What is “Rare Breed” Pork?

 

The question often comes up… what exactly is “rare breed” pork?

Simply put, it’s pork from rare breeds of swine. All rare breeds are heritage breeds, but not all heritage breeds are rare! In many cases, rare breed pork is produced by breed conservators working to secure the future of the rare breeds they work with. Animals have traceable pedigrees and parent stock is registered. Sometimes rare breed pork may be a cross of two rare breeds, such as a Meishan/Kunekune or Meishan/Gloucester Old Spots cross.

The pigs we raise are rare breeds. The Kunekune pig, utilized as we are, for pork production, is incredibly rare for pork use- most Kunekune pigs are sold as pets. The American Kunekune Pig Registry has averaged approximately 1000 piglets born annually over the last fifteen years, but of those, only an average of 300 piglets per year were actually registered as breeding stock (source: AKPR Herd Book). If the Livestock Conservancy did place the Kunekune pig under study, these statistics would place the Kunekune under “Threatened” status, which equates to less than 1,000 animals being registered per annum. “Critically Endangered” status is 200 or less registrations per year, which means the Kunekune are much closer to being Critically Endagered, than they are Threatened. Rare breed pork? You bet. Very rare, and in need of our stewardship.

In the 70’s, the Kunekune was almost extinct- just eighteen pigs saved the breed that today, is recovering. As the Kunekune is very rarely used for pork, it isn’t considered on many livestock lists, or pages showcasing rare breeds. The number of producers offering Kunekune pork in the USA is extremely small- a google search doesn’t yield much about Kunekune pork, or where to purchase it. Our farm is one of few offering USDA cuts and value added products. Commercially available Kunekune pork is a rarity, and dedicated breeders are seeking to change that!

The Meishan pig is globally threatened and under study with the Livestock Conservancy. The number of Meishan pigs in the United States is extremely small, and an even more minute percentage is registered.

The moniker “Rare Breed Pork” is often used erroneously.  Example (in the USA) Berkshire isn’t a rare breed.  Duroc isn’t a rare breed. Or Landrace. Or Yorkshire. Or Spots. Or Poland China. Or Bluebutt (that’s a cross!). Or Hampshire. Yorkshire is the most common breed of pig in the United States. Berkshire is the THIRD most common! (source: Pork.org). The former examples could/would more accurately be “Heritage Pork”in some cases (such as utilization of old lines from breeders raising for old fashioned, non-commercialized attributes), although for all intents and purposes, many of the breeders were “modernized” for muscle, leanness, fast growth, and less fat.

So, what breeds in the United STates ARE rare breeds?

Kunekune (Considered rare in the USA, especially for pork production. Conservation status listed with zoos nationwide as “not studied, considered rare” Kunekunes were originally raised for pork by the indigenous Maori people, but most in the UK and US see the breed as a pet)

Meishan * – Critically endangered as per Livestock Conservancy – Fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population less than 2,000)

Ossabaw *

Mangalitsa – An imported rare breed from Hungary.

Gloucester Old Spots (not to be confused with “spots” or “old spots”– these latter two are not the same breed as the GOS!)

Red Wattle *

Mulefoot *

Choctaw *

American Guinea Hog *

Large Black *

Hereford *

Tamworth *

Saddleback *

* – asterisk breeds are listed rare with Livestock Conservancy.

 

Trends come and go, but a breed’s standard is eternal

I’ve been working on the ideas behind this post ever since having a conversation with my Salmon Faverolles mentor, about how coming from an artistic background can lend itself wonderfully to breeding poultry (or pigs!). A recent post from the AKPR about the breed standard being a blueprint for breeders, led me to think about the existing blueprints of perfection that already exist in nature… and how they subconsciously (or in my case, consciously- due to my past training) may influence our selections. This also relates to many of our deliberate breeding selections as they relate to the Kunekune pigs form AND function.

 

Despite my muddy boots and work-hardened hands, I have an interesting pathway into farming. I worked at a dairy farm all throughout my teen years, and my grandparents were both avid gardeners, but my Mother wanted more genteel things for me. I was classically trained in piano, cello, viola and violin- learning that nothing matters if not for your technique and ability to master the basics. One should walk before they run. Later, I began to study classical ballet, and danced for almost three decades- sometimes spending 15-20 hours a week solely at the barre learning core technique. Again, the basics. The very underlying foundations that one must learn and master to create strong foundations for future success. In college and graduate school at Rochester Institute of Technology, I studied photography and graphic design. My graduate work was under one of America’s great designers- R. Roger Remington. Under his tutelage, we explored the very roots of what makes a design great. And those roots are in the foundation of the design- the exact form and structure, typically well-trenched in the basics of visual Gestalt principles and the golden mean, the Fibonacci sequence.

The golden mean is found all throughout nature, it’s the mathematical perfection whereby harmony is mathematically expressed. Each segment of the sequence is a direct result of the former, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts- but being nothing without it’s parts! This sequence can be applied to anything organic or inorganic. It exists everywhere, naturally. Without it, there is chaos. “The Golden Number” is a fascinating site that compiles all sorts of instances of the golden mean at work in life and art.

