What the Heck are Heritage Pigs Anyway?
I’ve done a bit of writing on this blog about heritage pigs, namely when I met up with Team Unknown BBQ and we smoked some 1/2 pork butts of Duroc, Berkshire, and Red Wattle pork.
Man, that was good stuff… and the Red Wattle won out BIG TIME over the rest.
Red Wattle Happy in its Pen
Image by markwhitby via Flickr
Trouble is, it costs about $90 for one BBQ competition sized Red Wattle pork butt before shipping from nearly every source I could find. So, we’ll have to wait on that.
Heritage Pigs On the Farm
Isn’t that video cool?
I mean that’s what a pig farm should be like. It’s very much like the farm my Mom grew up on outsdie fo Danville, Virginia. We used to go up there during the summers when I was a kid. Boy, a few weeks on a Virginia tabacco farm every summer was cool for this central Florida boy.
In any case, I thought it would be cool to talk a bit more about Heritage Pigs. I found a great artilce on Heritage Pork over on the Mother Nature News site. I’ve reposted some of it here for you, with attributions and links to the original below.
So… Hope you Enjoy the Read!
Heritage Pig Primer…
Some confuse heritage pigs with endangered breeds. While some heritage pigs are endangered, many are widely raised by small farms across the United States. Heritage breeds are the pigs that were once owned by small farms everywhere. They lived as part of the natural cycle of the farm.
Pigs were often used to help root out fields, allowed to forage in the forest, fed scraps from the table and skim milk or whey from the cow, and eventually became juicy bacon for the table. However, when we had the bright idea to mass produce pork, pigs weren’t well suited for the task, so specific breeding developed pigs that were at least more tolerant of living in uncomfortable, cramped quarters.
The pigs of yesterday were largely forgotten, but they have seen a recent wide resurgence with chefs, gourmets and those interested in traditional food supporting farmers who raise heritage pigs. Here are six reasons heritage pigs being raised on small farms are worth your support.
1. Heritage pigs taste good
Like most revivals of traditional practices, it only happens if the product is worth going back too. Unlike the uniform, plastic-wrapped pork that is mass-produced and found in the stores, heritage breeds vary in flavor. They go from the mild and fatty flavors of some breeds to the meaty, dark lean meat of others. Some of the breeds are naturally lean, some make good bacon, others are perfect for lean hams. There is a lot of variety to be found in heritage breeds.
Most people find heritage pigs better-tasting, and for that reason they have made a comeback in America. At a restaurant within walking distance of where I live, there is a popular burger made from heritage pork. It’s not the name of the burger but the juicy flavor that makes this a favorite.
2. Heritage pigs are well-suited to small farms
While conventional pig breeds were breed with the thought of indoor confinement and mass production, older breeds are suited for outdoor lives. Some are very well-suited for cold weather making it possible for small farms to raise pigs outdoors with success. These pigs thrive in their natural environment.
One of the farms affected by the ISO (Invasive Species Order) in Michigan raises pigs that are especially suited to the cold winters there. Breeds are often chosen not only because of the taste, but also because of the animals’ suitability to the local climate.
3. Small farmers raising heritage pigs give them a good life
For those of us concerned about the welfare of pigs raised in the conventional manner, small farms raising heritage breeds allows us to support farmers who treat their pigs kindly. We can buy knowing that the pigs we consume were given a healthy, happy life. One should note that not all marketed “heritage pigs” are raised on small, healthy farms. Buying directly from local farms is your best bet.
4. Pigs raised in their natural environment are healthier choices
Lard from pastured pigs contain high amounts of vitamin D, while conventional pigs contain minimal amounts. Vitamin D levels are low across America; lard from pastured pigs is an excellent source. Pastured animals as a general rule have better vitamin content, better ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty-acids, and are healthier in general than their confined counterparts.
To quote two studies found at eatwild.com:
Pigs raised on pasture have 300 percent more vitamin E and 74 percent more selenium (a vital antioxidant) in their milk than pigs raised in confinement, according to Don C. Mahan, professor of Animal Sciences at Ohio State University. This bounty of nutrients promotes healthier litters, shorter farrowing times, and good milk let down. The pigs’ meat is enriched with vitamins as well. Fortifying the pigs’ diet with synthetic vitamins, the standard practice in confinement operations, does not achieve the same results because the artificial vitamins are more poorly absorbed.
(Mutetikka, D.B., and D.C. Mahan, 1993. Effect of pasture, confinement, and diet fortification with vitamin E and selenium on reproducing gilts and their progeny. J. Anim. Sci. 71:3211.)
A herd of pigs that had not been exposed to antibiotics for 126 months was divided into two groups and either housed on pasture or in standard indoor units. Over a 20-month period, fecal coliforms from both groups of pigs were tested for resistance to standard antibiotics. Samples taken from the pastured pigs were far less likely to be antibiotic resistant. “The data from this study suggest that exposure to antibiotics is not the only factor that influences the prevalence of bacteria that are resistant to single and multiple antibiotics in the feces of domestic animals and that considerable research is needed to define the factors influencing antibiotic resistance in fecal bacteria.
