Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Temple Grandin is an associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She is also autistic. A published author, her latest book is called "Animals in Translation". Perhaps most importantly Temple Grandin is a woman who thinks we can be more productive and more humane with our livestock animals if we pay them close attention, listening and observing. In this way, we can discern much of what they are trying to tell us. She speculates that the behavior and management problems that come with the new ultra lean breeding in pigs may come from the lack of fat on the carcass. Lack of myelin, a fat sheath surrounding the nerve bundles, may cause the pig to lose the ability to calm itself down and rest, leading to destructive mob behavior where the animals kill a designated victim simply because they cannot quit picking on it. These ultra lean pigs are also difficult to breed. The boars have greatly reduced sexual appetite and the sows often do not display strong signs of being in season. Breeding percentages (number of pregnancies per sow serviced either naturally or artificially) are trending down. The drive for species survival seems to be blunted by the carcass characteristics we have insisted upon breeding in. And the animals are getting savage and unmanageable. Here at Pastures A Plenty, we have noticed for some time that the same characteristics that make for excellent taste in pork also make for an easy to manage animal on the farm. It is one of those very rare win-win situations. However, staying away from ultra lean breeding, which produces pork that tastes like a long weak drink of vinegar, is difficult because the industry is so enamored of it. Look at the pictures to get an idea of the difference between these different genotypes. Note that the red sow on the top has a nice smooth top line from front to back and she shows a generous covering of fat throughout. This is necessary for health. This red sow is of moderate length, size, and thickness, well proportioned in her muscling. She looks and is durable. This is how we want the sow herd to look. The close up of the back of the black sow, the picture on the bottom, shows prominent muscle grouping and you can even see the knobs of her spine in a line from the bottom of the picture. This sow shows ultra lean genetics, and should we try to breed her, would farrow pigs that would be fast growing, edgy and quarrelsome, and then none too tasty when slaughtered. She does not have enough fat on her carcass for her own good, much less the well being of our farm or our eating enjoyment