 

The facial features of a koala bear show golden ratio proportions in the dimensions and positions of the eyes, nose and mouth in relation to the dimensions of the face. (source: goldennumber.net When we’re attracted to Kunekune pigs with faces that have teddy bear proportions, it’s not a coincidence. It’s the golden mean at work.

 

Above koala bear with golden mean overlaid with a Kunekune piglet. Anais is one of my favorite piglets of this year. Interestingly enough, her facial proportions exactly match the koala bear!

While seen as a much overused cliche in the design world, architect Louis Sullivan’s mantra “Form follows function” means that the purpose of a building should be the starting point for its design. In other words, that the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose. This makes obvious sense in nature, as we see a world so perfectly created, with plants and animals uniquely adapted to their purpose by virtue of their design. Things get murky when man’s hand touches nature’s perfection, however. In this I believe that whenever our influence is involved, we should stay true to an animal’s purpose. And for that individual animal, the sum of it’s overall parts maintaining their original purposes.

What does that mean? Well, it means that legs are for support and movement. They shouldn’t be so short that the animal can’t efficiently move or breed. They should be sturdy enough to support the animal throughout all of it’s life. Eyes are for seeing. Don’t diminish sight with folds of skin, or ears that completely obscure the field of vision. Snouts are for rooting, scent, and breathing. Allow them to be long enough for a pig to be a pig. And to be a healthy animal that can breathe throughout it’s life cycle. Mouths are for grazing and eating. Don’t breed for traits that obscure that. Teats are for nursing offspring. Let there be a reasonable number of well-spaced, functional teats. And so on, and so forth! You get the idea, right? Selective breeding is no different than playing a God-like role in an animal’s future generations, so we have a great responsibility to make wise decisions.

Every breeder has their own preferences and things that they work on. We start from the bottom and work our way up. The goal is not so much for form to directly follow function, but for them work in harmony, as Kunekune pigs are a visually distinctive heritage breed. Their form and function are closely intertwined in order to marry their purpose with their appearance. It’s that appearance that is what visually defines a pure & heritage breed above and beyond it’s obvious genetics.

The Kunekune pig has a job to do, while doing it with style. You may have heard the quote “Trends come and go, style is eternal”. It was said by the fashion designer Yves St. Laurent. His designs have stood the test of time and are seen by many as classics. A breed’s standard is the timeless “style” for that breed. It’s the guidebook by which you strive to consistently produce pigs which emulate the correctness of the standard. Things such as color, are merely trends. Trends come and trends go, but underneath it all, the pig is still a pig and has a job to do. That job may be procreation, or it may be pork… but it’s still a job.

 


 

AKPR Standard of Perfection

American Standard of Perfection ~ Revised 2018:

Updating of the Standard of Perfection for the Kunekune Pig breed is intended to provide a clear description of Kunekune characteristics for pasture, pork, and progeny.

When Kunekune Pigs are judged in the show ring, these characteristics and how well each pig displays them shall be the basis for awarded points and placement.  Consideration of the head is of paramount importance when evaluating the breed.  Head type identifies the breed as a grazer not prone to root and is considered unique to the breed.  Judges please note the weightiness given to head type.

General Appearance:

Form: Relatively long, level, and deep. Boars generally weighing up to 400 pounds and sows generally up to 350 pounds, the result of a thick cover of firm flesh and fat.

Quality: Uniform covering of hair, clean skin, medium/heavy bone, even covering of flesh and fat.

Condition: Overall appearance shall be one of balance. Deep uniform covering of flesh and fat especially in regions of valuable cuts.

Characteristics:

Head: Proportionate to body, evenly set on shoulders. Broad. Wide forehead. Short, broad, upturned snout with large, symmetrical nostrils to facilitate respiratory ease and teeth suitable for grazing. Teeth shall be set back inside the mouth and must not protrude when mouth is closed. Medium to heavy jowl, not wasty. Sweeping jawline. 10 points

Objections: Head not proportionate to body size, set unevenly. Narrow forehead – animals with wider foreheads are generally symmetrical and wider in the chest and back. Longer, shallower heads generally correlate with a similar body type resulting in less meat mass. Long, straight snout, uneven nostrils, teeth whose angle is unsuitable for grazing, protruding teeth or teeth set forward, droopy bottom lip. Wasty jowl (excessively fat), or thin, trim.

Eyes: Set well apart and symmetrical, bright, intelligent and kind. 5 points

Objections: Eyes set narrow or at unequal levels. Dull.

