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Friday, December 11, 2015

Its time to put the "Me" in Meishan

Angie and "Mojo" our best AGH Boar

 Pigs......Who would have figured. When we started this journey almost six years ago I don't think that pigs were a major component in my wife's "master plan" (and this whole thing was her idea). . I know the idea of being a hog breeder wasn't in my consciousness at the time. Flash forward to today and the homestead hog has become a pivotal part of our subsistence homestead model. Notice I said homestead hog. Not the highly muscled standard commercial breeds that fill the aisles at Kroger or even Whole Foods.Not that chicken eating ,fence destroying ,don't turn your back on, mega swine.Not your "new white meat" close to fat free stuff most of us visualize when someone says pork chop.. No for us the homestead hog is above all a red meat lard style carcass hog. Its a hog that's a good barnyard citizen that uses our land not abuses our land.For us to achieve the goal of raising ,growing , gathering or hunting the highest percentage of our food possible (currently about 95%) that success depends in many ways on our pigs and the fats they provide us. To that end we have to date chosen the American Guinea Hog exclusively as the backbone fat and meat supplier in our model.  And its working well. You see our subsistence model is based on feeding us first.Cost offset or even positive cash flow have been subservient to the subsistence goal. Oh I know everyone tells you how their little homestead is going to  grow all their food,make lots of money so they can quit their job, and be the Norman Rockwell nirvana they imagine. Yes we talked like that too.Until reality set in. Feed yourself or farm business quickly became the choice forced by both available time and resources.So today we feed ourselves. Phase one complete....
Now phase two.
How do we take certain components of what we do and make them profitable? Because while we have driven cash flow off of our farm we are just offsetting costs not covering them. Oh and if you are reading this and you are in that Norman Rockwell phase let me give you some advice. Don't quit your day job.
So how do we take something we do and not lose its value to us while increasing its value to the bottom line?
Once again the pig is where we turned. Specifically one of the oldest domesticated breeds of hog in the world. The Meishan Pig
                                     Meishan Pigs at The USDA research center in Nebraka

The Meishan pig was once the focus of an intensive study by the USDA, Iowa State and The University of Illinois beginning in 1989. This study spanned over a decade. You see the Meishan pig is a Chinese hog breed that has been selectively bred to produce high levels of succulent fat for thousands of years.They are also unique in that they are a "hyper productive" .While most heritage hog breed have litters of 4-8 piglets and Commercial breeds target 10-13 Meishan routinely have 15-18 piglets.One Meishan in the USDA study had 28 piglets in one litter.They also enter puberty in 90-120 days as opposed to the 6-10 months of many breeds. It took years of negotiations and literally millions of dollars to bring 33 Meishan sows and  some Meishan (among other) boars to the US. The pigs proved that their hyper-productivity could increase the productivity of other breeds.The rub was that Meishan are a lard carcass and the crosses had increased levels of fat.Remember in the 90's the USDA (the same people who told us Crisco was good for us) were trying to create the super lean rooting machines we have today.The poor Meishan was deemed to have outlived its research value at one of the research facilities and around 2008-2010 the Iowa State herd was dispersed. The remaining herds at the University of Illinois and at the US Meat Animal research center remain sequestered from the average farmer still today.The Iowa State herd was scattered,some were completely lost ,some watered down by other breeds.In fact the lard carcass genetics of many breeds (AGH, Old Line Berkshire,Large Black etc) also fell into disfavor and entire breeds were almost lost. The drawing below is a representation of what Berkshire hogs USED to look like..
 But today everyone from the foodies to the Paleos are driving the resurrection of pasture raised fat. Restaurants and charceuteries cry for fattier red meat pork in a world of dry white wallboard that the USDA grading systems of pork have given us.And those surviving breeds like AGH are poorly suited to American butcher cuts.Plus slow growth and small liters make them poorly suited to many small holder economic models to sell pork. . If there was only a breed that could be crossed with other breeds that wouldnt result in small liters (perish the thought we could get larger ones)but still give higher levels of healthy sweet and delicious fat.
Oh if we just had some Meishan.
Well after over a year of research and long term deposits...Gods Blessing Farm Does
                                                Angie meeting "Chiyo and Pumpkin"
 Yes all the herds traceable to the original stock were not lost. But its taken a long time to research, locate,,negotiate and obtain our first certified pure  Meishan stock traceable directly to the original USDA herd. On December 10th 2015  our boar "Mr Wu" and 2 unrelated gilts "Chiyo" and "Pumpkin" joined the family here.
                                                                   "Mr. Wu"

Now if you had told me six years ago that I would make the effort,and the investment to obtain pig genetics I might have laughed you out of the room. Alas homestead planning rarely follows the homestead path. But the preservation of Meishan Genetics(which are almost irreplaceable in the US) calls to me.Yes I have a vision but mostly I have a gut feel that these pigs are too important to be lost.And no I dont run a museum I run a farm. At the end of this journey I hope and I am gambling on the idea that these pigs can improve many different breeds that can benefit the small holder.


                                              Chiyo and Pumpkin chowing down on turnips

So this project begins.First to establish our herd. Then to begin the search for the compatible breed crosses.First up will be our "American Meishan" project which will attempt to breed a productive lard carcass cross that offers the benefits of both breeds while staying inside the homestead hog template. Then to take our herd and work with the best of other breeds to evaluate compatibility.And finally if the concept proves viable we will be continually looking for lost pure Meishan genetics wherever they may be found.
                                                           Mr Wu...you got work to do...
 But before you think I claim this as original thought its already being done in different places at different levels. There are already forward thinking breeders using Meishan(along with other lard breeds like Mangalista) to fix the pork the USDA "improved". Our efforts are a small drip in a tidal wave of a pork revolution that has already quietly begun.I hope we are good stewards of these and all of our animals. And that is part of my daily prayers to the Lord. Looking forward to keeping a log of the journey.  Thats all from Gods Blessing Farm today.....
                                                               Chiyo  says Hi!