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Pig breeding question  RSS feed

 
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I have been reading "Harris on the Pig". I realize the book was written in the late 1800's but found his advice on breeding curious. He recommends not to breed purebreds or a cross between two purebred breeds. His recommendation is to breed fine boned small purebred boars to large crossbreed grade sows. My question is if you do this, how can you maintain any kind of consistency in carcass quality?

 
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I've not read that book, but I've spent hours upon hours discussing breeding among dog breeders. The bottom line is that everybody seems to have their own strong opinion, irregardless if it is backed up by science or on-hand experience. Some breeders have crazy ideas that have very little to do with reality. I've talked with people who were very set against purebreds, but frankly, I couldn't see where their arguments held water. They simply couldn't defend their viewpoint when the discussion got beyond the first 2 minutes. As you can see, I'm not against the concept of purebreds. By the way, neither is nature, if you've noticed.

Consistency is most easily achieved by using purebreds. That's part of the definition of purebred, the ability to reproduce traits with consistency. Thus if you have a pig breed noted for giving consistent quality carcasses, then you can expect to see a high percentage of good carcasses in the litters you produce when breeding purebreds. If you keep the best individuals for your breeding stock, then you should be able to maintain that trait.

Carcass quality can often be achieved by crossing two known breeds, where it was previously learned that doing such a mating gave good carcass quality. Say for example, for years the farmer down the road has been mating Berkshire boars to Yorkshire sows and getting piglets that result in the ideal carcass for your needs. If you do the same thing, assuming that you choose good quality boars and sows, you'd also get the consistently good carcasses that you desired.

Once you start mating crossbreed animals, things can get a little fuzzy. A purebred bred to a crossbred will give somewhat predictable results, but there will be some variability that you can't control. You will see a higher percentage of off-types in the litters. But perhaps you are gaining the benefit of something else, such as increased litter size, that offsets the disadvantages. But once you start mating crossbreed to crossbreed, consistency goes out the door. While the farmer may see a tendency for a large herd, as a whole, to be ok when breeding crossbreed to crossbreed, on the individual level there is going to be wild variations. Thus a small farmer is not going to reap a benefit when breeding only a few litters of those cross-to-cross animals.
 
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Location: NW KS/NE CO State Line
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So, the small boar covering a larger sow makes sense, regardless of pedigree.  Particularly with animals that drop multiple offspring per litter (hogs, rabbits, dogs, cats) a large-frame dam translates into plenty of room for fetal development.  A Flemish giant rabbit carrying a litter from a standard sized sire is more likely to drop a dozen or more kits of reasonable size.  By comparison, two standard sized parents will drop 6-8 kittens.  When a sire's genetic traits outweighs that of the dam, there are fewer offspring littered, and more chances of issues that will require intervention (bottle-feeding for underfed or rejected offspring.)  For a rather dramatic example, if a Chihuahua were to run off while in heat and get caught by a medium to large breed dog, presuming she survives the breeding process, she won't have room for more than one or two pups, and there's a better chance that she, they, or both will die in labor.  Conversely, if, somehow, my male Chihuahua runs off again and finds a willing bird dog, she might well carry 6-8 puppies to term without issues because their Chihuahua genetics will reduce their overall size.  

Anyway, back to the hogs.  I grew up going to school with the daughters of a hog farmer who had a fairly successful breeding program for a handful of breeds, and made some pretty spunky crosses.  Of particular note were those produced when he added a Berk boar to the herd.  The Berk/Duroc piglets were relegated as feeders, and I, as well as many others, had great success with them.  They put on weight like a Duroc, but the quality of carcass showed the Berk line.  He saved back some of the gilts, and covered them with a Duroc boar, getting a red hog with a white shoulder belt.  These hogs gained weight almost as well as the CAFO-lined Durocs, but were less likely to show apple-butt and other signs of being fatter than the market wanted because of that 1/4 of Berk.  

The approach isn't so much survivor genetics as it is fine tuning the meat you want to produce.  If we were looking for pure survivor genetics,there'd be a great opportunity for a Feral Hog Wrangler to ship his catch across the country for pastured pork producers.  
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Chris, I can understand taking an F-1 sow and breeding it to a terminal purebred boar. In that breeding scheme you will get some consistency. However I get the idea that Harris is talking about breeding a grade sow of unknown heritage to a fine boned purebred boar. His point seems to be the breeding on the sow doesn't matter as long as she is large framed and has the capacity to carry and deliver a large litter and milk well. Since half the genetics come from the sow, I don't see how you can get any consistency in carcass traits breeding that way.

This brings me to another question. Do any of the heritage breeds evaluate bloodlines for carcass traits(i.e. Loin size, marbling etc)? Since pigs can have up to two litters a year, it seems like it would be very quick and easy to identify those bloodlines in each breed that produce the best carcasses. It's done in cattle, but takes much longer.
 
