Monday, December 14, 2009

Pat Sheerin on the Mangalitsa slaughter, Pig Breeding Systems

75% Mangalitsa pigs

Mike Sula wrote about Pat Scheerin getting his pig from Stan Schutte. I've written about these pigs before.

There's a nice quote in the new post:

"These truly are a special breed of pork. I’ve attached a couple of pictures after starting to break them down. Look at the color of the flesh—fuck 'the other white meat,' this is tasty goodness. We cooked up the 'skirt' steak. The flavor was so clean and rich and delicious I’m looking forward to the other parts."

I think that's great news. Of course, I'm not surprised. Our pigs are of course very special, and Wooly Pigs provides advice (backed by science and Austrian experience) on how to finish pigs for maximum quality. I don't know how Stan finished his pigs, but based on previous experience, I expect the people who eat those pigs will say they have the best meat and fat they've ever eaten.

As someone running a breed-oriented meat company, I noticed something in Scheerin's quote above, "These truly are a special breed of pork."

Technically speaking, Stan's pigs are hybrids (75% Mangalitsa genetics). They aren't in any breed. Such pigs look like the ones in the picture above. They are very much like purebred Mangalitsa pigs, but in some ways they perform better than Mangalitsa pigs, in other ways they don't.

I've been reflecting on this issue lately because I had some inquiries about feeder pigs. I explained that there were purebred feeder pigs for sale, along with crossbred pigs (75% Mangalitsa genetics). A couple of customers asked, "what are they crossed with?"

My answer was, "meat-type pigs". In response, the customers asked, "what breed?"

Although we can produce such information, I felt it was important to refuse to provide the information, because if they think the details of the 25% meat-type genetics matter, they really don't understand what they are buying.

Yorkshire Terrier

E.g. imagine if 99% of all dogs were companion dogs - Pekingese, Pugs, Yorkshire terriers, and they were primarily rated on their ability to function as companions. Let's imagine that companion dogs have the following traits:
  • Small size.
  • Ability to bond with their masters.
  • Temperament to ride around in a small carrying case.

Typical companion dog at work.

In the pig world, almost all pigs are meat-type breeds or crosses. They produce lots of lean meat, cheaply.


For biological reasons, if one needed to produce lots of cheap and healthy companion dogs, the lowest cost companion dog would likely be a hybrid companion dog. E.g. 1/4 Pekingese, 1/4 Yorkshire and 1/2 Pug.
Pug - the most companiony?

Whether or not you'd pick exactly those breeds, theory says you'd pick the two most maternal (and unrelated) breeds to be the 1/4 breeds in the mix, and you'd pick the a male of the most "companiony" breed as the terminal sire.

You'd breed Pekingnese to Yorkshires, producing F1s (50/50). Because the two breeds are unrelated, you'd get maximum heterosis. That gets you lots of cheap healthy "companiony" puppies with good reproductive traits. You'd keep the females from those matings - because they ought to produce even more puppies for the same cost.

In the British pig world, a typical maternal cross would be Large White and a Landrace. The resulting F1 females are amazingly good at weaning pigs.

To produce your companion dogs for sale, you'd breed your F1 females to your Pug terminal sires, producing excellent all-round companion dogs.

Theory says that even if the Pugs are too "companiony" than what people want in a dog, they could make great terminal sires, because they'll compensate for the fact that the maternal breeds aren't "companiony" enough.

Pietrain boar - good choice of meat-type terminal sire.

In the pig world, the typical pig comes out of such a system, with the Duroc (an extreme meat-type breed) being the terminal sire. In Europe, the Pietrain is a popular terminal sire. As with the dogs, the Pietrain (and Duroc) is so lean that you don't necessarily want to eat them - but they impart the desired traits to their offspring, explaining why Duroc and Pietrain boars sire so many of the meat-type pigs that people eat.

Someone might ask, if the terminal sire is so great, why don't people just raise purebreds and eat them? The answer is that terminal breeds typically have disadvantages, because they are selected for extremes. They are used in systems that make the most of their advantages while minimizing their disadvantages. It would be surprising if a terminal sire (like a Pietrain) was good to eat.


Then imagine a company came along with a Komondor, importing it from Central Europe - a big livestock guardian dog that is not at all like the companion breeds. It can't fit in a purse, and it has a natural livestock guarding instinct. It is incredibly brave, comes from Hungary and has a woolly coat and striking appearance.

A company would do that because it perceived that not everybody wants a companion dog, just as not everyone wants cheap, lean meat. Some want a dog that will guard their property. In the case of pigs, the company is Wooly Pigs, the breed is the Mangalitsa, the customers are the most demanding restaurants and consumers, who want a want a pig that tastes the best. Wooly Pigs imported the Mangalitsa because in the Western Hemisphere, there are no reasonable substitutes.

