International Heritage Breeds Week is May 17-23 in 2020. This celebration, conceived by The Livestock Conservancy, is always the third full week in May. The history and purpose of the week are expounded here. The aim is to raise global awareness of endangered livestock breeds such as the Guinea Hog. The hashtag on social media is #HeritageBreedsWeek. The Conservancy, previously known as the American Minor Breeds Conservancy (AMBC) and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), has promoted livestock breeds at risk since 1977. Over four decades later, it is watching over about 180 different livestock and poultry breeds including eleven swine breeds. The breeds are monitored and rated annually to include in Conservation Priority List (CPL). This is announced along with a Press Release shortly before International Heritage Breeds Week.
With a staff of fewer than 15 people, the Conservancy staff works diligently and in a fiscally responsible way to garner financial support that is used to benefit these breeds, the breeders, and the associations that register the breeds. They also use media and social media to educate the public about the importance of the breeds. Here is the very moving 2019 Press Release written by Ryan Walker, the prior Marketing and Communications Manager for The Livestock Conservancy. I have quoted and paraphrased this release in numerous talks and interviews since this time last year. When conservation efforts are highly successful, breeds are “graduated” from the CPL. Last year, that honor went to the Highland Cattle breed.
The Conservancy saves breeds through a process they describe as 1) Discover 2) Secure and 3) Sustain. They discover and study the historic breeds and secure them by documenting the status and assisting breeders. They further sustain them by teaching the public of their value as meat, fiber, labor, milk, eggs, or breeding stock. They recruit and train each generation of key breed stewards to keep them sustained. (from the 2018-2019 Annual Report).
In 2019 I worked with The Livestock Conservancy and the Large Black Hog Association to conduct a breed census of The Large Black swine. Unfortunately, they recently fell from Threatened to Critical. In the process, I did some research on the history of swine breeds and the Conservancy. I discovered additional work the Conservancy has done that I was not aware of while writing Saving the Guinea Hogs.
In a month that honors the rare breeds, I would like to honor the people to promote and protect those rare breeds. Staff at the Conservancy are a devoted and hard-working group whose work is not recognized nearly enough. In this post I am focusing on work they have done specifically to conserve the Guinea Hog.
Timeline of Conservancy Support for the Guinea Hogs
- 1987–The Guinea Hog was brought to the attention of The Minor Breeds Conservancy. Very little was known about them, and they were believed to be imported with slaves from Africa. The Conservancy collected letters from people who owned or bred them.
- 1991–The AMBC published a paperback book titled American Minor Breeds Notebook that included a profile and a photograph of Guinea Hogs. The booklet was made possible by donations.
- 1992— Lola Moffit and Gabriella Nanci worked with staff at the AMBC (Carolyn Christman and Don Dixby) to set up an informal recordation of the national Guinea Hog herd. Numbers were in steep decline because of cross-breeding for the pet pig market. Moffit and Nanci founded the Guinea Hog Association to collect information on breeders, disseminate information, share ideas, and set standards. They put out quarterly newsletters. The Conservancy kept copies of the newsletters in their archives. In 1994, Gary Spencer started a formal registry and the GHA was discontinued.
- 2005–Don Bixby, executive director of the Conservancy, met with Kevin Fall, Paul Krumm, Micki Taylor (now Krumm’s spouse), and Don Oberdorfer at a heritage pig insemination class at the University of Missouri. At that meeting, with encouragement from Bixby, they decided to form an official organization. That organization would become the American Guinea Hog Association (AGHA) on April 21, 2006. The charter members attended the annual Conservancy meetings and held their annual meetings in person while they were there. In 2007 when Jim Barnett became president of the AGHA board there were eleven breeder members.
- 2008–The Rare Breed Swine Initiative was held in Columbia, Missouri on November 7-8. It was funded by the Renewing America’s Food Traditions Collaborative. It was attended by the ALBC, representatives of seven other groups, and representatives of nine rare pig breeds, including Shirley Sullivan representing the Guinea Hogs. Jeannette Beranger took very detailed notes of the event. The group wanted to understand the needs of producers and chefs to develop generic strategies that would assist the heritage swine breeds and see what education and funding needs they might have. The breeders wanted five actions to take place to help conserve the breeds. 1) population and bloodline identification (see 2009-2014 SSARE grant), 2) creating breeding strategies with breeders and associations (see 2011-2014 SSARE grant paper) 3) communications with breeders holding key lines (see 2015-2017 herd recovery), 4) acquiring population analysis software to manage populations within a breed (see 2019), and a semen collection workshop. Work began right away on this list of five needs and continues to the current time, twelve years later.
- 2009-2014–The Livestock Conservancy summarized the findings determined in 2008 and use that to apply for a Southern Sustainable Agriculture and Research grant for $151,215 to develop programs to support heritage swine farmers. It was a collaborative effort with universities, breeders, and breed associations. The Guinea Hog was one of the breeds studied and that received recommendations and results.
- 2010–Slow Food Charleston was working with the ALBC and wanted to work with them to promote Guinea Hog meat to boost awareness of the breed. Jeannette Beranger of the Conservancy put them in contact with Gra Moore who had a registered herd. This event with Chef Craig Deihl helped put both the breed, the chef, and farmer breeder on the map.
- DNA analysis of bloodlines
- Breeding recommendations based on a detailed census and studbook analysis https://livestockconservancy.org/images/uploads/docs/American_Guinea_Hogs_Recommendations.pdf
- 2012 — part of SSARE grant plus additional funding by the University of Kentucky went to a heritage hog carcass study led by Bob Perry. https://uknowledge.uky.edu/yield_reports/1/
- 2015-2017— Genetic Recovery project for American Guinea Hogs. The Livestock Conservancy served as a neutral resource to consult with both the AGHA and breeders who recovered rare bloodlines known by the founding AGHA members in 2005 whose breeders did not join the registry. Ultimately the associate focussed on the inclusion of these known lines, allowing wider biodiversity in a limited herd.
- 2020–The Manton Foundation bestowed a grant to The Livestock Conservancy of $500,000. This will be used over a two-year period to strengthen breed associations. The funds will be used on all species including swine. It will fund helping breed associations become more effective and provide resources for ongoing concerns of breeders and breed associations. Promotion and marketing tools will be involved.
I am truly grateful for the decades of support, research, funding, and guidance of the Conservancy in regard to the Guinea Hogs. It’s hard to imagine that work spread out over 180 breeds and organizations and on the shoulders of a dozen staff members. I highly recommend joining this very active and effective group.