Our Berkshire Boar Spitz of the North
This is Spitz, our purebred Berkshire boar of our norther herd. He came to us in the winter of 2012. My hope is to add more marbling to our Mainline herd genetics since that is what Berkshires are known for. We already have some Berkshire in our mix of pig genetics and I would like to add a little more.
Breeding plants or animals is a long term project that takes generations and thus years to bear fruit. Pigs are rather gratifying in that they mature young at about eight months and have their first litter at a year. Litters are big, typically ranging from five to twelve and pigs have two to three litters a year. Compare that to cattle (1 calf every year or two) or sheep (1.8 lambs per year if you’re lucky) or worse yet, breeding humans (1 baby every one to five years). Mice and rabbits are pretty good but lack the extraordinary growth of pigs: from 3 lbs to 250 lbs in six to eight months! Aren’t you glad your toddler isn’t a pig!
This spring and summer we finally got to taste the results of crossing Spitz Berkshire genetics with our other lines of pigs: Mainline, Blackie, MainlinexBlackie, Tamworth, MainlinexTamworth, LargeBlack#2 and MainlinexLargeBlack#2. The results are f(l)avorable.
Flavor-wise they’re all excellent. My previous experiments clearly showed that most of the flavor comes mostly from diet which is predominantly pasture/whey plus veggies and fruit. A little contribution comes from genetics too. Both diet and genetics are important because…
Marbling is good on his offspring with some improvement there and more to come. Marbling, which is highly genetic and age related, enhances flavor since fat is the dominant flavor contributor in meat. The lean contributes less flavor but is where we get our protein. We already have decent marbling but I want more. Marbling is a characteristic closely tied with winter-ability…
Winter-ability did well again in the Mainline and Blackie crosses which are already strong for this. Spitz does well with winter although not as well as our Mainline. His offspring crossed with our Mainline did very well, bringing that characteristic from their mothers. Winter is a huge challenge in our climate and an important selection characteristic. It will be another year or two before we see his daughters from these mixes perform in cold weather farrowing – the ultimate test.
Speed of growth is good with the Mainline crosses being the best since we’ve been selecting them for a decade on that criteria.
Temperament is great across all the line crosses made with Spitz. To be expected as our other lines are already culled hard for good temperament and Spitz is a gentleman.
Over all the Berkshire x Mainline crosses were the best closely followed by the Berkshire x MainlinexBlackieline crosses. We have gotten several surprise super-growers out of these crosses of Spitz with our Mainline and MainlinexBlackie. These pigs grew much faster and larger than their same age cohort mates on the same diet. They remind me of Speckles, Spot, Big’Un, Petra, Anna, Big Pig, Australia and some of our other past super sized growers who made it into the breeder ranks. It is not unusual for there to be a range of sizes in a litter but in these cases they were 50% to 100% larger than their age mates and kept that advantage. All of these fast growers were male. One of them, Spitzson, we are watching and considering keeping as a breeder for next year.
Interestingly based on what I’ve observed at slaughterhouses and reading there appear to be two separate Berkshire genomes running around in the world. They’re similarly colored but one has short legs and are known to grow more slowly. Spitz line is the taller, longer legged Berkshire and faster growing. My guess is these two lines split somewhere. It is fairly easy to take a breed and modify it without even the addition of outside genetics just through selection pressures. Nature does this all the time. Evolution is a wonderful thing and pigs are very plastic.
Currently I’m maintaining several pure lines as well as crosses of those with the goal of continuing to improve our Mainline which is adapted to our climate and pasture management. I do this by shifting around which sows breed with which boar groups. Breeding and selection are a slow process. I look forward to seeing how all of these lines perform over the next decade as we continue to advance our herd genetics. My goal is a single line in the long run.
Outdoors: 74°F/49°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 66°F/63°F
Daily Spark: Patiences is a virtue. -Prudentius, 5th Century Poet