I did not start farming until 2010, at the age of 57. I had never raised as much as a chicken or grown more than a few tomato and bean plants. However, I knew I would raise livestock, and that it would include heritage breeds. I knew I would grow vegetables and herbs, and they would be heirloom varieties. And I knew I would grow foods that would nourish my family and my customers, if we had grew more than we needed. The motto on our business card announced, “Promoting Nutrient Dense Foods and Heritage Breeds.”
This focus was because my husband Jon and I entered agriculture by way of a food journey. We had each had life-long health challenges that we attributed to genetics, luck of the draw, or just “normal.” It was not until our challenges increased and we did elimination diets that we discovered that we had control of our health if we exerted control of our diets. We realized that food produced locally and obtained directly from producers was more nutritious and more delicious than food bought from the store and produced on monoculture farms. This type of production was also better ecologically for our planet and communities. The livestock and plants that did best on small, diversified farms were the heritage and heirloom varieties.
After learning as much as we could about how our food was produced, we eventually gravitated to trying our hand at producing our own. What an adventure! We bought property in an agricultural area and began learning our way through this, one day at a time. Those were some long, learning filled days. Our first animals were Khaki Campbell ducks, prolific egg layers. But before we brought them to the farm we got a great Pyrenees guardian dog to serve as a protector. Later we had heritage varieties of chickens, American rabbits, Silver Fox rabbits, a milk goat, and Gulf Coast sheep.
My background in teaching special education students was immensely helpful in developing farm skills. This is because starting this type of business involved short and long term planning, making frequent observations, keeping meticulous records, and adjusting plans based on data. All of these skills are helpful in a homestead, if you want each years’ results to exceed the year before.
Our rabbits were pedigreed. Registration in the rabbit world involved personal examination by an approved judge at sexual maturity to see if it met minimal standards. Living where I did hours away from the nearest rabbit show and with no time to travel far from the animals, that was too difficult and expensive. But I did sell pedigreed animals which could be taken to a rabbit show and considered for registration if someone was able to go to that expense. I selected carefully based on the American Rabbit Breeders Association’s Standard of Perfection and required buyers to personally examine each rabbit before it left the farm for a life of breeding. I started with 5 generation pedigrees I provided to buyers and moved to 7 generation forms when I was selling grandchildren of the original stock. I learned to cull hard, which helped me make decisions for my lambs and, eventually, my hogs. I learned that I could shape the body type, color, health, productivity, heat tolerance, and temperament of the rabbits in the process of selection. I developed repeat customers who eagerly ate the culls.
In early 2013, one of my rabbit customers who crossed through several states to buy breeding stock told me that she had recently purchased a trio of unregistered Guinea hogs. I had heard of them vaguely and heard of their advantages on the homestead. However, I was leery of the “hype” surrounding them. This customer convinced me that what I had heard about them was very true. I had heard that this was a thrifty, smaller, gentle breed that was easy for beginners and appropriate for small landholders. After she left, I decided to do further research.
I ran into so many roadblocks in the research category. The American Guinea Hog Association had only been in existence for 7 years, and I had not yet discovered the Guinea hog “groups” on Facebook. There was only one back then, as I recall. There were also very few informative farm websites developed by Guinea hog breeders. Most of them I found included the same brief descriptions. These were generally paraphrased from or copied verbatim from either The Livestock Conservancy Guinea hog page (known at that time as the American Livestock Breed Conservancy) or from the American Guinea Hog Association page. The one exception was the Maveric Heritage Ranch Co. website. It provided information about locating Guinea hogs from around the country and described a variety of family groups and types of hogs. The information had not been updated since 2010, but it was more informative and current than other tidbits I had found.
I searched for books about the breed, but all I could find were chapters, magazine articles, or a rare mention in a chapter or article. Frustrating. Eventually I made the decision to raise the hogs. However, I realized that before I could read any books on the Guinea hog, I would have to write them myself. I announced this to Jeanette Beranger of the Livestock Conservancy and the the the American Guinea Hog Yahoo Group members. I was searching for leads. My first big break and lead in my search came from Lisa Naumann in Rocheport, Missouri. She had been breeding Guinea hogs for six or seven years and had a good grasp on genetics and the association. She forwarded me a copy of a post Kirk Fackrell of Cascade Meadows had posted about the family lines and foundation hogs in 2007 or so. They were mainly grouped by states – Nebraska, Ohio, Virginia, and Indiana. But They also included some listed only by name – Molly, Polly, Mork, and Carlos. I called Lisa for more details. She told me about how Don Oberdorfer, Paul Krumm, and Kevin Fall started the American Guinea Hog Association (AGHA) and how Arie McFarlen of Maveric Heritage Ranch Co. had a falling out with the fledgling association. This resulted in a loss of some of the original lines. It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but it gave me names to contact in order to begin my research. And as I began that process, I heard similar versions of that story and mentions of Maveric Heritage Ranch Co. in South Dakota. Lisa also suggested that I talk with Shirley Sullivan of Sullbar Ranch. Shirley had been the AGHA registrar for several years, and her husband, Jim Barnett, had been president. They had discovered a boar named Samson who was important in the breed history. This led me to a great mentor and my first boar, who was a grandson of Baylis Samson. (To be continued…)