Saving Endangered Hog Breeds

2013 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.

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 were collected from eight rare breeds (Table 1). Samples are representatives of multiple bloodlines in order to capture a snapshot of the diversity within the breed.

DNA extraction is in progress at the laboratory of 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 was obtained for Red Wattle hogs, Gloucester Old Spots, and Ossabaw Island hogs.

The foundation structure and number of sires were assessed for Ossabaw hogs, and there is a healthy trend of lots of boars siring moderate numbers of offspring, with very few siring a great many. Nine distinct founding groups were identified, plus “all other”. Of these founding groups, only three are now well represented. With further analysis it may be possible to figure out how the different foundations are related, and possibly identify descendants from some of thse to ensure continuing contribution to the breed.

A similar analysis of sires and breeders was done for Red Wattle Hogs. Again, healthy breeding practices were found as many breeders are involved and are using a wide variety of sires. Breeding recommendations for conservation of blood lines were sent to the Red Wattle Hog Association in Jan 2014. The number of registered Red Wattles and Guinea Hogs has risen in the past three years and in 2014 these two breeds moved from Critical (fewer than 200 annual registrations) to Threatened (fewer than 1000 annual registrations).

The population of Gloucestershire Old Spots pigs has also grown in the past three years. Gloucestershire Old Spots were reestablished in the United States in 1995 from a small importation of 20 pigs from England. From this narrow foundation the number of animals has grown significantly, but inbreeding is evident and must be managed. Pedigree analysis revealed a mean Coefficient of Inbreeding (CI) of 467 pigs born in 2012 and 2013 9.40% (± 0.06%). Only 6 pigs had a CI of 0.00%. Seventy nine pigs, or more than 16% of the population, had a CI greater than 15%. Breeders are hoping to import semen from the United Kingdom in coming years to slow the rate of inbreeding with the breed.

Livestock Conservancy staff also worked with a breeder in Texas to evaluate a large herd of Large Black hogs with multiple bloodlines to select the best individuals for reproduction. This herd was acquired from a long time breeder who had to disperse the herd when he could no longer continue. Selecting the best representatives of each bloodline ensured continuing contribution of these genetics to the breed. A USDA evaluation of Large Blacks in 2009 indicated that the degree of relatedness within the breed was moderately high (personal communication, Harvey Blackburn, National Animal Germplasm Laboratory, USDA).

Objective Three. Drafts for written educational materials to help guide new heritage breed pig farmers are well under way, drawing upon historical documents and new information embodied in the experience of today’s low-input farms. These documents will guide beginners in husbandry and marketing practices.

Educational accomplishments in 2013 included:

  • Data from Objective 3 began to be disseminated through interactions with heritage breed pig producers, butchers, chefs, and in a presentation at the Butcher’s Guild meeting in January 2014 (See Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes below)
  • Presentations were developed to educate breeders and producers about heritage breed swine and an overview of husbandry practices and were presented by Tim Safranski (University of Missouri) and The Livestock Conservancy staff members at several regional and national venues. (See Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes below)
  • 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 designed, organized and delivered in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school to train breeders of heritage breed pigs on semen collection.  Faculty of the department agreed to use this material as a template for providing hands-on training in boar management and semen collection/evaluation/processing as requested.
  • The enterprise budget for heritage swine developed in year 2 of this project was distributed to numerous heritage swine breeders to assist in planning their farm enterprises.

Objective Four
. In year 1 and 2 of the project, seven piglets from each of eight breeds were transported to Berea College and grown out on pasture to market weight. 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. Each carcass was processed by American style cuts on one side and European style cuts on the other side. The European style break-out is favored by chefs in some high-end restaurants, and this could be a lucrative market for heritage pork.

Average Daily Gain (ADG) was the best measure of growth to compare between breeds, because of the differing growth rates, sexes and body composition. ADG was lowest for the American Guinea Hog and Ossabaw Island hog, the breeds that have probably experienced the least selection for yield (Table 2). The Gloucestershire 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, along with the Hereford, 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 (e.g., Talbott et al., 2005).

