In 1989 after years of contentious negotiations the USDA ,The University of Illinois and Iowa State University received the only direct importation of Chinese Meishan hogs( along with a small group of Fenging and Minzhu hogs) to ever reach the United States. Under agreement with the Chinese these hogs were for research purposes only.None would be released into commercial or private breeding stock until the experiments were concluded. The actual number of pure Meishan pigs was very small. Here is an excerpt from the Illinois Extension web page
"The University of Illinois Imported Swine Research Laboratory received 21 Meishan (Ms) females in July 1989, as part of a joint University of Illinois - Iowa State University - USDA-ARS importation of 65 Ms gilts and 30 Ms, 24 Fengjing (F) and 21 Minzhu boars from the Peoples' Republic of China. The Ms pigs represented 10 distinct families which were unrelated back to their grandparents "
In talking with some of the actual researchers every care was made to divide the genetics equally. If three pigs came from one liter each research facility got one pig each. Once divided the herds would never genetically interact again. Different experiments,natural inter group rivalries and the simple disconnect of physical difference sent each herd along its own path.I know for a fact that in at least two cases the Fengjing and Minzhu genetics were never interbred with the Meishan Genetics. Everyone I talked to assumed that was the case for all three research herds.The Meishan was selected because at the time plummeting US pork prices had slammed hard against a need for higher breeding efficiency. And the Meishan was one of the most prolific pigs in the world.Averaging 15-18 piglets per liter when US breeds at the time were mired in the 10-12 range at best. And Meishans reached sexual maturity faster.On average 105 days(over 3 months) faster than a common Yorkshire or Duroc. Meishans were also great mothers featuring 16-18 teats or more and exhibiting a higher wean to farrow ratio than the typical commercial piglet squasher. So here was a pig that could breed sooner,have more piglets,have more milk and raise more to weanling size Studies would show that with as little as 25% Meishan in a cross all of those benefits would at least partially transfer to the progeny. The "super pig" had arrived. Or had it?At just about the same time the Pork Industry was adjusting to new American consumer demands. One might argue those changing demands were driven by false premises on pasture raised fats but thats another blog post. In any case pork was well on its way to becoming "the new white meat". And that is where the Meishan fell short.Because the red, highly prized in the Orient , meat of the Meishan was fatty.Why not? Most heritage breeds had a higher fat content. But alas USDA pork grading was changing literally every few months to place the highest grading (and therefore the highest per pound price for producers) on the meat with the LEAST fat in it.And since every benefit of meishan Genetics also brought with it higher fat content the economic advantages of prolific liters was offset buy lower pork grading standards.
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