Ears: Set wide apart on the top corners of the head. Symmetrical in form and attachment. Pricked to semi-lopped, inclined forward. Under control of the hog. Settling firmly out over the eyes when grazing – ears should have the appearance of a visor over the eye, coming firmly from the head and out. 5 points

Objections: Ears set narrow or not of the same size, set or shape. Ears that roll up or are laterally folded along their length shall be avoided. Ears set on the side of the head, point outward to the side, not inclined forward, lopped. Ears may curb vision but should not obscure forward view. Emphasis to avoid ears that are laterally folded along their length as though “folded in half”. Purpose of ears include hearing, but also protection of the eyes from sun.

Wattles: Two, well-formed and well-attached in the same location on the corner of the jowl on each side hanging freely. Firm and of kidney or thumb shape. Symmetrical in size and shape.

5 points

Objections: Less than two wattles, poorly attached, uneven size or shape, unevenly set on jowl. Wattles set high causing wattles to flare out.

Neck: Short to medium, proportionately and evenly set on shoulders. Deep and thick. 5 points

Objections: Long, uneven, thin, shallow.

Shoulders: Level and in proportion to hams, broad, deep, full. Sloping and aligned with legs and sides. Well developed. Muscle extending well down legs. Should not protrude above the line of the back. 5 points

Objections: Shoulders not uniform with hams, thin, shallow, weak, protruding above level of back.

Chest: Moderately wide between the legs. Deep girth. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, shallow, thin. Front legs set too narrow or too wide for chest width.

Back & Loin: Strong, level or slightly arched when grazing. Medium to long length and level to root of tail. Width even from shoulder to ham/rump when viewing from above. Even and smooth, firm not pliable. Rounded at croup, base of tail not flat. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, swayed or highly arched back, weak or mushy. Heritage hogs’ width typically averages the same from shoulder to ham/rump. Pliable feel to back could mean that the hog retains too much fat. Length should not be excessive as this can affect breeding and the productive life of hog due to weakness. Flat croup (area in front of the tail).

Sides & Ribs: Deep. Well-sprung ribs in proportion with shoulders and hams. Symmetrical from front to back. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, thin, shallow, pinched. *Long, deep bodied animals indicate a good capacity for organs and carry a larger quantity of high quality loin cuts.

Belly & Flank: Thick, flat, even underline. Flank smooth and full, in line with the sides, well let down. 5 points

Objections: Flabby, loose, droopy underline. Underline pulled up or thin. Flank out of line with sides.

Teats: At least 10 sound, evenly spaced, well-paired teats starting well forward. 5 points

Objections: Blind or inverted teats in gilts, sows, or boars. *Animals with 12 or more teats are desirable.

Hams & Rump: Hams broad and deep with good width coming well down to the hock. Rump slightly rounded from loin to base of tail. 5 points

Objections: Narrow, thin, long hams not extending well down to hock. Rump narrow, too flat, or dropping off too sharply. Flat croup.

Tail: Curled or crooked expressing movement. Set high. Attached as the hip falls from the back. With no depression at root. Moderately long but not coarse, well tasseled. 5 points

Objections: Straight, short, lack of tassel. *Tail set too low indicates steep rump which can lead to various joint, breeding and birthing issues due to stress on joints, restricted motion, and mal-alignment.

Legs: Short to medium, straight, strong boned, well tapered and well set apart. Pasterns springy, providing adequate cushion, consistent with heritage breeds. 5 points

Objections: Extremely long, short or thin legs. Knock knees, bucked knees, or pigeon toed. Post legged or stiffness – lack of proper shock absorption during locomotion. Legs set too narrow. Legs should be solid, thick and strong, placed squarely on all four corners of the body to provide adequate balance and proper support for the weight of the hog*. Rear legs should not appear to be standing on tiptoes nor be rocked back onto pasterns. Dew claws off of the ground when on firm footing. Weak foreleg pasterns are tolerable in heritage hogs but weak knees must be avoided due to premature breakdown of animals with the anatomical deformity. *Back legs set under the animal is common and true to heritage breeds, therefore, should not be considered a fault.

Feet: Strong with even, short to medium cleys consistent with heritage breeds. 5 points

Objections: Overly splayed. Excessively flat footed. Cleys of unequal size, twisted, or overly long. *Commercial breeds have been bred to stand upright on small, closed toes to improve the appearance of the hams without consideration of comfort for ease of movement on pasture. Heritage breeds often display soft, flexible pasterns with open toes appropriate for their age and weight. Open toes and flexible pasterns are true to heritage breeds and should not be viewed as a fault.

Skin & Hair: Clean coat of fine quality, any color, texture, or pattern except in the case of a true belt. 5 points

Objections: Hair not covering the body evenly. Swirls, cowlicks, hair growing in different directions on the body. Dullness. Lumps, bumps, or roughness of skin. A “true belt” is a disqualification in the show ring, however, the pig is registerable by the AKPR Registered Breeder with proof of parentage via DNA from AKPR Registered parents. “True Belt” is defined as “an unbroken band encircling the body (no spots/blotches and without bleeding) and including the front legs and feet”.

Testicles: Easily seen with each of the same size and carriage. *Points will be awarded under sexual characteristics of boar.

