Friday, July 9, 2010

Request for Feedback on Selling Mangalitsa Breeding Stock




Swallow-belly Mangalitsa piglets, pork chop.

In 2007, I imported a herd of Swallow-belly Mangalitsa pigs. My business, Heath Putnam Farms, better known as Wooly Pigs, set out to be the first lard-type pork company in the USA. I have worked hard, achieving things I didn't think were possible.

At first few understood how unique Mangalitsa pigs are.

A few years later, it is clear that they are very special. Restaurants like Michael Mina, The French Laundry, The Herbfarm, Charlie Trotter's, Corton and Per Se buy Mangalitsa pork, either regularly or occasionally.

Just a few days ago, The New York Times wrote about Mangalitsa hams costing $79.99/lb. They cost that much for good reasons.

Had I not imported Mangalitsa pigs in 2007, there wouldn't be any American hams made from Mangalitsa pork. There wouldn't be any lardo as good as Europe's best, nor any speck. It is neat that I'm responsible for that.

Also, the business is economically significant. Two formerly underemployed pig breeders support themselves by breeding Mangalitsa pigs, and several farmers derive substantial income from fattening Mangalitsa pigs.

Because of Mangalitsa pigs, Swiss Meat and Sausage Company regularly employs seam butchery techniques. They cut pigs in special ways, and make products that other processors don't make.

Wooly Pigs, is considering offering Swallow-belly Mangalitsa breeding stock to the public. The business, besides selling feeder pigs and meat, would actively promote the sale of Swallow-belly Mangalitsa breed pigs.

In the beginning, it didn't make sense to sell breeding stock. There weren't that many to sell, and few knew about them. I was afraid people might keep them as pets or curiosities, not as food animals.

Now there are plenty of pigs to sell, and people understand their special culinary role. There's reason to think that we can establish the Swallow-belly Mangalitsa as our hemisphere's super-premium pig.

Feeder Pig Customers

As the map of feeder pig customers shows, farms from all over the USA have bought our pigs. There is a national market for Mangalitsa pigs and pork.

Mangalitsa has a great reputation because producers like Wooly Pigs, Red Mountain Farm, Mosefund, Suisun Valley Farm, Revival Meats (along with other farms that I haven't named) have maintained quality.

I've got a few concerns about opening things up:
  • I want people to breed the pigs and sell the offspring for meat, so that the Swallow-Belly Mangalitsa breed survives in the USA. It isn't about breeding pets, it is about making food.


It would be unfortunate if people started raising Mangalitsa pigs in such a way that they didn't taste much better than regular pigs. The most obvious concerns:
  • Corn-finished or slop-finished pigs.
  • Making cured products like bacon and ham from too-young animals.
  • The sale of crossbred animals with minimal Mangalitsa admixture as "Mangalitsa".

I am imagining the following sort of offer:
  • The first group of breeders has to promise to breed their gilts for a few turns, helping the goal of breed preservation.
  • They promise to fatten some of the offspring and sell them for meat. This works toward breed preservation, by building a market for the meat.
  • If people fatten them for cured products, they'll make sure the pigs are at least 9 months old before slaughter. Also, they'll promise to feed them low-PUFA feed (e.g. barley and/or wheat) for at least 60 days before slaughter. They won't feed the pigs corn, spent grains, slop, meat, etc. 60 days before slaughter.
  • If it isn't possible to follow the rules, they'll market the pork as "pork", without hurting the Mangalitsa reputation.
The first round of people are going to get them cheaper because they are going to behave in a way that is going to build the market for the pork, ensuring the survival of the breed.

This is a huge step for Wooly Pigs. We'll be giving up our monopoly on Swallow-belly genetics. The upside is that we are going to further cement the breed as America's super-pig, and build a much bigger market for Mangalitsa pork.

It would be neat if we got a bunch of Hungarian-Americans to raise "mangalica" pigs, and make traditional products from them.

I'm already on record as someone who has spent time and money to try to save rare breeds - particularly the ones that taste the best. I have told my putative competitors what genetics to acquire and how to feed their pigs to produce outstanding food - because I'd rather see more excellence in the world.

At the same time, my inability to help conserve Meishan genetics troubles me. Despite my best efforts, that breed is going extinct. That's really a shame.

It seems that with minimal effort, I can get others to help conserve the Swallow-belly Mangalitsa breed.

I would appreciate any feedback that readers of this blog have. Please just leave a comment.

18 comments:

August said...

