Saving Endangered Hog Breeds

2012 Annual Report for LS11-246

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $151,215.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Alison Martin
The Livestock Conservancy

Saving Endangered Hog Breeds


Rare breeds of pigs are a vital part of our agricultural resource and serve as a genetic reservoir for regional adaptations, biological fitness, maternal skills, foraging ability, lard production, and disease resistance. These fitness traits make heritage breed pigs a good choice for sustainable farms and pastured pork production, but there is little information in the literature on the heritage breeds in North America or their pork. This project seeks to extend our understanding of heritage breeds for conservation, and develop education and marketing tools for the benefit of farmers and breeders. Ultimately we hope to make heritage pork production an economically viable enterprise for small and mid-scale farmers, to increase endangered breed swine populations so that they are numerically and genetically secure, and to develop models for pastured, heritage swine production that can be applied nationally. 2012 has been an information and data gathering year, and we have made significant progress in obtaining genetic samples and pedigree data. Eight breeds of heritage pigs were raised on pasture and, after achieving market weight, the data collected is being used to develop pork carcass datasheets for each of the breeds. Project participants have also begun work on a manual of pasture-based husbandry and selection practices suitable to these breeds. A workshop trained breeders on semen collection techniques. Finally, work has begun to define a value chain for Heritage Pork products, including a standard definition of Heritage for the marketplace.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Quantify the genetic variability and genetic relationships within and among rare swine breeds using DNA and pedigree analysis.
2. Assist swine breeders in the development of long-term breeding strategies to maintain genetic health.
3. Develop educational materials for old-type swine management practices and modern health information, educate breeders about breeding stock selection of endangered swine breeds.
4. Produce and disseminate Pork Carcass Percentage Datasheets for the following breeds: Guinea Hog, Gloucester Old Spots, Large Black, Mulefoot, Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle, Tamworth, and Hereford
5. Define a value chain in the South for Heritage Pork products.


Objective One

Samples of blood, hair, or both have been collected from eight rare breeds. Samples are being collected from representatives of multiple bloodlines in order to capture, as well as possible, the diversity within the breed. We hope to obtain at least 25 samples per breed. To date the number of samples obtained:
Breed # animals
Guinea Hogs 7
Gloucester Old Spots 6
Hereford 7
Large Black 27
Mulefoot 7
Ossabaw Island 10
Red Wattle 30
Tamworth 7

Samples from all breeds will be sent to Dr. Yves Plante, University of Sasketchewan, for analysis and comparison to breeds more commonly used in large scale commercial pork production There is remarkably little information in the literature about biodiversity of swine breeds in North America. Genetic analysis for a similar SSARE study, NCSARE GNC10-145, showed a high degree of relatedness within three heritage breeds, though with a small number of samples.

Objective Two

Pedigree information has been obtained for Red Wattle hogs, Gloucester Old Spots, and Ossabaw Island hogs. Preliminary analysis is in progress to develop breeding recommendations.

Objective Three

University of Missouri has begun to capture knowledge that exists in written form as well as among breeders and professionals with a history of raising these types of pigs. Materials will be developed into written educational materials to help guide new heritage breed pig farmers, and face-to-face meetings will be used to roll out the materials initially. Professionals with knowledge about practices appropriate for the written materials development have been solicited. To be successful this objective must incorporate new information into old-fashioned production practices, and success requires using experts with complete understanding of these practices.

Educational accomplishments in 2012 included:
• Presentations were developed to educate breeders and producers about heritage breed swine and an overview of husbandry practices and were presented by ALBC and Gra Moore at several regional and national venues. (See Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes below)
• With support of the North Carolina Golden Leaf Fund, an enterprise budget for heritage swine was developed to assist swine breeders in planning their farm enterprises. It has been distributed to several heritage swine breeders.
• Students at the University of Kentucky participated in processing the heritage pigs raised at Berea College (see Objective Four below), providing them a rare educational opportunity to experience and compare the carcasses and meat cuts from eight breeds.
• Artificial insemination enables breeders to share genetics over greater distances than shipment of live animals, and thus can be important for endangered breeds. A workshop was organized to train breeders of heritage breed pigs on semen collection. With this training, breeders are able to collect, preserve and ship semen for use in artificial insemination. Feedback from conference participants was positive. (See Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes below)
• To build interest and awareness of heritage pigs and pork, approximately 350 pounds of meat from this research, mostly shoulders, has been provided for tastings at sustainable agriculture events held at Berea College, University of Kentucky, Seedleaf, Food Chain, and Community Farm Alliance. Different preparation styles were used (BBQ, Asian, Carnitas, and braised). The feedback from the organizers of the events was that the pork was incredible and the guests enjoyed it immensely.

Objective Four

Seven piglets from each of eight breeds were transported to Berea College and grown out on pasture to market weight. Upon arrival at the farm, piglets were weighed individually, ear-tagged if necessary, and quarantined for 30 days before being introduced to the common pasture. The 1.5-acre pasture consisted primarily of fescue with some other grasses and broadleaf weeds present. Three hoop shelters and one shade tree provided protection from sun, wind, and rain. Deep bedding was maintained in the hoop shelters through April. Free-choice feed, consisting of ground corn, soybean, and Fertrell swine premix, and water were available at all times.

All pigs were grown to market weight. They were harvested and processed in three groups based on when they achieved market weight. The third and last group of pigs was processed at the University of Kentucky meats lab on December 5th and 6th, 2012. For all breeds, each carcass was processed by American style cuts on one side and European style cuts on the other side. All carcass data has been recorded and construction of the carcass data sheets has begun for all eight breeds. The two processing styles will allow us to generate both American and European style data sheets. The European style break-out is favored by chefs in some high-end restaurants, and this could be a lucrative market for heritage pork. Some of the pork from each breed was also cured.