Objections: Uneven size or carriage, not easily seen. Flabby low scrotum. *Testicles that are not apparent may be due to over conditioning (too fat) at a young age and can result in infertility in boars. Testicles can be drawn up and held to the age of 8 to 12 months in some bloodlines/individuals. Testicles in some animals are held close to the body before relaxing and letting down in the aged boar.

Temperament: Placid in nature, active and alert, confident, docile, inquisitive. Easily handled and driven.

5 points

Objections: Wild, aggressive, difficult to control or drive. Dull.

Action: Free, firm, fluid and forward in motion. Alert. 5 points

Objections: Limping, lameness, stiffness, weak, wobbling. Dull.

Sexual Characteristics:

MALE ~ boars should be strong in traits peculiar to the sex. Head may be slightly coarse, the neck full and arched somewhat, with the shoulder heavy. The forequarters are usually slightly heavier than the hind quarters and this distinction grows more evident with age as shields develop. Strength of frame without coarseness is desirable. Body should be deep, long, and low. Strong, short/medium legs with straight pasterns. At least 10 sound, evenly spaced, well-paired teats starting well forward. 5 points

FEMALE ~ after breed type, sex type is of first and foremost importance in sows. She shall have no signs of coarseness instead being feminine in overall appearance, neat, and sharp. The width before and behind should be almost uniform. Length of body abundant for growing litters and easy farrowing. She shall possess at least 10 sound, evenly spaced, well-paired teats starting well forward, none blind. 5 points

Possible Points: 100

What Kunekune Breed Conservation Means to Us…

No doubt, we have a unique farm model compared to most. Our small farm is based on rare and heritage breed conservation, while most small farms are based on producing healthy & wholesome locally produced food. The rare breed heritage pork we produce is dependent upon how strict we are with our breeding program, and as such it also gives us the flexibility to “cull hard”. In other words, to be able to remove certain animals from our breeding program based on their quality and adherence to the breed standard (and our farm’s goals) without stress or anxiety, as we know the animal will be utilized for breed-specific pork, which will in turn contribute to the breed conservation effort. We tell our pork customers, “Every bite of our pork helps us to continue our work with conserving the breeds we love”, and this couldn’t be more true. Our weekly pork sales keep our animals fed and hayed, and our farm running. Conservation through utilization is crucial for rare & heritage breed animals, because without a use or purpose for them, there is no reason for farmers to continue working with them. For our pigs, that use is pork. This is difficult for many people to understand.

Conservation breeding programs aren’t easy, and they don’t exactly lend themselves to efficient food production (smaller pigs, longer grow out times versus large pigs that grow fast- you get the picture, what we do is very much a niche, premium product). They require one to continually make tough decisions and look upon the animals in their herd with a keen and unforgiving eye. One cannot be wearing “rose colored barn glasses”, in which they see every animal as one that should be registered and sold. It often helps to enlist a second set of eyes, as it can be difficult to evaluate your animals with a critical eye, and it does take time to learn the visual and comparative skills necessary to make such judgment calls. We are, and always will be- learning, and refining our gaze. How we see our pigs will change from year to year, as we learn more and continue gaining experience.

We are several years in to working with Kunekune pigs, and they are our true love, above and beyond all breeds of swine. In wanting to do our very best work with the breed, we’re constantly seeking to improve the quality of our herd, and conducting a yearly herd cull in which we thin our herd and shift our focus based on the previous year. Anyone can breed two registered Kunekune pigs together, produce offspring, sell them as registered piglets, and be part of conserving a breed… but when it comes to this breed’s future, that isn’t enough. The Kunekune breed needs breeders who are extremely serious about the breed, willing to cull hard and make sacrifices (even if it means culling a registered breeder they paid a lot of money for!) and having a meat cull program, whether on site or in partnership with another farm.

To us, Breed Conservation means the following, and more…

 

Doing the best you can, with what you’ve started with. Not everyone is able to start off with the best of the best. In fact, most of us don’t start off this way.


Becoming a member of your breed’s society or registry. Membership has it’s perks!


– Working with registered stock. Papers DO mean everything in terms of breed conservation efforts. Documenting pedigrees and having the option for others to utilize the genetics you are working hard to produce on your farm, is important. Without DNA testing & registration, this becomes futile. Last year, we sold four homestead pairs to people we knew personally, for pork production use. This year and from now on, no unregistered intact pigs are leaving our farm. We don’t believe that working with or selling unregistered stock helps with our breed conservation goals (or anyone’s). This is our viewpoint, it is a controversial topic and others may feel differently. For us, we see our area inundated with cheap and poor quality unregistered pigs. Many are crosses, but people are led to believe they have bought and are working with Kunekunes. Many buy these for pork production and end up with small pigs that never make weight, or there are temperament issues related to pigs not being pure Kunekune. Then there are the aesthetics of conformation, which is a whole other topic.