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.

Several sources of variability are worth noting in this study. Sample size within breed is quite small, so that separate analysis cannot 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, well above the target weight.

Carcass data were evaluated for all breeds, and the yield of hot carcass weight as a percentage of live weight ranged from 63-77% across the breeds (Table 3), which falls within range of expected average yield of 72% for swine. Yield was not affected by age at slaughter or average daily gain. Lean cut yield for American style processing (Ham + Loin + Boston Butt + picnic / hot carcass weight) was greatest for TAM, GOS, and HER and lowest for Guinea Hogs. This is not surprising, as Guinea Hogs are a small lard pig with excellent bellies, and would not be expected to conform to yield expectations for lean pigs! TAM and HER, on the other hand, are known for good lean meat production among the heritage breeds. This comparison allows the farmer to select the breed that will best meet the interests of their customers.

Interest has grown in the European cuts for breaking down the carcass. This method follows the musculature more closely, and is of interest for charcuterie (cured meats). The European method also utilizes more parts, including cuts such as necks and cheeks that go into sausage when the carcass is broken down by the American style. In this study, both methods were compared as half of each pig was broken down by each method. Breeds were more similar for overall yield when processed in the European style than the American style.

By both American and European processing styles, the American Guinea Hog had larger bellies than other breeds. Hereford, Tamworth, and Gloucestershire Old Spots had the largest hams (Tables 4 & 5). Loins and shoulders depended on the style of butchery.

Chef Craig Deihl of Charleston, SC has worked extensively with he Guinea Hog and was interviewed for this project as to the characteristics and quality of this breed.


Overall Chef Deihl likes that the Guinea Hog has a small frame and is easy to work with in the kitchen without lots of equipment. “You barely need a handsaw to even get the chine bone off for rack of pork,” says Deihl. The flavor profile is great and the fat tastes incredible.

For cooking Chef Deihl likes an 8 to 9 month old hog that yields approximately a 55 lb carcass. He will menu plates offering a duo or trio of different cuts and preparations. The meat has great marbling and fat cover, with rich red muscle and dense flavorful fat. It is similar in size and yield to a lamb carcass; the smaller cuts, especially the chops, are great for a tasting menu.

For curing, Chef Deihl likes a 12-14 month old hog yielding a carcass of approximately 150 lbs.  At this age they are more muscular, with tight fibers and even redder meat. He likes to keep the loins whole with the skin and fat intact because the loin eye is so small. He has a hard time selling lardo but says customers will eat the fat if cured on the loin. Deihl has found that the Guinea has huge jowls, twice as thick as other pigs.


On the downside Chef Deihl points out that the belly has limited muscle, it is predominantly pure fat and doesn’t make good bacon.  He uses it for flavor and fat in other products from lean meat animals like beef salami, hamburgers, meatloaves.


Chef Deihl suggests combining pork from leaner pigs with lard pigs to utilize the fat, he likes a ratio of 2 lean to one lard pig.

Heritage breeds on the whole are more marbled and have more backfat than today’s production pigs, and the pasture raised, free-fed heritage pigs in this study had more back fat than industry averages (Table 2). Modern breeds are highly selected for lean meat production and a 2010 study of production gilts at averaged 2.33-3.18 cm back fat at the 10th rib (Meers et al., 2010). In comparison, in 1975, backfat averaged about twice as much as reported in 2010 (Cross et al., 1975). Selection for lean meat reflects the shift away from lard in cooking and industrial uses in the early 20th century as hydrogenated vegetable oil and petroleum products replaced historical uses.

