The History of the Mighty Pig

Pork is one of the most popular meats in the world and is enjoyed by many cultures. This is probably due to the fact that it was one of the first animals to become domesticated. Where, you might be asking, did the pig originally come from? How did the human race start domesticating this animal? These are the questions that I would like to answer for you today.

The pig dates back 40 million years to fossils which indicate that wild pig-like animals roamed forests and swamps in Europe and Asia. By 4900 B.C. pigs were domesticated in China, and were being raised in Europe by 1500 B.C. The adaptable nature and omnivorous diet of the wild boar allowed early humans to domesticate it readily. Pigs were mostly used for food, but early civilizations also used the pigs’ hides for shields, bones for tools and weapons, and bristles for brushes. The Romans improved pig breeding and spread pork production throughout their empire. Two main types of pork were developed: one breed was large, with floppy ears, and produced copious amounts of lard, while the other was of a smaller frame, with erect ears, used primarily for meat.

Due to particular religious beliefs, pork never became popular in certain geographic regions including the Middle East and Western Asia. Europe, being primarily Christian, embraced the pig. Other advantages to domesticationg pigs were that they ate anything, reproduced rapidly, and their meat was easily preserved. By the 1500’s in Europe, the Celtic people in the north were breeding large-bodied, well-muscled pigs, while in Southern Europe, the Iberians had developed smaller-framed, lard-type pigs. All of the pigs of this time period were dark-colored.

Christopher Columbus even took eight pigs on his voyage to Cuba in 1493. But it is Hernando de Soto who could be dubbed “the father of the American pork industry.” He landed with America’s first 13 pigs at Tampa Bay, Florida in 1539. Native Americans reportedly became very fond of the taste of pork, resulting in some of the worst attacks on the De Soto expedition. By the time of de Soto’s death three years later, his pig herd had grown to 700 head, not including the ones his troops had consumed and those that ran away and became wild pigs. Escaped domestic pigs have become wild in many parts of the world and have caused substantial environmental damage.  Pigs were also given to the Native Americans to keep the peace. After this initial voyage, pig production spread throughout the new colonies.

As the pork industry grew it has seen many trends and improvements. Husbandry practices have allowed pork producers to create leaner meat that the public has demanded. Interesting enough, recently the trend has shifted back towards heritage breeds such as the Berkshire, the Red Wattle and the Tamworth. Their meat has a stronger taste, a more red meat like texture and lots of marbling. Other trends in the pork industry include local, small farm and pasture-raised.

What challenges will the pork industry have to overcome in the future? Only time can tell!


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