Did you buy unregistered pigs when you started off? Only in very rare cases will a breeder who sells unregistered pigs be willing to register them for you. Only the breeder can register and truth be told, some people just don’t want to do it even though it is quite easy. In many cases, your unregistered pig probably isn’t registration quality, anyway. If you bought unregistered pigs, you have two choices: use those pigs to produce bacon bits for your farm’s pork production OR process those pigs and start over again with registered stock.


– Learning anything and everything you can about the breed’s history. For Kunekune pigs, this involves learning the breed’s history in New Zealand, as well as in the UK. Becoming familiar with the import history and the imported pigs.


– Retaining pigs and building your own herd. If you’re utilizing your original seed stock over and over again, and not retaining offspring to breed into future generations, then you’re only at the tip of the iceberg of conservation breeding. Conservation breeding always looks to the future and for us, is about developing our farm’s own characteristic lines that suit the needs of our climate, environment and usage.


– Having a cull program. For us personally, this involves registering or retaining for observation, only the best piglets. All others are ear-marked for our meat herd. We make promoting and selling our pork a top priority so that we will always have a market for our product.


– Focusing on your own unique breeding program and pork production, that is geared towards the demographic for your area. We don’t focus on pet sales, at all. This is just a personal choice, as well as a controversial topic. Conservation breeding is not about trying to price fix or control what other breeders do, nor is it about trying to force other breeders to do/see things the way you do. We all have different situations and business models. This blog post is just our opinion- not an end-all, be-all for Kunekune conservation breeding. Everyone will have a different situation, price structure and manner in which they work. The ultimate “seal of approval” is the legacy you leave behind as a breeder.  If you’re a bad breeder, people will stop working with you, period. The Kunekune community is small and close-knit. Honesty is always the best policy.


Making hard decisions, every year. Looking hard at the animals in your herd and what they have produced and deciding who stays and who goes. And by who goes… I don’t mean selling a problem pig to an unsuspecting buyer. I mean pigs that haven’t produced as hoped. These are ones that should be utilized for pork. Last year we culled numerous registered pigs, that we had paid a good deal of money or traded time/labor for. It was painful to do it, but there is no way to make forward progress in a breeding program without culling ruthlessly and making sacrifices.

Yes, they equated to the most expensive pork chops ever… but our herd is better off for it. And each year as we thin the herd for improvement, we will be producing stronger pigs in the future based on those decisions. We just did our 2018 cull and have 8 registered breeders slated for meat production. Four of them were purchased from another breeder and could certainly be sold to someone else, but at this point they are worth more to us in terms of meat sales, and if they don’t meet our goals, why pass them forward to someone else? Another four of them were pigs we had retained and registered, but who didn’t make the cut. Culling hard is the only way we are going to meet our goals. It’s already taking us longer to do it because of pitfalls related to registration mishaps and working with pigs that ultimately didn’t meet our farm goals.


– Making plans for the future, identifying the traits that are weak (and strong) in your herd, and what steps you need to take to improve upon them. This could include retaining more pigs with certain type traits, or planning to add future foundation stock that has the strengths you need to carry on.

 

What conservation breeding means to us will surely change as we grow and progress in our own breeding program. What does it mean to you?

Put [rare breed heritage pork] on your fork! How our pork differs from “supermarket” pork

Market season has begun, and with it we continue our work ardently educating our customers about our breed conservation efforts and how our pork is different. This is our greatest challenge, as people are so used to seeing pork as a cheap, white, readily available meat. We are going against the grain, and it’s not easy to change mindsets.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 In the South, it’s not uncommon for even small farmers to raise pigs in confinement, on concrete- or in a small pen. Some folks are always surprised that our pigs are free ranging, or that they are smaller in size, or that we don’t sell “whole hog sausage” for $3/lb. We live in a society where meat is seen as a cheap commodity, while vegetables are seen as a luxury. Most customers will readily spend $4-5 per pound for fresh broccoli, but balk at spending $12/lb for a beautiful & marbled nutrient-rich pork chop that took 12-18 months and a whole lot of hard work, love and dedication to produce.
 .
The reason for this is that we are trained to expect meat to be cheap. And factory farms pump out millions of animals per year to meet that cheap, government subsidized demand. What most consumers don’t understand is that the vast majority of large-scale agriculture, from corn & wheat to pork & beef out of confinement buildings and feed lots- is government subsidized. You do pay more for that meat, you just don’t realize where your tax dollars are going. Factory farms unfortunately are necessary to meet demand, but as consumers we always have the choice to take our buying power where we wish, and keeping dollars local and invested in small farms is the smart choice for sustainability and our local economy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Our pork is a premium product, that you won’t find at any grocery store and you may not even be able to find a product like it at most farmer’s markets. It is unusual for a small farm to be centered solely around rare breed conservation and working with smaller pigs with long growout times and smaller meat yields- but here we are, doing just that.
 .
The topic of confinement pork- what almost all “supermarket pork” is, always comes up at the farmers market. Factory farmed pork consists of thousands of pigs being raised indoors, in an enclosed space. There is no comparison between this and what pastured farmers do!
 .
In our case, we also factor in the unique meat and fat quality of our rare breed pigs. Both the Kunekune and Meishan pigs produce intricately marbled meat- the equivalent of being the “Waygu beef of the pork world”.
.
How are our pigs different?
.
  • Unlike supermarket pork, our pigs are bred for taste rather than leanness. They are an old fashioned style pig, known as a “lard breed”.
  • Our pork is different by sight alone- the deep red color is both inherent to the breed’s genetics, as well as the slow, outdoor rearing.
  • Pigs reared outdoors, and raised slowly (12-18 months) results in excellent marbling and intramuscular fat, creating incredibly tender pork.
  • Slow growth means a tastier product.
  • Our are happy pigs, and happy pigs taste better. We’d never consider raising pigs in a tiny pen, indoors, or on concrete. Ours are reared outside, free ranging on pasture and in the forest. Piglets stay with their mothers until 6-10 weeks of age depending on breed, litter size, and sow condition.
  • Kunekune and Meishan pigs are bred by a few select breeders who prioritize the breed’s purity, conformation and traceability via pedigreed registration.
  • In buying rare breed pork, you are helping to create demand for rare breeds in need of conservation, which in turn will encourage breeders to continue working with these amazing animals to meet demand for both breeding stock and meat stock!
  • In short, every bite of our pork helps to conserve the breeds we work with. It makes it possible for us to continue our work, manage the intricacies of our breeding program, and do our best work possible.
Thank you for putting rare breed heritage pork on your fork!

