Red Mountain Farm's Mangalitsa live the natural lifestyle
One interesting issue that can come up when folks like Red Mountain Farm run their Mangalitsa outside is unwanted contact with wild boar. For Red Mountain Farm, this isn't an issue: their Mangalitsa and Mangalitsa x Berkshire hogs are barrows (castrated males).
Anyone that puts a cycling female outdoors in an area with wild hogs has a problem. A wild boar will do what boars do best: he'll break in, fight off any other domestic boars (potentially killing them) and service his favorite females. The males have been naturally selected to do this - it is their only job.
I have yet to talk to anyone whose own domestic boars have won against a wild boar interloper. The wild boar are faster, tougher and meaner. Their small size doesn't matter; one lucky shot with their tusks and that's it. In the wild, the winning boar gets to service many females, potentially producing hundreds of descendants a season. The loser may not get to procreate at all. Natural selection ensures tha the average wild boar can defeat a commercial boar, who has been selected for carcass traits.
Unwanted breeding of domestic swine with wild boar has terrible consequences for the producer:
- Wild boar transmit diseases to the domestic swine. That's always bad, no matter the disease. Depending on how serious the disease is, you may have to depopulate (kill all mammals on your farm), or institute permanent changes to manage a disease that you can't eradicate.
- A bred market female is worth less than an open one. She also wastes energy producing a litter of pigs. Even if you have her farrow the pigs, they won't have carcasses like your other pigs.
The Spanish who finish some Iberian hogs the old-fashoned way solve this problem the old-fashioned way: they spay the females. Neutering a female is trickier than neutering a male - you have to dig around in her insides. Here's a (gory) set of photos showing how it is done in a modern setting.
I find the Spanish production methods fascinating; some details are natural (hogs foraging outside), but due to the presence of natural things (wild boar) and a desire to preserve the environment, they are forced to confine and mutilate the animals more than modern producers who arguably do things less naturally. In order to economically produce acorn-fattened hogs, as described in the case study, the Iberico bellota producers:
- keep the hogs indoors for 9-12 months. Confining the hogs takes the pressure off the landscape and allows it to recover. It is cheaper too. The hogs aren't, as many assume, roaming free their entire long life.
- neuter the females
- ring the market hogs, which prevents them from rooting up the oak savanna.
Although the farm in that case study farrows outside (with high piglet mortality), other Iberico producers use things like farrowing crates and gestation crates - things that, in addition to the antibiotics, prevent the meat from ever being sold in Whole Foods. You name it: Albertsons, 7-11 and your mom and pop grocery will sell Fermin's product before Whole Foods.
Using farrowing crates and gestation crates is at odds with how Iberico production was done in the past. The innovations are controversial. Things are such that now, if you choose their iberico bellota, you choose taste and sustainability over:
- minimal mutilation
- minimal confinement
- maximal natural behaviors
- no-hormones, no-antibiotics
- high piglet survivability (via farrowing crates)
Although many Iberico sows farrow in huts, some farrow in crates, like the one pictured just below. Some even use gestation crates too, which means a sow is confined her whole life (which consists alternately of gestation and farrowing, gestation being longer).
It is hard to see how a farm can use gestation crates and not be called a factory farm. If Iberico ever becomes associated with gestation crates, I think they are in big trouble.
Iberico Sow in a Farrowing CrateI've read plenty of remarks like:
Unfortunately, heritage pork breeds are not suited for the intensive farming techniques being used nowadays, and some of the older breeds are in danger of being lost forever.
Iberico Sows in Gestation Crates
Unfortunately (for the ones that get put into gestation crates), heritage breeds like the Iberico can be raised intensively. The producer who built the confinement facility for Iberico pictured above did it because it is possible and it pays. As a result of it being possible to produce Iberico reasonably economicaly (due to innovations like crates), the breed has steadily increasing numbers.
The Iberico was never in trouble because it works well extensively; it was in trouble because people wanted cheap, lean pork, which the Iberico doesn't produce.
Seeing the Iberico sows in crates shocked me. Until I did some research, I'd figured it wasn't done.
Back to spaying: I find it fascinating that such an involved procedure was once very common. If you go far enough back in time, you can read about sow-gelders (professional pig spayers):
22 August 1730 We hear that at the late Assizes held at Bridgwater, an indictment was preferred against a sow-gelder, for attempting to spay his wife; but she refused to prosecute, and acknowledged her forgiveness of him, and desired the Court would do the same: However, the Court remanded him back to prison, and, for the sake of the good women in general, ordered him to remain there till he could give 400l. security for his good behaviour during life...While looking for information on sow gelding, I found a modern day sow-gelder. Here are photos (gory) showing a guy spaying a female pig in Vietnam.
"Swine in America" from 1910 says:
Open sows running with other stock hogs are a source of great annoyance and where more than two or three are kept there is scarcely a time when some of their number are not in heat and continually chasing the others thus keeping them in a worried fevered condition extremely prejudicial to growth or fattening. If all are properly sprayed this is avoided the hogs are quiet and restful and much time annoyance and feed are saved.
All feeders agree that no animals in the swine herd feed more kindly and profitably than spayed sows and there are no buyers who would not as soon or sooner have them than barrows when they would not buy a lot of open sows at any price. An open sow when fat of the same dimensions externally as a spayed sow or a barrow generally weighs from ten to 20 pounds less.
To the feeder the buyer or the butcher unspaycd sows are usually in one way or another a cheat as they may weigh more than they are worth from having a litter of pigs in them or may be utterly destitute of inside fat from having recently suckled pigs; in either case they are of less value than their appearance would indicate. Spayed sows are not troublesome to their mates are as good as they look for feeding or marketing and command in all markets such prices as are paid for none but first class stock.