Amid the resurging interest in farming across the U.S. is farmers’ desire to raise rare livestock breeds—some to reconnect with America’s rural heritage, with others aiming to gain better control of their food sources and provide an alternative to commercial animal products. Whatever their reasons, novice farmers who are leading the small-scale farming renaissance rarely have a preceding generation of farmers they can rely on to gain vital information about how to raise these special breeds.
To help combat this problem, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is working to create and disseminate educational materials about rare heritage-hog breeds. This effort is a key objective in a three-year-long heritage-hog conservation project, which recently received a $150,000 research and education grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
The ALBC, in partnership with the University of Kentucky, Berea College and the University of Missouri, will focus its research on eight swine breeds: Gloucestershire Old Spots, Guinea Hog, Large Black, Mulefoot, Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle, Tamworth and Hereford. These breeds all appear on the ALBC’s Conservation Priority List due to their dwindling populations in the U.S.
As the largest heritage-breed conservation effort of its kind, the heritage-hog project is expected to have a major impact on the conservation of rare-breed genetics as well as on the development of production systems and markets, which will ensure the hog breeds’ long-term survival, notes Jennifer Kendall, ALBC’s marketing and communications director.
“Rare-swine breed associations and their members are in great need for support in the areas of rare-breed husbandry, breeder selection, conservation breeding and marketing,” she says. “With the troubled economy and the steady rise of feed prices, being profitable with heritage swine is challenging, and small farmers need all the help they can get.”
Another aim of the project will be to better understand the relationships between the pig breeds and their individual population structures, enabling the researchers to focus efforts on breeds that are both rare and genomically unique. To do this, the ALBC along with its partners will collect genomic information using DNA and pedigree analysis. While the technique they’ll be implementing is commonly used and has helped the ALBC determine other true-to-breed animal groups, such as Spanish goats and Pineywoods cattle, it will be used for the first time on swine during this project.
Throughout the course of the project, the ALBC will be working directly with small-scale farmers to document production methods and breed characteristics, Kendall says. Farmers who have 10 or more years experience breeding heritage hogs should contact the ALBC at 919-542-5704 or Jeannette Beranger, project manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ALBC aims to fully complete the heritage-hog conservation project in 2013-14, by the grant’s expiration date. The SARE program, which provided the grant, has funded more than 4,800 agriculture-based projects since 1988.