Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mangalitsa and Wild Boar

Recently a customer was asking how similar Mangalitsa is to the wild boar she had in Italy. The standard answer is that Mangalitsa is tasty like wild boar, but a lot more marbled and fatty.

Of the domesticated pig breeds, the Mangalitsa closely resemble wild boar in many important aspects:
  • Small litters
  • Good mothering by the sows
  • Slow growth
  • Hardiness, disease resistance
  • Foraging ability
  • Tolerate awful weather
Most domesticated pigs, in contrast:
  • Have big litters
  • Have bad mothering traits
  • Grow quickly
  • Need a lot of vaccinations and other meds to thrive
  • Can't forage well
  • Don't tolerate extreme weather well

The USDA's APHIS has a very informative page on wild boar. They concentrate a lot on the danger to our agriculture (instead of the wild boar's meat quality), because it is their job to protect the USA's agriculture from disease and similar threats:
"Hunters, farmers, and landowners should be aware that wild pigs can harbor infectious diseases and can destroy crops, livestock pastures, native plants, and wildlife habitat. Moving wild pigs to new areas or allowing them onto farms that have domestic pigs can have disastrous consequences"
Some people think wild boar are responsible for e. coli contamination in one farm's spinach that killed a few people and sickened 200. Part of the article reminds me of what it is like to keep pigs:
"There is lots of evidence for pigs damaging fenced off areas ... rooting, knocking fences down,''
Pigs love to attack the fence. They'll do it even when there isn't acres of tasty spinach on the other side.

Given the similarities between Mangalitsa and wild boar, I decided to see what the library had on wild boar. So I picked up a neat book for kids called "Wild Boars" by Darrel Nicholson. Here's the cover:

The book has plenty of pictures showing wild boar piglets. They look a lot like Mangalitsa piglets and Mangalitsa-Berkshire piglets. Here are a few of the photos:

Wild Boar sow with piglets

Here's a closeups of wild boar piglets, looking a lot like our Mangalitsa-Berkshire piglets:

Wild Boar Piglets

The Mangalitsa sow also patiently nurses her piglets as they get big and annoying, like this sow:

One thing I like about the book is that it mentions how much pigs love to eat meat. Here you can see the piglets having a feeding frenzy:

It is hard to imagine what this is like, unless you've seen it up close. Below are some videos of Mangalitsa piglets feeding.

I think it is funny when a pig gets a mouthful of food and he tries to run away from the other pigs so he can eat his food without other pigs stealing it:

Another thing the book gets into is how terribly destructive the pigs are. I mentioned this a bit here, but in this next photo, you can see that the sow has done a lot of destructive rooting. She and her piglets are having wonderful family time ripping up the ground together.

One thing we noticed about our Mangalitsa pigs last winter was how much foraging they did. Just like the wild boar in the photo below, they kept busy, even in cold weather.
I feel sorry for the tree.

There is a nice mention of them eating animals that didn't survive the winter, and eating those animals too sluggish to get away. I'd never considered that before, but it makes sense. Those hibernating snakes don't have a chance.

Although the voracious nature of pigs seems terrible, their willingness to eat nearly anything and turn it into pork is why humans get along so well with pigs. For centuries, we've been feeding them stuff that would otherwise go to waste.

The book closes with a very cute photo and some text about how it is the humans that brought them:

Since the book came out, things have changed. Wild boar are increasing their range throughout the USA:

It is awful that the pigs are in the Midwest, where many commercial farms are. The wild boar will likely spread diseases to the domesticated pigs, causing huge losses. The problem has to do with wild boar being so disease resistant: they act as reservoirs for serious diseases.

The spread of wild boar to Upper Peninsula (MI) is hard to explain by gradual movement of the pigs. It could be that humans captured them and released them, for hunting, just as De Soto did.

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