Heritage breed pigs lost favor when they did not “fit” in confinement swine operations, and consequently most of the heritage breeds have not been selected for lean production. Indeed, having been left behind by confinement rearing and large scale commercial selection began, these breeds have struggled to survive and it is likely that many farms do no selection for production characteristics. It is interesting that the breeds most likely to have been selected for productivity, HER, LB, GOS, and TAM, averaged about 10 % greater lean cut yield than the unselected breeds (AGH, MF, OSS, RW). The pigs in this study were raised on pasture, which is how most heritage pigs are raised. There are strong suggestions that the fat from pigs raised on pasture has higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins and a heart-healthy profile of fatty acids (e.g. Reig et al., 2013, Talbott et al., 2005, Timon et al., 2002) as has been found for grass-fed beef (Duckett et al., 2009). Consumers are rapidly rediscovering the health and flavor benefits of pasture raised heritage pigs.

The performance of GOS differed somewhat from expectations. Carcass yield and % backfat were the lowest of the eight breeds, perhaps due to the ileitis they experienced as piglets. Lean cut yield of GOS was favorable at 55%. Make-up growth favors lean over fat, and the lower yield and greater lean composition of the pigs in this study may not be representative of the breed’s performance in the absence of disease challenge.

With funding from the University of Kentucky, data sheets for individual breeds are being constructed by a professional graphic artist.  A file for each breed will contain carcass percentage data based on the two types of processing used: American block style and European charcuterie style.  High resolution photographs of each cut will accompany the data.

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. The data sheets for each breed will enable producers to plan for success before committing significant resources and capital, especially for small farms seeking to diversify their farm products.

Objective 5.

A “Values-Based Food Supply Chain” or “value chain” is simply a supply chain with a conscience. It seeks to replace the win/lose or buy low/sell high relationship between participants in the chain with win/win relationships that take into account each side’s profitability.[1] The impetus to develop a value chain can come from any participant of the chain or from interested parties outside the chain such as advocacy groups. A heritage pork value chain could look like the following:

Feed -> Farm -> Processor -> Restaurant or Retail -> Guest or Customer

Two questions must be posed: can the market niche for pastured endangered breed pork be organized and expanded, and what are hindrances to that effort and can these be overcome?

The market demand for heritage pork is growing rapidly. A google search for “heritage pork” yields over nine million hits and a search for “heritage pork for sale” yields over two million hits. A closed Facebook group for curing heritage pork products, “The Salt Cured Pig”, surpassed one thousand members in less than two years and has spun out other heritage pork groups. One of these, “Southern Pig Farmers”, grew to over one hundred farmers in less than one week after it began December 16, 2013.

Large distributors that have organized value chains for pork include Heritage Foods USA[2] and Niman Ranch[3]. About half of the pork products that Heritage Foods offer come from some of the endangered breeds in this study, while Niman utilizes hybrids that are raised on pasture. Both these companies purchase primarily from farms in the Midwest centered around Iowa, where a large percentage of commodity pigs are concentrated and processed, due to the existing networks for feed, processing and shipping. Most of the meat produced for Heritage and Niman is shipped to the coasts, very little stays local to the farms, much less the region. These two examples benefit from economies of scale because of the existing infrastructure in their region.

In the South, one of the largest hurdles to the growth of value chains is processing capacity. Markets are expanding but volume coming from small processors must be maintained to satisfy these markets. Farmers also report that distance to the processor is also a major problem, along with selling the whole carcass and public knowledge of the nature of pastured heritage pork. An examination of three existing heritage pork value chains will illustrate different methods for overcoming the infrastructure obstacles and can be emulated across the southern states. The three examples are Marksbury Farm Market in Garrard County, KY; The Fatback Pig Project in Eva, AL; and the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers in central and eastern North Carolina.

Marksbury Farm Market[4] is a processor in Garrard County, KY begun by four partners with a passion to increase the supply of pasture raised meats in central Kentucky. Since opening in 2010, they have succeeded in their original intention to sell retail through their own butcher shop and directly to restaurants and small grocers. The company has also expanded to sell to institutional buyers and they now count Whole Foods and Chipotle Restaurants as major customers.

Their value chain is short, consisting only between Marksbury and the farmers they buy animals from, they do not have contracts with customers. Farmers are directly responsible for feed, and Marksbury serves as both processor and retailer/distributor.

