The All American Pig Breed

The All American Pig Breed

Though the Duroc breed evolved from red pigs from another part of the world, it is considered one of the few “all American” breeds we have today. Unlike most breeds of livestock that were developed elsewhere and brought here, the Duroc is the result of two red colored breeds being crossed and then improved upon in the early 18th century in upstate New York. Where those two original red breeds came from is the subject of much debate as there are no pigs native to the Americas. Today the Duroc is in many ways the perfect pig boasting excellent meat quality. It is rugged and durable and has a great ability to efficiently convert pounds of feed into pounds of high quality meat. Durocs can range from a light golden almost yellow color to a dark mahogany.

The modern day Duroc is the result of blending two distinct strains of red hogs, the Jersey Red of New Jersey and the Duroc of New York. In 1823, a smooth red boar with a good looking carcass quality from a litter of ten piglets was obtained by Isaac Frink of Milton in Saratoga County. He bought the pig from Harry Kelsey who also owned a famous stallion of the day named Duroc and that is how the breed got its name. The Jersey Red, famous for reaching enormous size at maturity, was well established in New Jersey prior to 1850. Around 1830, William Ensign of Stillwater in Saratoga County secured a pair of Jerseys in Connecticut that crossed very well with the strain that Mr. Frink had developed. In 1877 breeders from Saratoga and Washington counties, New York, met and decided on a scale of points for their breed of swine.

The descendants from the original Durocs started being used more seriously in a careful selection process. Most of the breed improvement on the Duroc took place in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. State fairs and livestock shows were the epicenter for trading and spreading genetics and it was at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair where Durocs gained wide popularity at the first successful Duroc hog show. Durocs have become a sire of choice to the American farmer. In the early years of the breed, Durocs were known as fat, thick pigs standing on short legs. But it had a deep body, large ham, and broad shoulders making it appealing to farmers and consumers. Changing demands from the marketplace over the years led to major changes in the body type of the Duroc that is raised today. The modern Duroc has a higher percent of lean-to-fat and a longer body.

The red hogs of the early Americas are reputed by some to have originated in the Guinea Coast of Africa. Others claim the red hog came from Spain and Portugal and was brought here by Columbus on his second voyage, and later by de Soto. The original Jersey Red sire from Connecticut was reported by some to have come from England looking like a red Berkshire. Duroc farmer Craig Good believes there could be truth to those who believe that the Duroc could have some English genetic influence because as he explains, “I have seen over the last 50 years, rare instances of purebred Duroc pigs having a white foot or two. Having 4 white feet is a signature feature of the English Berkshire pig.  None of the other solid, dark colored pigs that I have worked with — Tamworth for example — exhibit this characteristic.” 

The Duroc is the second most recorded breed of swine in the United States and a major breed in many other countries as well. Even though their genetics are used as a foundational anchor to the cross-breeding commodity pork business, they do not appear very often as a purebred pig. Because Duroc genetics are not considered rare, Durocs do not appear on rare breed registries. As Chris Graham for the British Pig Association writes: “being classed as a modern breed seems to put unwanted distance between the Duroc and the others that perhaps come to mind more readily when people think of traditional, rare breed pigs. Maybe the fact that it's still widely used by commercial pork producers, moves it further still from the quaint, homely perception that the more traditional breeds such as the Gloucestershire Old Spots.” Still the purebred Duroc is one of the top breeds in the world for meat quality!

Breeding pigs has always been an art of balancing a high-quality end product that meets the demand of consumers but remains within the confines of what works for the producer — one without the other will not work. The Duroc, which is next to impossible to find in its pure form, has withstood the test of time achieving both goals. The Duroc is an American original! Its chop is a taste of the Midwest, where the pig was developed. The Duroc consistently ranks in the top three breeds for meat quality and marbling scores which for the consumer translates to juicy, tender delicious meat.

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