Chris Palmberg
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Bear in mind that genetics in that era were still highly experimental, and in a lot of areas, largely dependent upon availability.  It's highly likely that the modern euphemism for that crossbred sow would be bush hog... rather than shipping in a whole sty of Tamsworth or whatever, a single boar could cover multiple bush sows.  While in our modern mentality, this means a loss of standardized offspring because they're losing genetic stability, look at it from the opposite viewpoint.  I've got a herd of hogs who were trapped off feral herds.  I'm ADDING genetic purity to my herd, because the Pure/Bush F1 is 50% Pure, F2 will be 75% pure, and by F3, which is also Year 3, you've got an 87.5% Pure litter dropping.  To further explore this concept, look at the American Landrace breed.  

As for heritage breeds, I presume they do keep an eye to hanging quality.  The issue there is going to be that there are, for the most part, three types of hogs.  Those bred for CAFO genetics, (where the carcass qualities are carefully monitored, I'm certain,) heritage breeds (where the producers are worried as much about sustainment genetics as carcasses) and the I want bacon crowd... the last is people who don't care as long as it oinks and produces bacon.  Before I get tossed into a sty, I'm oversimplifying this measure, but let's be honest.  When one speaks of a heritage breed where only a handful of lines exist, it's more about reestablishing the breed than it is about optimizing marketability.  
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Chris, I do realize the book was written in the late 1800's. The problem is people with no experience such as myself who are looking at getting started in pigs are reading it today. Thus the reason for my post asking if harris's advice has any validity today. It didn't make any sense to me if you are trying to produce consistent carcass quality.  You mentioned the CAFO folks paying attention to carcass traits. I don't think CAFO pigs have any desirable carcass qualities as evidenced by what is sold in the grocery stores....no marbling, no flavor and tough as a boot. Have you noticed most packaged cuts of pork now have written in fine print "contains up to a 15% solution to enhance flavor". That's because CAFO pork has no flavor. Back to Harris, Maybe the only good advice he is sharing on pig breeding is the use of large framed broody sows. As I read Harris I'm getting the idea that reading his book should be done from the standpoint of historical entertainment and not taken as advice for today. Yet it is still recommended reading by several folks which is why I bought it.
 
Chris Palmberg
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Perhaps I have a different concept of what "carcass traits" means... CAFO across the board, whether turkeys, chickens, tilapia, beef, or pork, has long focused on quantity over quality.  They're looking at the wrong side of the equation, in the opinion of myself and likely every person on this forum, but because IN MOST CASES hog breeders are largely disconnected from their products, they aren't in a position to see the quality of their product isolated.  Thus, they view their product based upon the live appearance.  Frame, musculature, a lack of fat across the back and hind quarters... sit down and talk to a 4-H, FFA, or collegiate livestock judging contestant and they'll be able to explain all of the qualities they look for in a live animal.  

So, yes.  I agree that most pork producers (since an overwhelming majority are growing for mass production) have lost site of the quality factors in their hogs.  You probably recall when the new American Pork Council slogan "Pork: The Other White Meat" launched in the mid 1980s.  That's when they stopped worrying about quality in lieu of quantity.  
 
Ron Metz
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Chris, I couldn't agree more. It's the same with most food sold by grocery stores. Big beautiful apples, tomatoes, oranges etc that have no flavor or shelf
life. Most recently you can't find shrimp, salmon etc that isn't farm raised in some foreign country. Farm raised salmon is fed red dye to make it look pink. I'm getting off topic. The other white meat campaign was a result of all the bogus info we consumers were fed saying fat was bad for us when actually it's all the carbs in the American diet that are killing us.
 
Chris Palmberg
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Ron Metz wrote: The other white meat campaign was a result of all the bogus info we consumers were fed saying fat was bad for us when actually it's all the carbs in the American diet that are killing us.



I'd disagree.  The white meat campaign was a calculated decision based upon the fact that the low activity levels of CAFO hogs decreased the vascularity of the musculature, changing it to a pale pink instead of a red meat.  Regardless, the consumer public bought it lock stock and barrel.  
 
Ron Metz
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Chris, my recollection of the '8o's was anything that contained fat was condemned. Eggs, milk, butter, meat unless low fat were killing you by way of heart disease, stroke, cancer etc according to the AMA and the government. Low fat milk, margarine, egg beaters and lean meat were all pushed as healthy. Now we are finding out low fat and high carbs are the culprits leading to heart disease. The government and the AMA are once again singing the praises of real eggs, whole milk etc and the role of healthy fat in our diets. How does this relate to the swine industry? Chicken was pushed to be the low fat white meat of choice instead of evil beef and pork. USDA even eliminated the prime grade as the best cut of beef and named Choice beef as the top grade because it had less fat. The pork industry had to do something to compete. They came up with "the other white meat" campaign. The pork industry went to CAFO's and bred for animals that were lean and gained weight fast. What you are saying about CAFO pork becoming paler was the result of breeding for lean confined hogs, but not the reason for the "other white meat" campaign. It was breeding for less fat that changed the color and quality of pork. Otherwise how can you explain the lack of marbling in the pork? Kobe beef is the most marbled beef in the world and those animals are raised in confinement and the meat is still red.
 
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