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Pig Power: Farm specializes in Durocs

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Sept. 8, 2011 - John Brown bought his first Duroc hog when he was a high school student in Moody High School in McLennan County, and a member of the school's 4-H club in the 1960s. He bought a 40-pound Duroc gilt for about $50 and raised it as his livestock project. In staying with Durocs, Brown figures he is sticking with a winner in the marketplace of genetics, if not the show ring.

In 1974, after he married his wife Chriss, he bought a Duroc sow. He didn't keep any of that sow's daughters, but bought a pure-bred Duroc sow in 1978. For more than 30 years now he has kept that pure-bred line going. He also raises Duroc show pigs at his place near Bartlett, but his pride and joy are the purebred Durocs.

"People are going to argue with me about this, but there are not 10 sows left that are pure American Durocs," he said. "I call mine the old Durocs. My show pigs are new Durocs, and they are strictly for show. In the world of hogs, the Duroc show hogs are at one end and at the other end are my hogs. Another breeder said our hogs are like pure orange juice and the show hogs are like orange juice but with some pineapple juice in it, too."

The show hogs, Brown said, are mixed with a Pietrain, a Belgian and German line of hogs that are leaner and more muscled, traits that have made it into the commercial market too as a result of more consumers wanting a leaner hog. He started with the show hogs after his own children joined 4-H and wanted to raise a pig for show.

"It was a matter of if they wanted to just raise a hog for the experience or if they wanted to win," he said. "My old Durocs don't meet the criteria for good show hogs."

Show hogs have shorter legs and judges like them to be a rib shorter than the purebreds. "That's basically taking a pork chop out," Brown said. "You don't want a commercial hog without that pork chop, but that's not a concern with the shows. The shows are beauty pageants."

Brown has zeroed in on a particular line of Durocs from a boar named Viking Horse. All of his 15 or so old Durocs trace back to that one sire. His insistence on pure genetics paid off when an advertisement he placed in a trade paper several years ago caught the eye of a buyer in Japan who was looking for purebred Durocs like the ones Brown had. The Japanese bought hogs from Brown in 1999, 2005 and 2006.

Brown has sold purebred boars to Swine Genetics in Iowa and other places, including Texas Farm near Perryton in Pampa in the Texas Panhandle. He said there is a market for purebred Durocs like his, but most breeders aren't willing to pay the price.

"If I could sell to Japan every other year or so, I would do well," he said. "The Japanese who bought our hogs said we had the best hogs in the world. The gene pool has shrunk so much that it's hard to find pure Duroc genetics anymore.

"The Japanese are willing to give good money for genetic material, even with the cost of shipping the hogs to Japan. Hogs are worth about $3 a pound in Japan compared to about 80 cents a pound in America. Duroc breeders want a boar, but they don't want to pay the price. The Japanese don't mind the price if it's the hog they're looking for."

Brown said the market limits itself because once you sell a line-bred, in-bred boar, you don't sell any more of them. The inbreds deliver a more concentrated package of genetics that breeds more true. Once buyerss get the genetics, they move on. Also, because of a foot-and-mouth disease problem in Japan, once a pig goes to Japan, it can't come back to American shores.

"China opened the door to the market this past spring, so we could sell to China. There's no way to meet their demand, but I don't think they are willing to pay to the extent that the Japanese are. Japan will pay a premium for quality. Hogs go for about $1.35 in China, but they are not so centered on quality. The Japanese are interested in quality beef and quality pork."

According to a publication from Oklahoma State University, the Duroc breed had its origins in the Eastern United States and the Corn Belt. The foundation stock has long been a subject of conjecture and debate. The Duroc strain was started in Saratoga County, NY by Isaac Frink, who bought his first Durocs from Harry Kelsey in 182,3 and named them for a famous Thoroughbred stallion named Duroc which was at Kelsey's farm. Kelsey told Frink the hogs had been imported, but their origins and how long ago the importation took place aren't known.

While generally considered a red hog, the OSU publication points out that Durocs have considerable color variation, from light golden to a red so dark that it can almost be described as mahogany. Brown said he hates to see the pure Duroc line vanish and is doing what he can to keep the line going.

"The purest Durocs in the world are right here in Bartlett, Texas," he said.


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