When it comes to companionship, the Komondor is terrible. It fails one major test - being able to fit into a purse or dog carrier. Yet when it comes to guarding livestock, the companion breeds - and crosses of them - are all terribly inferior to the Komondor.

Mangalitsa pork chops - photo by Barnaby Dorfman

Similarly, the Mangalitsa is terrible at producing lean meat cheaply. But it produces incredibly dark, juicy, marbled, tender meat, something that meat-type breeds (and crosses thereof) can't do well.

Mangalitsa pigs fatten the best.

Of course, there are Pekingese, Pug and Yorkshire fans, and to the extent that those breeds are different, people talk about how much better Pugs are than Yorkshires, and vice versa. They tend to talk about how their companion dogs are better or worse companions. They don't tend to talk about how their companion dogs are good at guarding livestock or fighting other dogs - because that's not what those dogs are are for.

Yet in the pig/pork world, you've got consumers talking about how one meat-type breed tastes better than another meat-type breed, when really, meat-type pigs are about producing lots of cheap lean meat, not producing pork that tastes good. If people were consistent, they'd be bragging that their favorite meat-type breed produced leaner, cheaper meat than other breeds - because that's what meat-type breeds are for.

The Komondor owner thinks it ridiculous to consider the relative merits of a Pug guard dog versus a Yorkshire terrier guard dog. The pit bull owner probably can't find time to consider whether Pekingeses or Pugs make better fighting dogs.

Similarly, a Mangalitsa owner thinks people who talk about how juicy and flavorful their meat-type pigs taste are silly - because compared to a Mangalitsa, they taste dry and relatively flavorless.

Best-tasting pigs.

The analogy between Komondor and Mangalitsa is imprecise: the Mangalitsa is an extreme lard-type breed; it defines the fat end of the spectrum. There is no other breed that fattens easier or has darker, juicier, marbled, flavorful meat. I don't know that the Komondor is the best guardian breed.

If someone produces a dog that is 75% Komondor and 25% companion breed, it will be a lot like a Komondor. It probably won't behave like a Komondor in all respects, but it will almost certainly be a lousy companion dog, and it will almost certainly be a better livestock guardian than all companion breeds or their crosses.

If you produced a 75% Komondor (25% companion breed) hybrid dog and offered it to someone, and they asked, "what is it crossed with", you'd be correct in saying, "it doesn't matter," because the difference in performance between a 75% Komondor 25% Pekingnese and a 75% Komondor 25% Yorkshire terrier wouldn't be meaningful. Both of those dogs are likely to be really great watchdogs and guardian dogs by the standards of companion dogs. They'll be terrible companion dogs; it definitely won't be possible to lug such a dog around in a knitted carrying bag.

To the extent that the Pekingnese and Yorkshire are different, the differences in the 75:25 cross are made smaller, because only 25% of the genetics are coming from those quite similar breeds. Whatever differences there are, they can't have a major impact in the final outcome.

In reality, anyone who is contacting Wooly Pigs to buy feeder pigs isn't contacting us because we've got 75% Mangalitsa 25% Duroc pigs versus 75% Mangalitsa 25% Yorkshire pigs versus 75% Mangalitsa 25% meat-type pigs. People contact Wooly Pigs because we've got pigs with Mangalitsa genetics, and increasingly, people are coming to understand that such pigs, when raised for maximum meat and fat quality, taste incomparably better than all other pigs on America's market.

A more reasonable question for a consumer would be, "how does the 75% Mangalitsa differ from the purebred Mangalitsa?"

The answer: purebred Mangalitsas generally cost a lot more to raise, have higher vet bills, have more fat in the carcass and have tastier meat. The eating-quality differences are imperceptible to most consumers, because they've been eating meat-type pork all their lives.


Anonymous said...

If I stooped low enough to buy pigs from you and you wouldn't tell me what breed they were crossed with, I would tell you where you could shove your pigs. A prospective buyer might want that information for a whole list of reasons that don't have anything to do with meat quality. Your assignment for today is to think outside of your "little meat quality box" and consider why a pig farmer might care about the other 25%. If you can't think of any reasons on your own, you should ask someone that knows about pigs.

Heath said...

Anonymous - As you have written, "A prospective buyer might want that information for a whole list of reasons that don't have anything to do with meat quality," could you please list a few of the reasons?

A prospective customer asked me about what the pigs were crossed with. When asked, he could provide no rational reason.

As you have said there are a "whole list of reason," I look forward to learning more.