How our Pork is Different!

Market season has begun, and with it we continue our work ardently educating our customers about our breed conservation efforts and how our pork is different. This is our greatest challenge, as people are so used to seeing pork as a cheap, white, readily available meat. We are going against the grain, and it’s not easy to change mindsets.

 In the South, it’s not uncommon for even small farmers to raise pigs in confinement, on concrete- or in a small pen. Some folks are always surprised that our pigs are free ranging, or that they are smaller in size, or that we don’t sell “whole hog sausage” for $3/lb. We live in a society where meat is seen as a cheap commodity, while vegetables are seen as a luxury. Most customers will readily spend $4-5 per pound for fresh broccoli, but balk at spending $12/lb for a beautiful & marbled nutrient-rich pork chop that took 12-18 months and a whole lot of hard work, love and dedication to produce.
 .
The reason for this is that we are trained to expect meat to be cheap. And factory farms pump out millions of animals per year to meet that cheap, government subsidized demand. What most consumers don’t understand is that the vast majority of large-scale agriculture, from corn & wheat to pork & beef out of confinement buildings and feed lots- is government subsidized. You do pay more for that meat, you just don’t realize where your tax dollars are going. Factory farms unfortunately are necessary to meet demand, but as consumers we always have the choice to take our buying power where we wish, and keeping dollars local and invested in small farms is the smart choice for sustainability and our local economy!
 Our pork is a premium product, that you won’t find at any grocery store and you may not even be able to find a product like it at most farmer’s markets. It is unusual for a small farm to be centered solely around rare breed conservation and working with smaller pigs with long growout times and smaller meat yields- but here we are, doing just that.
 .
The topic of confinement pork- what almost all “supermarket pork” is, always comes up at the farmers market. Factory farmed pork consists of thousands of pigs being raised indoors, in an enclosed space. There is no comparison between this and what pastured farmers do!
 .
In our case, we also factor in the unique meat and fat quality of our rare breed pigs. Both the Kunekune and Meishan pigs produce intricately marbled meat- the equivalent of being the “Waygu beef of the pork world”.
.
How are our pigs different?
.
  • Unlike supermarket pork, our pigs are bred for taste rather than leanness. They are an old fashioned style pig, known as a “lard breed”.
  • Our pork is different by sight alone- the deep red color is both inherent to the breed’s genetics, as well as the slow, outdoor rearing.
  • Pigs reared outdoors, and raised slowly (12-18 months) results in excellent marbling and intramuscular fat, creating incredibly tender pork.
  • Slow growth means a tastier product.
  • Our are happy pigs, and happy pigs taste better. We’d never consider raising pigs in a tiny pen, indoors, or on concrete. Ours are reared outside, free ranging on pasture and in the forest. Piglets stay with their mothers until 6-10 weeks of age depending on breed, litter size, and sow condition.
  • Kunekune and Meishan pigs are bred by a few select breeders who prioritize the breed’s purity, conformation and traceability via pedigreed registration.
  • In buying rare breed pork, you are helping to create demand for rare breeds in need of conservation, which in turn will encourage breeders to continue working with these amazing animals to meet demand for both breeding stock and meat stock!
  • In short, every bite of our pork helps to conserve the breeds we work with. It makes it possible for us to continue our work, manage the intricacies of our breeding program, and do our best work possible.
Thank you for putting rare breed heritage pork on your fork!

