NOTE: PROJECT WAS CANCELLED ON 5/26/2020 DUE TO THE INABILITY TO IDENTIFY A PI FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF PUERTO RICO TO LEAD THE PROJECT, PER THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE ON-FARM RESEARCH GRANT GUIDELINES.
- Animals: swine
- Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed management, grazing management, heritage breeds, rangeland/pasture management, watering systems
- Farm Business Management: feasibility study, value added
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 Puerto Rican, sustainably sourced, pasture-raised pork for chefs, restaurants, and consumers. More importantly, the 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 clover, access to minerals, kitchen scraps, and require minimal shelter. Easily suited to a wide variety of environments, these heritage pigs will do better than most breeds on low grade forage as they 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:
Harry Ramirez the Principal Investigator, and Claudia Fort-Cartagena, a veterinary science student, with the sustainable agricultural program at the University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez, will work with farmers, Chris Ghosio and Celeste Herdeman at their farm, Finca Brutal, to conduct research 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. By incorporating forage-based diets and developing a closed-loop system which integrates waste and outputs back into the supply chain, the plan is to assess the costs, benefits, risks, and opportunities associated with raising heritage pigs.
In addition to documenting type of feed, Finca Brutal will serve as the location for a pilot program to gather data on the following:
- Infrastructure needed to maintain the herd, this includes shelter and fencing methods/alternatives, height and type as well as a site analysis of the pasture layout
- Observations of daily habits related to their well-being: grazing, breeding, and feeding patterns.
- Assessments of health and disease, as well as outside risks such as predators
- 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 as well as the palatability of the consumer.