NC Natural Hog Growers Association[5][6] is an evolving enterprise begun by small farmers who collaborated after Niman Ranch ceased operations in NC. Jeremiah Jones is the President of the group and coordinates all of the logistics. Approximately 30 members of the cooperative raise their pigs on pasture, many with just a small number of animals. All of the farms are Animal Welfare Approved. With only a few niche processors near them, the group tries to schedule delivery to the processors and market cooperatively to grocers such as Whole Foods and Earth Fare, and other restaurant and retail customers. Another customer is Firsthand Foods[7], a small North Carolina distributor of pasture raised meats. NC Natural Hog Growers Association sells 80-100 animals each week[8]

This value chain is more complex than Markesbury Farm Market. Value is first created by small farmers working together to coordinate processing and marketing, and then additional customers are reached through targeted marketing by Firsthand Foods.

The Fatback Pig Project [9] is a project of the Fatback Collective,[10] made up predominantly of chefs and restaurateurs across the southern states. The spatial dispersion and concept diversification of this group facilitates utilizing the whole pig, as operations have differing needs for fresh and cured pork meat and products. The Fatback Collective provides a stable, unique and diverse final link in this value chain.

In the middle is the processing facility in Eva, AL, owned by Jim ‘N Nick’s restaurant group. This value chain is currently recruiting farmers in proximity to the processing facility to raise heritage breed pigs. All pigs are required to be raised hormone- and antibiotic-free, must be allowed to range freely, and following the Whole Foods animal welfare standards”[11]. The Fatback Pig Project has developed a calculator for farmers to assure their profitability. The formula requires the farmers to enter the number of piglets in a little and the cost of feed. The base price paid for finished pigs is $1.00 lb live weight, which is adjusted based on feed costs, and a premium is offered if the pigs are raised totally on pasture.

At this writing the Project is seeking to provide 100 pigs per week and has outlets in their partners’ restaurant and retail operations for the whole carcass. Unlike commodity operations, the only waste is the offal. They even have a buyer for the heads.

The Fatback Collective has tremendous potential to affect farms raising heritage breeds. One partner, Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ Restaurant, cooks over three million pounds of pork a year. As the value chain matures they plan to switch from using primarily shoulders for barbeque to whole hog as the numbers of participating farmers grow to where the needed quantities can be provided.

These three value chains pay only slightly more per pound for pastured and heritage pigs than for commodity pigs and as such are best suited to farms with larger production. For smaller farms, heritage pigs are most profitable when sold through niche marketing rather than trying to adapt them to compete in wholesale markets. As seen in Objective 4, heritage breed pigs have more backfat and marbling than modern breeds, have significantly different yields, and most of the heritage breeds are slow-growing. This provides variety to the marketplace, just as heirloom fruits and vegetables have added variety to the produce market. There is evidence that slower growth results in a different flavor profile, particularly when the diet differs (Talbott et al., 2005). One value chain that has developed to take advantage of the unique characteristics of heritage pigs and pork is Carolina Heritage Farms.

Gra Moore is the owner and operator of Carolina Heritage Farms in Pamplico, South Carolina. Moore’s family has a long history with livestock farming in the region. When Moore returned to the area with an interest in raising food sustainably for his family, he was looking for a small breed of pigs that would forage well on his property and be gentle around his kids. He first heard of Guinea Hogs after becoming a member of The Livestock Conservancy, and it seemed that their small size and mild temperament might be the best hog breed for his small farm.

Moore established a close relationship with Williamsburg Packing, a processor in Kingstree SC. To keep his costs down, he began growing his own heritage corn, scoured the local woods for acorns, and asked for what would have otherwise been “waste” products from canneries, peanut growers, vegetable farmers, and more. In 2009 the time had come to begin thinking about ways to market the meat of these pigs. He partnered with Chef Craig Deihl[12] in Charleston. Chef Deihl loved what he saw, and soon began experimenting with the Guinea Hog for charcuterie – old world cured meats. Word began to spread through Moore’s and Deihl’s blogs and other publicity about this wonderful pork, and other chefs began buying. Working together with chefs and with his processing plant, Moore determined the best harvest weight and age for his pigs that would provide the most desirable product for the chefs. Since then Moore has been persistent in finding new chefs and retailers to sell to. He has always been generous in donating meat to new restaurants for special events and educating chefs who haven’t tried heritage pork about what to expect in the kitchen. He has developed a sizeable herd at Carolina Heritage Farms, and has established a significant market for his pork with restaurants and small local stores.

