PITTSBORO, N.C. — In the world of local niche foods, raising heritage livestock is becoming just as popular as growing heirloom fruits and vegetables.
A nonprofit organization in North Carolina has received USDA funding from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, or SARE, program to educate farmers on producing and marketing rare swine breeds.
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy works to protect more than 180 historic livestock and poultry breeds and conserve their genetic diversity. Right now, it’s also striving to create more awareness on the proper methods of raising heritage hogs.
They include Gloucestershire Old Spots, Guinea Hog, Large Black, Mulefoot, Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle, Tamworth, and Hereford.
“A lot of the information in raising heritage swine dating back to the 1920s-1940s has all but disappeared,” said Executive Director Chuck Bassett. “We are looking to bring a lot of that knowledge back to ensure that breeders and producers know what to do and how to do it in terms of raising rare breeds for the specialty markets that are demanding them.”
The conservancy received a three-year $151,215 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant to establish best management practices and husbandry skills, produce educational materials, conduct evaluations on meat quality and yields, and conduct genetic relatedness studies on eight swine breeds deemed a conservation priority.
It will be coordinating with hog master breeders and working with researchers at Berea College in Berea, Ky., as well as Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri to establish a variety of production and marketing guidelines.
Jennifer Kendall, conservancy marketing and communications director, said heritage swine breeding is just a small segment of the livestock industry, but market interest in the breeds, specifically among restaurant chefs is growing rapidly.
“Chefs and consumers are gravitating toward heritage pork because of the flavor of the meat and its overall pleasant appearance,” said Kendall. “Heritage breeds also lend themselves well to charcuterie (the craft of salting, smoking and curing meat).”