(Langlois, B. E., K. A. Dawson, et al. (1988). “Effect of age and housing location on antibiotic resistance of fecal coliforms from pigs in a non-antibiotic-exposed herd.” Appl Environ Microbiol 54(6): 1341-4. )
5. Heritage breeds that are pastured help the environment
“Most conventional production of swine, poultry, and eggs in this country is done in large confined operations in which animals are fed grain-based diets, given no access to pasture, and fed antibiotics to prevent disease and accelerate growth. These confined or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) pose environmental, animal health, and public health hazards due to the enormous quantities of manure produced in these operations and the large number of animals raised in close quarters.
Well-managed pasture systems can minimize environmental damage to soil, air, and water, and build soil fertility. Animals that can engage in natural behaviors outside as opposed to being crowded indoors tend to be healthier and need fewer antibiotics, which reduces the rate of antibiotic resistance in food-borne bacteria. “
Diversity is good because not only does it provide a wide array of tasty pork, but it also is a better protection against disease. If a new (or old) disease gains the upper hand with one breed of pigs, other breeds are often resistant. If all pigs were raised in CAFOs, diversity would be nil. This would be an unwise situation. Diversity in plants and diversity in animal stock is always a safeguard….
For Reason Number 6… you’ll have to check out 6 reasons to buy heritage pork from small farms.
The Good Old Boy Network here in Central Florida just got a gift in the The Chop-N-Block, a top quality livestock and wild game processing facility!
Visit The Chop-N-Block on Facebook !
Located at 3386 Cypress Gardens Road in Winter Haven, FL, the Chop-N-Block is owned by Baxter Troutman (a former Florida State Legislator) with manager Chris Branson, a master butcher from the Frostproof area, heading up the processing effort.
With this new offering, wild game hunters and those who raise their own livestock can turn to the Chop-N-Block to have their catch or harvest transformed into everything from tasty thin-sliced venison bacon, summer and smoked sausage, custom steaks, burgers, and more.
“There really is very little we can’t produce here,” stated Troutman on a recent visit. ”We put a few favorites on the board, but Chris can do a whole lot more with the meat our customers bring in.”
I think it’s fantastic that we have a facility here in Winter Haven that promotes and facilitates small scale meat production. At one time, there were more than 1,300 meat processing facilities in the US. Today, I’d wager we’re looking at less than 20 if you throw the private operations like the Chop-N-Block in with the major corporate facilities.
Customer Service and Quality Reign at the Chop-N-Block
Hunting takes place at all hours, and once you bag that deer, turkey, wild hog, or whatever else you may be hunting, you need to get it processed as quickly as possible. This is where the Chop-N-Block shines. “I’m basically here 7 days a week,” says Branson. ”All customers need to do is give me a call, arrange a time to drop off their animal, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
One area where the Chop-N-Block hopes to see more business is in livestock processing. In fact, there is every sign that they may become a processing operation of choice for many of the 4-H or FFA livestock entries for this year and into the future.
This level of service is huge, especially here in Central Florida, where hunters with little space or time to process their own kills have very few if any retail processing operations to turn to. Let’s face it. You can’t exactly show up to the 24 hour Wal-mart with a freshly killed 200 lb. wild boar and ask them to process it for you. Though, it sure would be fun to try, just to get a video shot of the person’s face when you ask them!
Community Minded Operation
Often, any sort of left over meat or food products a retail operation ends up with winds in up in the trash, even when it would otherwise be very acceptable for public consumption. A twist on this issue comes up when you’re dealing with feral animals here in FL. Take a nuisance wild hog for instance. One man’s nuisance could easily become another man’s dinner… for weeks!
According to an article in the September 2011 issue of Central Florida Ag News, the Chop-N-Block plans to offer its processing services free of charge to hunters who hunt such nuisance animals. The mean can then be donated t0 local charities like Meals on Wheels, Hunters for the Hungry, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Like the BBQ World, Hunters are Part of a Niche Population
As big as competition BBQ seems sometimes, it really is a niche community. Word gets around regarding who the good guys (and gals!) are, and it take very little time for folks to learn where they need to go for the best cuts of meat, the finest rubs, tastiest sauces, most rockin’ cookers, etc.
The same goes for the hunting community. As word about the quality and type of work offered by the Chop-N-Block begins to go viral, many of those who might self-process their kills may find it easier and more efficient to bring their bounty to Troutman and Branson. This idea is supported in a recent Ledger article on the Chop-N-Block, where Justin Clark of Haines City, FL brought a field-dressed deer he killed in Missouri into the Winter Haven shop to be fully processed based on word of mouth he heard about the shop on his way back to FL. ”I was just going to cut it up myself, but I don’t have a grinder or cuber like these guys for the extra things,” he said.