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.
If you are a producer and you are raising a breed that isn’t actually rare, please don’t market your pork as rare. If it’s a heritage breed, market it as that. To do otherwise is misrepresenting your pork, confusing consumers, and diminishing the hard work of breeders who actually are producing rare breed pork. Production of rare breed pork is not easy. Why? Because none of the breeds on the list are commercialized. They are mostly all slower growing, often smaller, old fashioned breeds. Many of them require growout times of 12-18 months. Yields are smaller, costs are higher. The pork itself is very different, and it’s a unique, premium product. For the farmer producing this pork, it is a labor of love. It’s a niche pork, that requires intensive work at marketing and reaching a specific consumer base. No one is saying that your non-rare breed pork isn’t a good product. It’s a different type of product. Example- broccoli and Romanesco broccoli are both a vegetable. Both are considered to be broccoli. But Romanesco? It’s rare. it’s also challenging to grow and requires very specific conditions and a lot of hard work and inputs on the part of the farmer. Your regular broccoli may be heirloom or even grown organically and is probably tasty… but it’s not Romanesco. Get it? It’s that simple. If your pork isn’t rare breed pork, from a rare breed… don’t imply that it is. The average consumer has no idea what rare breeds are without being educated about them. So as a farmer, do your due diligence and know your breeds. Leave the term “Rare breed” to the rare breed producers.
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)
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 *
American Guinea Hog *
Large Black *
* – asterisk breeds are listed rare with Livestock Conservancy.