 

Take a Bite out of History with Rare Breed Heritage Pork

A different kind of pig, a different kind of pork! We raise two rare, heritage breeds of swine at Corva Bella. The Kunekune pig (a New Zealand heritage breed, originally kept by the Maori people), and the Meishan pig (a globally threatened Chinese heritage breed with a rich historical legacy). Both Kunekune and Meishan are slow growing, heritage pigs that are efficient on pasture and are fed a varied diet of pasture, hay, fermented grains, windfall fruit and nuts, milk, eggs, beets, pumpkins, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, barley fodder, and garden bounty. We believe in “slow meat” and are part of the #SlowFood movement. Our pigs are sustainably and kindly raised on our small permaculture farm in Upstate SC. Our feeding regimen includes no added hormones or antibiotics.

Breed conservation is a major part of our work, and breed utilization guarantees the ongoing sucess of the breeds we champion! Our delicious and tender pork is a fortunate “side effect” of our conservation breeding programs, where only the best animals continue forward as breeding stock for future generations, while those who aren’t as exceptional or conforming to breed standards, are kept for meat. In the words of The Livestock Conservancy, “Breed the Best, Eat the Rest”.

Ours is a uniquely different approach to small-scale pork production, sustainably based on the future health and success of our beloved breeds. We believe in happy and stress-free pigs. All of our pigs freely roam in pasture and forest areas, where they graze, forage, nap in the sun, wallow in the mud, and sleep in warm and dry pig houses at night. Our herd is protected by a team of Karakachan livestock guardian dogs, Vladimir and Valeska.

PORK… THE OTHER RED MEAT!

Both Meishans and Kunekunes are old fashioned type pigs, which results in a more red, marbled meat and firm, flavorful, creamy fat. Our pork has a rich and complex taste profile, that some describe as being halfway between pork and beef. We recommend cooking low and slow. The Meishan pig is a delicacy in China and Japan and both pigs have been featured at Cochon 555! Some chefs describe the pork as being the “Kobe beef of pork”.

Naturally-reared heritage breed pork is worlds apart from regular grocery store pork, which is a product of factory farming. Animals in confinement are fed primarily corn and soy, as well as “empty” calories, such as production leftovers from bread/cereal/bakery factories. The result is a pale and lifeless pork that cooks up dry and bland. We won’t even comment on the sad lives confinement animals live, sometimes never seeing sunshine or feeling grass under their hooves.

Our historic first litter of Meishan piglets has arrived!

 

We are ecstatic to announce the arrival of our first Meishan litter, out of God’s Blessing Farm “MooShu” (Illinois/Iowa) by God’s Blessing Farm “General Tso” (USDA/USDA). 100% Foundation bloodlines.

This is a historic litter for us and for the breed. It’s our first litter of Meishans, and (to my knowledge) the first Meishan litter born in South Carolina). It’s also the first litter born in the world that combines the bloodlines from all 3 research herds (Iowa State (via Carl Blake/Rustik Rooster Farms stock originally from the Iowa State Herd), University of Illinois and USDA)- 0% COI and incredible genetic diversity previously unknown in this country. (Prior to the Illinois and USDA herd dispersals in 2016, all Meishans in the USA were descended from the Iowa State herd’s 2008 dispersal)

This unification of the three research herd bloodlines is one of the goals that we and other foundation breeders are working on. The reason is that after the original Chinese imports arrived, they were kept separated, with no cross breeding between herds, for over 20 years. Genetic drift studies (The Blackburn Studies) revealed that they had become differentiated from one another. “[Blackburn’s authors] confirmed that to truly breed a hog most similar to the classic Chinese Meishan ,and to assure the broadest genetic base for the breed, a coordinated effort to interbreed the bloodlines (but still preserve pure examples of these bloodlines) would be in the best interest of the breed.” MooShu’s litter is the first litter to do just that. (More extensive breed history: http://www.meishanbreeders.com/breed-history/ )

Ten month old MooShu farrowed ten piglets- 6 gilts and 4 boars, all healthy and active. MooShu was bred at 150 lbs and today is approximately 225. She’ll potentially be 300-350 lbs when fully grown. Meishans are a hyper-productive breed with early sexual maturity, this litter was successfully sired by a 16 week old boar (He was born October 1st and sired this litter on January 21st)- on his first pairing with our gilt (and her first exposure!). We’re thrilled with the profligacy of this rare heritage breed.

As champions of Heritage breeds, my Son and I were immediately drawn to the Meishans after learning about them early last year. At the time, 14 year old Connor had written about them for a 4H project. When I read about God’s Blessing Farm’s incredible acquisition of the last remaining Meishans from the USDA and Illinois herds, I knew this was a breed conservation effort that we had to be a part of.

A few months later, we picked up MooShu (Illinois/Iowa) and her sibling, a barrow. In November we picked up ShuMai (USDA/USDA gilt), General Tso (USDA/USDA boar) and KungPao (Iowa/Illinois boar). Thank you Ricardo Silvera and Angelia Silvera for making the opportunities available for us and others to access these valuable genetics and continue the lineage of these incredible pigs!