Preliminary assessment of grow-out and weight gain of the eight breeds showed that the best measure of growth was Average Daily Gain (ADG; Table 1).

Average daily gain was lowest for the American Guinea Hog and Ossabaw Island hog, the breeds that have probably experienced the least selection for yield. The Gloucester Old Spots group experienced some bacterial ileitis which probably affected their growth, and one pig in that group died while in quarantine. The Tamworth, which has been used in mid-scale pork production more than the other breeds, had the fastest average daily gain. Slow growth of the heritage breeds is believed to contribute to the flavor, together with the influence of diet from being raised on pasture.

The Coefficient of Variation (C.V.) measures variability in a way that allows us to compare how uniform or variable the pigs are one from another, across breeds that are very different from each other. The C.V. was lowest for Large Black, Red Wattle, and Mulefoot breeds. Consistency can be valuable in predicting the performance for farm planning.

This preliminary look at the growth of the pigs in this experiment should still be interpreted with care. There were several sources of variability. Sample size within breed is small, so separate analysis could not be done within sex, which has a powerful impact on growth. Because of the challenges of conducting a controlled experiment on rare breeds, further variability came from age of the piglets within and between breeds, bloodline within breed, and age at harvest. To some extent the Average Daily Gain corrects for some of this variability. In raising different breeds with different growth rates, and challenges that arose in scheduling processing, quite a few of the pigs were larger than the target weight when harvested. The Herefords in particular all exceeded 300 lbs at harvest, and the largest pig in that group was 378 lbs.
Pasture raised heirloom breeds of pigs are becoming extremely popular across the south and the nation and this research will be the first to quantify yields from eight of the old breeds. This data will enable producers to plan for success before committing significant resources and capital, especially for small farms seeking to diversify their farm products.

Objective Five

Between the time of submitting this grant proposal and now, several value chains have emerged in the south that will provide real world examples to inform breeders, breed associations, niche marketers, chefs, and support groups. Interviews were documented for a heritage swine value chain in South Carolina, and supporting interviews of chefs and breeders in North Carolina have begun to identify the interest and challenges for development of such value chains. Bob Perry at University of Kentucky has held discussions with numerous chefs to gauge interest and willingness to participate. A draft definition of Heritage Pigs and Heritage Pork for the marketplace has been developed and circulated to project participants and heritage pig breed associations for comment.

With surging interest in heritage pork, particularly among chefs, there are opportunities for heritage breed value chains that have demonstrated real success. Challenges have also been identified by those who currently raise heritage pigs, including feed costs, availability of breeding stock, proximity and availability of suitable processing plants, transportation costs, and challenges of niche marketing. These opportunities and challenges will be further documented in the coming year.

Heritage pigs are most profitable when sold through niche marketing rather than trying to adapt them to compete in wholesale markets. As the carcass data will show, pigs of these breeds often have more backfat and marbling than modern breeds, and the yields are significantly different from today’s commercial pigs. As described in Objective 4, some of the heritage breeds are slow-growing. This provides variety to the marketplace, just as heirlooms fruits and vegetables have added variety to the produce market. The educational materials developed by this grant will assist producers and purchasers alike in understanding the opportunities of each breed so that they may adapt their use and preparation techniques accordingly.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  • “Is a heritage pig enterprise right for you?”, NC Extension Service Blueprint for a Profitable Mountain Farm Workshop, Feb 3, 2012, Spruce Pine NC
    “Hobby gone hog wild”, ALBC’s “From Service to Stewardship” workshop for veterans, May 4, 2012, Pittsboro NC
    “An Introduction to Heritage Pigs”, Mother Earth News Fair, June 3, 2012, Puyallup, WA
    “An Introduction to Heritage Pigs”, Mother Earth News Fair, Sept 21, 2012, Seven Springs, PA
    “Hobby gone hog wild”, ALBC Annual Conference, Nov 10, 2012, Cary NC

    Semen Collection, Evaluation, Processing and Preservation for Heritage Breed Hogs. ALBC Annual Conference, November 10, 2012, Cary NC

The grant participants also grateful for the assistance of Bob Harned, Farm Manager, Berea College, Chefs Jay Denham, Justin Dean and Steve Geddes, the students of Berea College and University of Kentucky, and the farmers and breeders who provided piglets for the project. Additional support was provided by the North Carolina Golden Leaf Foundation.


Alison Martin
Program Director
PO Box 477
Pittsboro, NC 27523
Office Phone: 9195425704
Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg
Virginia Tech
School of Vet Med, Phase II, Rm 121
205 Duckpond Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Office Phone: 5402314805
Robert Perry
Food Systems Initiative Coordinator
University of Kentucky
102 Erikson Hall
UK College of Agriculture
Lexington, KY 40506-0050
Office Phone: 8597971163
Jeannette Beranger
Program Manager
PO Box 477
Pittsboro, NC 27523
Office Phone: 9195425704
Dr. Gregg Rentfrow
Associate Professor
University of Kentucky
205 W.P. Garrigus Building
Lexington, KY 40546-0215
Office Phone: 8592577550
Dr. Sean Clark
Associate Professor
Berea College
Goldthwait Agriculture Bldg, Room 212
CPO 1734
Berea, KY 40404
Office Phone: 8599853402
Dr. Tim Safranski
Associate Professor
University of Missouri
S133 Animal Science Research Center
Division of Animal Sciences
Columbia, MO 65211
Office Phone: 5738847994
Gra Moore
Independent Hog Farmer
Carolina Heritage Farms
7197 Francis Marion Road
Pamplico, SC 29583
Office Phone: 8436874413