan to perform DNA analysis of rare breed hair samples. Joining the collaboration is USDA’s National Animal Germplasm Program. NAGP will contribute samples from its collection to the study. DNA findings of rare breeds to the study and will help analyze the data after it is compiled. The DNA analysis of breeds has been a huge multi-year effort for ALBC with its share of bumps and delays along the way. This newly created collaboration between the three organizations has great promise. ALBC is seeking funding to support the analysis of the swine DNA samples in this study. Findings from the analysis will make it be possible for ALBC to help breed associations and breeders to create breeding strategies that will be the most effective for maintaining genetic diversity within their breed populations.

Additionally, Breeders Assistant software has been purchased by ALBC and is being utilized to manage studbooks currently held by the organization on behalf of the breeders. Endangered swine breeds that will be included in the software conversion are the Ossabaw and the Red Wattle. Currently the associations managing other swine breeds with this software include the Large Black hog and the Guinea hog. ALBC has constructed a grant proposal that, if funded, will support the purchase of copies of Breeders Assistant for rare breed associations in need of registration software.

3. Breed Association Support – There is a great need for leadership training for association boards with preparing for leadership transition as a priority. ALBC has created a Managing Breed Associations workshop that is now offered on an annual basis at the ALBC national conferences. This year an overview of the functions of Breeders Assistant has been added to the topics of the workshop to help associations understand the benefits of this user-friendly but effective breed management tool. Further training for swine breeders is being offered at the upcoming conference in Raleigh, NC on November 13th. This in-depth workshop will cover husbandry and management of swine raised in pasture-based agricultural systems.

As follow through to support the ideas developed in the meeting last November, ALBC crafted a pre-proposal that was submitted to the North Central Region SARE to fund swine related research and conservation activities. The pre-proposal was accepted and ALBC has been invited to submit a full proposal that would fund 2 years worth of work to support swine conservation. If successful, funding should be received in the fall of 2010. Partnering with swine breeders are University of Missouri and University of Kentucky. The objectives are to 1) quantify the genetic variability and genetic relationships within and among rare swine breeds; 2) assist swine breeders in the development of long-term breeding strategies, and increase the collaboration among swine breeders to maintain genetic variability and better position these populations for changing markets; 3) develop educational materials and conduct workshops that will educate breeders and producers in sustainable, pasture-based husbandry of endangered swine breeds; and 4) define Heritage Pork, analyze key mid-western markets, and effectively link breeders and producers with consumers. The outputs and outcomes of the effort are to include: 1) a scientific article on the genetics of rare swine breeds, 2) breeding strategies for endangered swine breeds, 3) target populations for germplasm collection, 4) a guide to best husbandry practices for pasture production of rare breeds of swine, 5) two swine husbandry workshops, 6) clearly defined market niches and marketing strategies, and 7) enhanced profitability, sustainability, and effective breed conservation.

Another proposal has been submitted to Southern SARE by University of Kentucky for grant to fund the development of Carcass Percentage Datasheets for eight of the rare breeds of swine on the ALBC Conservation Priority List. The university will be partnering with ALBC and Chefs Collaborative to make the study a reality.

There’s a lot of work ahead but an enormous amount of progress has been made in a relatively short period of time. ALBC would like to thank the participants who came to the initial meeting in Missouri. The time was well spent and has provided the project with great momentum.