Photos include this new litter, some of the incredible Meishan pork we just picked up from our USDA processor, and some of our Meishan herd.

A few select piglets will be available as breeding stock from this litter. I don’t sell Meishan as pets.

Feeding our Pigs for health, happiness, progeny and future flavor!

When you think of what pigs eat, most people envision long troughs full of slop. From my early childhood memories of one of my favorite books, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, Wilbur was fed buckets of slop (often depicted pictorially in a rather gross manner) and his pen attracted a rat named Templeton, who also sorted through the slop. I never imagined that pigs ate grass, or hay. Most of the time we see pigs in muddy pens, being fed in a trough, after all. Or we see them in confinement farms, indoors in artificial environments.

The truth is that pigs love to graze pasture and eat the leaves off low-hanging tree branches. They eat various types of hay, and just about any type of fresh produce. After a good soaking rain, they’ll root for grubs and bugs, or eat the starchy roots of various plants. In a forest environment, they do the same- constantly seeking out nuts and insects.

At Corva Bella, our goal is to have happy, healthy and eventually, delicious pigs. We feed a widely varied diet to achieve all of these goals. We are set up for rotational grazing in both open pasture, silvopasture, and wooded pastures. Our gardens produce a variety of fresh vegetables and greens all year round, and we grow trays of barley fodder in the greenhouse when temperatures are cold, and outdoors when temperatures are stable. The pigs also love eggs, moderate amounts of yogurt and outdated milk, and whey.

Last Fall into Winter, the pigs enjoyed large amounts of apples, melons, pumpkins and sweet potatoes, along with box after box of acorns, beech and hickory nuts we gathered on our property and from neighbors. We also ferment a 14% and 16% locally milled grower feed with added milk to create a mash with increased nutrition and healthy probiotics- this is the bulk of their diet.

The Kunekune and Meishan pigs are unique heritage breeds in that they evolved very close to people. The Kunekune pigs with the Maori tribes of New Zealand, and the Meishan pigs in close quarters with the Chinese of the Taihu Lakes region of China. Pigs are excellent foragers and are very adaptable to their environment. Part of our goal as a permaculture-based sustainable small farm is to create an environment in which everything we plant and grow has a purpose towards sustaining our animals, our selves, and our emerging market farm/CSA offerings.

Spring is just around the corner and we’re already planning what the pigs are going to be eating into the Fall and Winter. This Summer, the pigs will be primarily pasturing, eating produce and hay, and the hopefully, banana leaves. We are planting numerous banana trees in a carefully chosen area and hope that this food source holds true in it’s claimed production. Our climate doesn’t produce fruiting bananas, but the leaves should be plentiful. We planted 25 apple and pear trees last year and will be planting more this year in hopes of one day having plentiful fall apples for the pigs. In the meantime, we’ll visit local orchards to pick up their fallen apples and help clean their orchard floor, while providing a food our pigs love!

Did you know pigs love sunflowers, and will eat the entire head? I learned this last year when I watched a sow stand on her back legs to reach and pull down a sunflower that had dipped into her paddock. Sunflowers are easy to grow and grow very well in our region. We’re planning to devote an entire area of the garden to a large sunflower crop this year. We’ll harvest the heads and be able to store them well into the winter to feed the pigs.

Regular potatoes shouldn’t be fed to pigs, but sweet potatoes are a type of yam and are in a different class altogether. Best of all, both the expansive vines and the tubers themselves are a wonderful food for pigs. We’ve got ten hugelkultur beds we’re currently filling with compost, and last year’s sweet potatoes will be creating this year’s sweet potato slips. Growing in compost, they should reach a sensational size and be an easily stored food source for the pigs throughout the winter.

We’re going to be actively seeking out farmers of pumpkins and watermelons in hopes of trading pastured pork for trailer loads of damaged or leftover produce, but in the meantime will also be growing our own here. Manure compost and old straw/hay are things we have in plentiful amounts and these favorite pig foods grow exceptionally well and even volunteer in our compost areas. Last year a single compost area, without any help from us… grew around 50 melons and watermelons! The pigs also eat the vines.

Our pigs also enjoy eating their hay bedding, and our Kunekune pigs are huge fans of alfalfa.

A varied and healthy diet is important for the health or our breeding stock and growing piglets and junior breeders, but it’s also infinitely important for our meat herd. Why? Because fat holds flavor, and our well-marbled heritage lard breeds are known for their wonderfully textured and delicious fat. What they eat matters. Acorn-finishing is an age-old process, well known in Europe and believed to have been practiced in Ancient Rome. Producers of pastured pork all have their special finishing methods they use to impart the most marbled meat and flavorful fat in their pork.

At Corva Bella, we spend a lot of time ensuring our pigs are receiving the best nutrition from a wide variety of sources. We hope to one day be able to afford to add a Non-GMO feed to our process, in lieu of the locally milled 16% grower we are currently using. This is important to us and is one of our near-future farm goals!