Case Study for American Heritage Hogs in Puerto Rico

Project Overview

FS21-334
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,885.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Finca Brutal
Region: Southern
State: Puerto Rico
Principal Investigator:

Commodities

  • Animals: swine

Practices

  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed management, grazing management, heritage breeds, livestock breeding
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    The goal of this proposal is to assess the practical aspects of raising heritage pigs in a tropical environment, including the cost of production, a breed and management program that will allow small sustainable and regenerative farms in Puerto Rico the ability to raise a quality pork product with a low investment in infrastructure. Essentially leading to the creation of a niche market for sustainably sourced, pasture-raised Puerto Rican pork for chefs, restaurants, and consumers. Additionally, an added goal of this proposal is to follow up on a research proposal and study conducted in 2007, headed by Steve Welker, Principal Researcher with the USDA to propose direct selling opportunities between farmer and lechon (roast suckling pig) restaurants. 

    A market survey has been completed by the pork producers cooperating with the University of Puerto Rico which surveyed 30 restaurants. This study has shown that these restaurants commonly need smaller pigs than those imported, would prefer a fresh pig that they do not need to thaw (sic) due to transport logistics from abroad and lack of freezer space in the estimated 400 lechon restaurants on the island. The restaurant owners frequently stated that they are willing to pay more for this product and services. This combination of requirements would lend itself well to a branded product as well as the feasibility of this venture, best practices to operate a farmer-owned processing business, and lastly the palatability of smaller and fresher hogs” (Welker, 2007)

    The American Guinea Hog is a true, distinct American heritage breed of domestic farm pig. Genetic testing and lineage suggest it was developed as a landrace breed throughout the southeastern region of the United States more than 200 years ago. Dubbed as the ideal sustainable heritage farm pig, American Guinea Hogs prefer lush pastures with high protein clover, access to minerals, kitchen scraps, and require minimal shelter. Easily suited to a wide variety of environments, these heritage pigs do better than most breeds on low grade forage and are minimal rooters when good grazing and adequate feed is available. Known for its moderate size, excellent foraging abilities, friendly temperament, excellently flavored meat and indispensable lard these smaller breeds complement the lechonera market as it is a good-sized, well-conditioned hog providing a nice, well-marbled carcass and ranging from 150-300 pounds. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Farmers, Chris Ghosio and Celeste Herdeman and their farm Finca Brutal, located in Aguada, will be the test site and data collection for a case study needed to identify best practices for heritage pig farming in the tropics, specifically in Puerto Rico. 

    According to a recent study published in Practical Farmers of Iowa, raising pigs on pasture increases the exposure to and intake of forages, which can affect the fatty acid composition of pork (Christy and Arbuckle, 2019). Grass-fed animals have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed animals and human consumption of these fatty acids is known to decrease risks of cancer and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes. Therefore, this research proposal aims to challenge conventional pork production with a sustainable approach to pig farming through a closed-loop system to integrate plant waste such as fruits, vegetables, and spent brewery grains to determine economic factors, benefits, risks and opportunities to supply feed in a small farm operation. 

    In addition to documenting type of feed, Finca Brutal will serve as the location for a pilot program to gather data on the following: 

    1. Infrastructure needed to maintain the herd, this includes shelter and fencing methods/alternatives, height and type of fencing material as well as a site analysis of the pasture layout
    2. Observations of daily habits related to their well-being: grazing, breeding, and feeding patterns. 
    3. Assessments of health and disease, as well as outside risks such as predators
    4. Overall documentation on the cost of production, feed costs, land and water use, initial investment as well as market value and variety of pork products produced and offered by heritage breeds
    5. Assessing the palatability of the consumer, an important pastime in Puerto Rico.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.