Heritage Pigs and Heritage Pork definitions have been developed for the marketplace and approved by project participants and heritage pig breed associations. With surging interest in heritage pork, particularly among chefs, there are opportunities for development of more heritage breed value chains, and defining these market terms will help with development of markets for endangered breeds of swine.

[1] In depth research on value chains and case studies can be found on the Agriculture of the Middle website at





[6] Telephone interview with Ben Filippo, Food Systems Coordinator, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association



[9] Telephone interviews with Nick Phikas, Donald Link and other partners and management of the Fatback Collective on 12/17 & 18/2013




Cross, H. R., G. C. Smith, Z. L. Carpenter, and A. W. Kotula, 1975. Relationship of carcass scores and measurements to five endpoints for lean cut yields in barrow and gilt carcasses. J. Anim. Sci. 41:1318-1326.

Duckett, S. K., J. P. S. Neel, J. P. Fontenot, and W. M. Clapham, 2009. Effects of winter stocker growth rate and finishing system on: III. Tissue roximate, fatty acid, vitamin, and cholesterol content. J. Anim. Sci. 87:2961-2970.

Meers, S. A., T. D. Pringle, R. D. Jones, and M. J. Azain, 2010. Effect of body composition on diet selection in finishing pigs. J. Anim. Sci. 88:1733-1740.

Reig, M., M. C. Aristoy, and F. Toldra, 2013. Variability in the contents of pork meat nutrients and how it may affect food composition databases. Food Chem. 140:478-482.

Talbott, C. W., M. T. See, P. Kaminsky, D. Bixby, M. Sturek, I. L. Brisbin, and C. Kadzere, 2005. Enhancing pork flavor and fat quality with swine raised in sylvan systems: potential niche-market application for the Ossabaw hog. Renewable Agr. Food Syst. 21:183-191.

Timon, M.L, L. Martin, M. J. Petron, A. Jurado, and C. Garcia, 2002. Composition of subcutaneous fat from dry-cured Iberian hams as influenced by pig feeding.   J. Sci. Food and Agr. 82:186-191.


Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes


  • “The Principles of Pigs”, Mother Earth News Fair, June 2, 2013, Puyallup, WA (Jeannette Beranger, The Livestock Conservancy)
  • “The Principles of Pigs”, Mother Earth News Fair, Sept 22, 2013, Seven Springs, PA(Jeannette Beranger, The Livestock Conservancy)
  • “Introduction to Heritage Pig Enterprises”, Mother Earth News Fair, Sept 21, 2013, Seven Springs, PA (Alison Martin, The Livestock Conservancy)
  • “The Principles of Pigs”, Mother Earth News Fair, Oct 12, 2013, Lawrence, KS (Jeannette Beranger, The Livestock Conservancy)
  • “Saving Endangered Hog Breeds,” Butchers Guild, January 2014, Atlanta, GA (Bob Perry, University of Kentucky)


  • A three hour workshop on ‘The ABC’s of Pasture Pork’ was offered as part of the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference.  (Dr. Tim Safranski, University of Missouri)
  • Management Strategies for Sustainable Pastured Pork Production. The Livestock Conservancy Annual Conference, November 8, 2013, Cary NC

The grant participants also grateful for the assistance of Dr. Yves Plante, Acting Director of Research, Development and Technology, and Pamela Hind, Research Assistant, Candian Animal Genetic Resources Program; the American Guinea Hog Association, Gloucestershire Old Spots Pigs of America, Gloucestershire Old Spots Pib Breeders United, and the Red Wattle Hog Association, and the chefs, farmers and entrepreneurs who shared their experience for this report.


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