Consider networking with the Weston A. Price folks as well as any Paleolithic diet people. There seem to be many folks attempting to return to the small farm in an attempt to improve their own food supplies; they would keep standards for treating the animals pretty high.

http://www.westonaprice.org/

WAPF has chapters around the country.

Heath said...

August -- thanks very much for your advice. I've advertised in their newsletter before. A lot of them seem to like that Mangalitsa pigs are traditional, low input and lard-type.

Anonymous said...

I think that there is a very good opportunity for the new small farmer groups. They can get these pigs locally to feed out. It would definitely increase the breed and help keep its existence in the USA.

Carl Blake said...

The Meishan are not going extinct. Not sure why you would say that. You were the one that told me where to get them. Come August and September I will have over 150 Meishan. Plus, I am working with others to keep this breed alive and well. I need more than 200 Meishan Gilts to be farrowing at different times. I haven't lost one Meishan pig since I acquired them. There are more Meishan in the US now than some other endangered breeds.

Heath said...

Carl -- I tried my best. At least you were willing to take those Meishans.

Unfortunately, the minute you stop with the Meishans, whether by choice or not, that probably it for the breed.

We are just one tornado, car accident or other major problem away from a catastrophe.

One big problem with breeds that wind up being kept on a single farm is that it is too expensive to keep enough boars to maintain genetic diversity.

carl blake said...

I suppose that might be true. We DID have a tornado come through here and take out a finishing building we were just about to put 200 piglets into. Perhaps that is why I have Meishan on two separate farms in Iowa, a small herd in Texas and one in Virginia. Plus we have been working with PICS and will have some new genetic material to assist us with continuation of the breed. But they won't be extinct from the USA for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Carl. Meishan's aren't going anywhere in the US. In fact, they are commonly used in large commercial herds, but for different reasons. We have Meishans on a large commercial farm. They are used as "boar stink" to induce heat in the sows.
However, after doing some research on this breed, I'm going to get the boar and start cross breading with Mulefoots and Berks. I also know a genetic lab close by that we use that's importing more Meishan boars. I'm going to contact Carl to see about getting a handful of gilts. This is an wonderful breed full of great potential.

Heath said...

Anonymous -- what's the name of the lab importing more Meishan boars? I'd like to get some semen.

john said...

i have been searching for mangalitsa breeding stock for almost a year and am almost to the point of importing.

Heath said...

John - I've sold a bunch in the last few weeks. I recommend you call me at 253-833-7591.

Barrett said...

I have 4 mangalitsa's just outside DC in Maryland. I got the from mosefund last December. They're about 1 yr. old and pushing 300 lbs. I've fed them 90% barley and 10% wheat. I thought it would be easy to sell them when I bought them. However, nobody seems to want to spend the money I need to just break even.
Any suggestions?

Heath said...

Barrett -- I suggest you use the Zagat guide to identify restaurants near you that have the best food and highest plate cost. Then call them, ask for the chef, and sell your pigs.

Barrett said...

Thanks Heath,
I've tried everyone in DC, VA, MD.
I heard back from a couple chefs that competed in the cochon 555 but when I told them I needed to get $6/lb, they stopped communicating with me.

Heath said...

I can believe that nobody in your area wants to buy them at $6/lb.

E.g. a 300# carcass pig for $1,800? That's a tough sell.

I'm surprised you think you need to get $6/lb to make it worth your while.

Barrett said...

I'm guessing they will be 300lbs at slaughter and 200 lbs hanging weight. I bought the feeders from mosefund at $350 + $50/month avg. feed cost for a year=$950. If I get $6, thats only $1200. We're not even talking about slaughter fees, gas, let alone the fence I had to build, feeder and waterer. I'm actually losing money. If I had breeding stock, I think it would be a lot different.

Heath said...

Barrett - your $50/month feed cost is very high. I would expect to see more like $20-30 per month.

RUBY SLIPPERS said...

My son and I are set up to raise hogs on pasture and have raised standard hogs with joy and love and room to root, healthy conditions. I wish to raise this type of hog and would like two gilts and one baby boar unrelated. Are the stock available? Would abide by all standards. What are my prospects? I am in Central Ohio.

RUBY SLIPPERS said...

Who can I talk to about obtaining 2 feeder gilts and one boar unrelated.
My son and I have proper conditions and experience with standard domestic breeding. We would comply with the preferred conditions. Central Ohio.
My fiance is Hungarian and he is very interested in this endeavor.