In the world of local niche foods, raising heritage livestock is becoming just as popular as growing heirloom fruits and vegetables, and a non-profit organization in North Carolina has received funding to educate farmers on producing and marketing rare swine breeds.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), which works to protect over 180 historic livestock and poultry breeds and conserve their genetic diversity, is striving to create more awareness on the proper methods of raising heritage hogs.
Much of the information in raising heritage swine dating back to the 1920s-1940s has all but disappeared. "We are looking to bring a lot of that knowledge back to ensure that breeders and producers know what to do and how to do it in terms of raising rare breeds for the specialty markets that are demanding them," said ALBC executive director Chuck Bassett.
ALBC received a three-year $151,215 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant to establish best management practices and husbandry skills, produce educational materials, conduct evaluations on meat quality and yields, and conduct genetic relatedness studies on eight swine breeds deemed a conservation priority. They include Gloucestershire Old Spots, Guinea Hog, Large Black, Mulefoot, Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle, Tamworth, and Hereford.
It"s important to understand the species and how they should be cared for and housed, said Jeanette Beranger, ALBC research and technical program manager. "It"s also important to educate farmers on good breeding techniques, and provide them the skills to spot a pig with the qualities desirable for the market."
ALBC will be coordinating with hog master breeders and working with researchers at Berea College in Berea, Ky., as well as Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri to establish a variety of production and marketing guidelines.
Jennifer Kendall, ALBC marketing and communications director, said that heritage swine breeding is just a small segment of the livestock industry, but market interest in the breeds, specifically among restaurant chefs is growing rapidly.
"Chefs and consumers are gravitating toward heritage pork because of the flavor of the meat and its overall pleasant appearance," said Kendall. "Heritage breeds also lend themselves well to charcuterie (the craft of salting, smoking and curing meat)."
Kendall added that heritage pork is popping up on menus across the South in such cities as Charleston, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Raleigh.
The ALBC"s SARE-funded project, Saving Endangered Hog Breeds, is a major piece of a broader swine conservation initiative. For more information on ALBC, click here. Refer to Project Number LS11-246 in the national SARE projects database for information on the study as it develops.
Interested in alternative swine production? Check out SARE"s 16-page bulletin, Profitable Pork: Alternative Strategies for Hog Producers. Tambien disponsible en español.