No, we didn’t drive all the way to North Carolina for a pig. We did it for “the” pig!
Many of our customers already know that we raise American Red Wattles on our farm. But, what many don’t know is really how rare they truly are because it seems there are plenty to go around for the backyard farmer. Well, that’s not the case. Many of the pigs you’ll see, especially in our Southern region, aren’t Red Wattles, they are red pigs with wattles but not Red Wattles. The Livestock Conservancy, formerly the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, designates the Red Wattle as a threatened species. This once prolific homestead breed has nearly been crossbred to extinction. That mixed with modern hog farming practices have left little or no room for the breed. The Red Wattle Project recommends an inbreeding coefficient of 6% or less. However, you will often see numbers 5 times this amount due to the lack of diversity and availability. That means that many of our local hogs share a good deal of DNA. Our boar and our new addition have an in-breeding coefficient of less than 3%, sharing extremely low ancestral genetics. These reasons were the driving force, pun intended, for a cross-country trip.
To understand the cross breeding, you’d first need to understand the modern pig farm. I’ll start by saying we’re not crazies who think pigs need blah, blah, blah… We’re actually quite the opposite. There are over 350 million Americans, most of which eat some form of pork, more if you count bacon flavored jellybeans. We won’t even begin to try and put a number on exports. That consumption requires a spectrum of farming practices and there are good husbandry and bad husbandry practices on both extremes. Regardless, as demand continues to grow for a quality product at an affordable price, profit seekers look for every edge they can to maximize their piece of the pork chop. Efficiency at some point becomes the most important factor in creating those profits. With that, know that the mass majority of pork created in our country comes from a very specific hybrid cross. This hybrid pig grows very efficiently in a very controlled environment, fed very specific diets and additives. Please educate yourselves on what those environments, diets, and additives are from your meat providers.
On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got growing demand for a more natural way of doing things. Well, the pigs necessary for those environments don’t really exist. They used to but many of the breeds that were once in our grandparent’s paddock have been selectively bred to now perform in the commercial environment or in a show arena. Neither are viable options for a pig that lives outside and scavenges for much of its diet. Those pigs would struggle heavily with what most would consider mild weather variances, let alone the heat in the South. That’s why the mass of hog farms are up North, heat is cheaper than AC. To add, the fact that they are primarily grown in close quarters and rely heavily on human controls for their immune systems (or lack thereof) they just couldn’t hack the pig life. There’s so much more that goes into this but just as I wouldn’t do well in New York City or Santa Monica, Paris Hilton would struggle dearly in Carthage, we have our places.
What we are left with is a tiny threatened pocket of legitimate heritage hogs and copious amounts of commercial or show stock. The answer for most homesteads; just cross them. Why? It works! You get a fast-growing hog that can do somewhat okay in a system that is somewhere in the middle as well. Many rave about the commercial red wattled hog cross, it provides what they want. Honestly, if the end product was our only barometer for success, we’d be okay with that. But, just okay. Think about this though, as that demand grows also does the amount of commercial non-Red Wattle blood in the hog. Once that hog is crossed it’s easier, do to availability, to go further away form the Red Wattle. Plus, once you drop below 100% you can’t go back, eventually what was, will never be again. That’s where the conservationist farmers come in to play. They’re willing to do things for the animal, the breed or species as a whole, not the pocketbook.
We needed a pig that could live in a natural setting, not an artificial facility. They needed to dig in the dirt for nutrients and flourish without dying from parasites. The hog needed to absorb the suns greatness and bask in it the entire day without dying from heat stress. They needed to grow on a diet that consisted of forages as well as grain, without any additives for growth, hormonal or otherwise. If you haven’t done any Ractopamine research, please do. They needed to breed naturally, believe it or not, most don’t.
Then, they needed to taste like pork! You know the food that somehow grandma could pull off that we can’t, even though we’re using the “same” ingredients. The “other white meat” that wasn’t once so white and bland tasting. The meat we had before white pork and black cows are what we should eat because a commercial said we should... because that’s what can be produced efficiently… $$. In the end, the whole selection and process had to be something Rural Reverie could hang its hat on.
The American Red Wattle’s are exactly that. Six months ago we joined the Red Wattle Project and the Red Wattle Hog Association, we work in unison with the Livestock Conservancy to build demand and thus population numbers of this threatened breed. Since then, we’ve worked diligently to bring genetics and fullblood Red Wattles to our region because our farm has a demand for its meat. We brought Mango in from a farm in Mena Arkansas and now Persimmon from Oxford North Carolina. Prior to them we raised red wattled hogs that we believe to be really good hogs. As we compare our Mango and now Persimmon to our previous hogs, there is a substantial difference between a Red Wattle Hog and a red hog with wattles. We need those genetics to exist for our grandchildren and generations to come, if they are to enjoy real natural pork. Soon in addition to our pork, we hope to offer those genetics to other agriculture conservationists in our area as we grow the demand.
We’ll be home tomorrow mid-day, we decided to take the long way home and see Tennessee. If you’d like to come by the farm to meet our special pigs or see anything else we do just send us a message for a guided educational tour. In a world filled with surface “truths”… come and see! The ethics of pork operations on both ends, to include mine, should be scrutinized. As stated earlier there are good and bad whether small or large but know that your dollar is your voice, know what you support.
We want to thank Chad and Chrissy from Seven Seasons Farm in Oxford, NC. Persimmon aside, the time we spent this morning talking shop made the trip worth taking. They have a beautiful growing farm and are just absolutely wonderful people. If you or anyone you know reside in this area, look them up! Seven Seasons is just as diverse as Rural Reverie but with a couple differences. Along with what we would call “wilderness” Red Wattle pork, they have chickens, goats, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, some beef and dairy cattle, and raw pet milk. We added the picture of their sign and number to this article with their permission.