|Or why I spent 30 hours driving deep into the hill country of southwest Texas|
People often comment on the quality of the meat we produce, and while we like to think we can take a little bit of credit for the final taste the truth is a lot of it has much more to do with the type of hogs we raise. We keep what people refer to as Heritage breed hogs. This is a kind of catch all term for hogs that are not one of the specialized ‘commercial breeds’. While all pigs are in some sense pigs, some pigs are more piggy than other pigs. All pigs are equal, but indeed some pigs are more equal than others.
Commercialized breeds are ones that have been selectively bred for traits that conform to the needs of large commercial producers. That is to say they have been genetically manipulated to take as much of the pigginess out of them as possible (and I would argue the taste as well). They want pigs that are good uniform cogs in their industrial machine. The focus is on how quickly they can reproduce and convert corn and soy to lean meat. The specifically do not want animals that want to root, waller, play and enjoy life. Because when you are a cog in the industrial machine displaying any of your innate tendencies is a liability.
We started our herd with a bunch of Red Waddles, a heritage breed that originated in Texas and is known for their dark red hides and little appendages that dangle from their jowl lines called waddles. Red waddles are somewhat similar to Duroc’s (another old breed of hogs known for producing big meaty hogs). When we started breeding we brought in a Duroc boar named Gentle Ben, creating what is called cross-breed vigor (purebred is just a fancy way of saying inbred and that’s not something we encourage). Then we brought in Mangalitsas, which are a very rare breed of heritage breed hogs prized for their healthy and delicious lard. They are also covered in hair, which in addition to the lard makes them basically immune to harsh winter conditions.
The downside is they do pack on a lot of fat. I mean a lot a lot. Like as much fat as meat a lot. So for the next generation of hogs we shipped off our mangalitsa boar to a ranch in Colorado, and brought in a purebred Red Waddle boar that is unrelated to our original stock. His name is Deuces. He’s a sweet fella. His harem is mostly half Red Waddle, half Mangalitsa sows, which will give us quarter mangalitsa piglets. Hopefully this will temper the amount of fat we get while keeping the quality of the lard up and giving our animals an advantage in winter months. While getting to decide which blood lines you keep, move on, or bring in can be a lot of fun, one challenging thing about choosing to strive for the most piggiest of pigs, and the most adapt pigs for a non-conventional operation, is that you have to think about things a couple years ahead of time. It takes generations to make a change. So even as we are just getting into swing with our new genetic composition of mostly Red waddle/mangalitsa piggies we are already looking down the line at what the next evolution in the gene pool will be, and thinking about how we will continue to add genetic diversity to our herd. Which brings us back to Texas.
Some of our long time farmers market customers from years ago split their time between Albuquerque and their ranch in the hill country of west Texas. Feral hogs, which are cross between domestic breeds that got loose and Russian wild boar (which was intentionally introduced for sport hunting) have become a huge presence and are considered by most to be a pest and a huge problem. Ranchers will routinely trap and dispatch wild pigs to try to keep the population down and protect their crops and pastures for cows. Last week our friends called us up and told us they had caught a whole group of wild hogs. They harvested the big ones to fill their freezer for the winter, but three of the young females they had wrangled into a stock trailer… Did we want them?
Hell yes we wanted them. So I jumped in a pickup truck and booked it all the way across Texas, loaded the three little boogers into a dog crate, and now we are in the pig taming business.
This is definitely a bit of an experiment. These little guys will undergo a serious quarantine period and get bathed and scrubbed and de-wormed before they go anywhere near our herd. It will take a couple years to get them big enough to breed, breed them, and raise out their young to butcher size. Should be very interesting. Part of the motivation here is admittedly kicks and giggles. Another reason we are excited about this little project is that the food system will have to change a lot in decades to come. Antibiotic resistant diseases that kill pigs have wiped out nearly half the global population of domesticated hogs in the last few years. African Swine Flu killed as many hogs in China in one year as we have in the United States, and according to the USDA its not a matter of if, but a matter of when this disease makes it here. When that happens our highly consolidated indoor factory hog production will no longer make any sense. (Not that it really makes sense now). Hopefully my incorporating these genetics into our herd we can begin to introduce people to what this kind of pork tastes like, and start to shift consumers mindsets toward embracing the idea of replacing the factory cog pseudo pork with the rich and life filled sustenance of wild meat.