Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Here's photos from a farm that raises Mangalitsa for Wooly Pigs.
The area around the farm produces a lot of corn and soybeans. Previously, many farmers in the region produced pigs in addition to corn and soy. With the transformation described in this book, a number of people who used to raise pigs switched to doing new things, because they could not compete with the integrated companies that restructured the pig business.
Many accounts of the economic transformation discuss the small farmers who'd produce some corn, soy and pigs, who lost some of their income when the price of hogs dropped. What you don't usually hear about are the very skilled pig specialists who lost their entire way of life, because their customers exited the pig business.
For instance, the pig breeders who produced the breeding stock for the small farrow-to-finish producers lost all their customers. Pig breeding is a specialized job requiring special facilities (for keeping and managing boars) and compulsive observation and management of the breeding herd and their offspring.
The people who do that well give it their primary attention. That's what makes breeders (whether of dog, pigs or cows) seem so odd to non-experts: they are incredibly obsessed with their herd.
Breeders configure their farms so that they can easily observe, manage and keep the pigs healthy - because the breeder's attention and herd health are the factors that limit productivity.
For example, this breeder hand mates the sows. He heat-checks the sows every 12 hours. He takes any sows in heat to the boars, and watches as the boars breed them. Sows typically get bred at least 3 times in a twelve hour period. Approximately 12 weeks a year are spent breeding sows this way.
On most farms, it isn't possible to breed this carefully, resulting in less overall utilization of the breeding herd.
Some independent pig breeders have managed to stay in business, despite the consolidation in the USA's hog business. For example, due to Asian countries modernizing their pork production, some American breeders have made money exporting breeding stock to Asia (and in the process, driving smallholders out of the hog business). But recently several countries in Asia stopped accepting live swine from the USA - due to swine flu - essentially dooming those independent pig breeders.
Our producer is doing a fantastic job with the pigs. Herd health is high. Pigs weaned per sow per year is very high. Mortality is very low. The breeder knows the details and pedigrees of each breeding animal.
This has been possible because we are working with a breeder with four decades of pig experience, many of them spent breeding pigs professionally.
Before Wooly Pigs brought its Mangalitsa to the farm, there weren't any hogs on the place - because he'd been driven out of the pig business. Right now, he's happy to be running Mangalitsa, and Wooly Pigs is lucky to be working with an excellent producer.
Posted by Heath Putnam at 9:08 PM