Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bias Against Woolly Pigs

Our modern breeds of pigs have less hair and finer hair than in the past.

In an old guide to the Berkshire breed, it says, "A woolly pig is not at all desirable."

How hairy pigs are and their meat quality is independent. For example, Mangalitsa pigs, which are very hairy, and Negro Lampino pigs taste similar. The Lampino has very little hair.

Hairs are relatively easily removed by scalding. Why the bias against hair?

My guess is that people just prefer pretty & delicate looking animals. Wild animals don't look nice.

Which of the following pigs would you trust:
wild boar

or this pig:

F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan

If I saw the first one, I'd try to get away from it. It just looks too mean and dangerous. The second one looks like something you could push around.

In the old days, the common breeds looked a lot like the wild boar:

Eventually those pigs were improved via Chinese breeds like the Meishan. Those breeds have fine hair, and very little of it:

Meishan boar getting an injection

The Chinese bred their local wild boars into pigs resembling the Meishan: pug-nosed, fat-prone pigs with fine hair. The Meishan comes from a hot climate, but even so, its hair is particularly fine and sparse:

Meishan pigs

When pigs like the Meishan were introduced to Europe in the 1700s, Europeans crossed them with their traditional breeds. The resulting crosses tasted better, produced more pigs per litter. They had more hair than the Meishans, but in general, they looked a lot more refined than the half-wild breeds of Europe. Here's a F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan cross. It looks a lot like a typical domesticated pig, despite its sire being ridiculously bristly in comparison:

F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan aka "Wu-Tang Pig"

Why is the Meishan (the pigs next to the human) so odd-looking? The answer is that it has been the most selected by humans. Chinese had thousands of years to breed their wild pigs into something they liked having around. Lazy, big-headed, docile, pug-nosed pigs are what they like.

Back in the 1700s, if you were in Europe and saw a pig with fine hair, you knew it has to be the product of a lot of breeding, and hence probably better for pork production.

It is easy to see how the bristly hogs would go extinct, even if they produced as efficiently as the non-bristly hogs. All it takes is people "playing it safe" for that to happen.

Why all this Matters

In order to produce high-quality 100% lard-type pigs, we have crossbred Mangalitsa pigs with Meishans. The F1s look a lot like domesticated pigs.

We've taken F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan gilts and bred them back to Mangalitsa boars, producing Mangalitsa x (Mangalitsa x Meishan) pigs. They look a lot like the F1s, despite having 75% Mangalitsa genetics. It is an amazing phenomenon. One wonders how the 87.5%-12.5% Mangalitsa-Meishan crosses would look.

Despite the Mangalitsa-Meishan crosses being excellent tasting, hardy, and quick-growing, we probably won't sell many as feeder pigs. The reason is clear: our efforts the last few years have created demand for Swallow-belly Mangalitsa pigs. Even if a pig has 75% Swallow-belly Mangalitsa genetics, if it just looks like a black pig, the fact that it is more disease resistant, grows faster and so on isn't going to offset the fact that it looks like a regular pig.

Customers that want Mangalitsa pigs need Mangalitsa-looking pigs.

The Berkshire crosses (75% Mangalitsa 25% Berkshire) that we've been producing the last two years probably don't taste as good as Mangalitsa-Meishan crosses, but at least they look the part.

One of the reasons I imported the Mangalitsa pigs was not only did they taste incredible, they looked incredible. As I expected, it is fairly easy to show people a Mangalitsa pig and convince them that they taste different from regular pigs.

I think it would have been much harder to start a business built on Meishan pigs, despite them being an excellent lard-type breed, because they look too ugly, and the crosses look too much like normal pigs.

No comments: