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How Big? How Fast? How Many?

 There are three important questions whose answers will definitely impact the future of the Meishan breed and the work of this organization and its breeders.  They are as follows.

1. How Big? That is what is the expected size of a genetically healthy and  pure adult Meishan?

2. How fast? What is the expected growth rate for a genetically healthy and pure Meishan?

3. How Many? What is the worldwide population of verifiably pure Meishans?

Thanks to the efforts of one member of our advisory board the A.M.B.A. has established contacts within China at Huazhong Agricultural University. Using the information provided by them and combining it with data already shared by the USDA US Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), the University of Illinois and our member breeders  I will try to address those questions in this post.

How Big? 

Meishans as we know them in the United States are a medium size lard breed of pig. Medium being defined as typically 300-400 lbs for adults of both sexes. Please note that “as we know them in the United States” is an important qualifier. Because in China there were at one time three different Meishan types that were recognized to be sufficiently genetically differentiated to be tracked individually. They were small Meishans, middle Meishans and large Meishans. Some time around the 1970’s  and 1980’s the large Meishan type became extinct. We have discussed the middle and small types as they relate  to the 1989 importation at length with researchers here and in China. From both our Chinese sources and our US sources (who were involved in both the negotiation and the actual importation )one thing is a certainty. The entire herd of 99 Meishans imported to the United States in 1989 were of the middle type.Today the Chinese government still maintains both the small Meishan type and the middle Meishan type on strictly controlled government run conservation farms. Looking at the data supplied by a professor at Huazhong University compiled on those Chinese conservation farms we see numbers relatively consistent with genetically healthy and verifiably pure Meishans in the U.S.:

(Middle) Meishan pigs standards in China

The body weights and body sizes at 24-months-old

Sex Weight kg (lbs.) Length cm (inches) High cm (inches)
Male 165-174 (363-383) 140-148 (55-58) 75-80 (29-31)
Female 140-149 (308-328) 134-144 (53-57) 70-76 (28-30)

Data courtesy of Professor Mei Yu, Huazhong School of Animal Sciences, China

Using the Chinese standards for a baseline to compare to what our members are actually experiencing there do seem to be some variations. That is many members are seeing  larger sizes sooner  .At this point it is important to remember that the US herds(and those are defined as the three research herds that were genetically isolated at USDA USMARC, Iowa State and the University of Illinois for over 27 years) have experienced genetic drift from both the original research herd and from each other.This was documented in the Blackburn Study (Blackburn et al 2014) which can be found on this website. How that drift or more importantly the possibility of increased vigor when those now genetically differentiated blood lines are crossed may be a contributing factor. In addition current Meishan breeders consistently  attest to the fact that Meishans on pasture do grow faster and larger than those in dry lots. There are indications that the Meishans in China may be raised indoors on concrete just as the research herds here in the US were. So feeding and environmental conditions combined with breeding at 0% levels of inbreeding (in the cases of crossing US blood lines) may hold the answer to this variance. As more data comes in there are indications that this documented genetic drift does express itself in visual ,structural and size differences  between the three blood lines.

Chinese middle Meishan from a Chinese conservation farm


A US Meishan. One of the original University of Illinois pigs from that herd dispersal

How fast?

To look the expected normal rate of growth we will again draw on data directly from the Chinese Conservation farms:

(Middle) Meishan pigs standards in China

 The body weights and body sizes at 10- months-old

Sex Weight kg (lbs.) Length cm (inches) High cm (inches)
Male 105-115 (231-253) 115-125 (45-49) 62-70 (24-27)
Female 100-110 (220-242) 112-120 (44-47) 60-66 (23-26)

Data courtesy of Professor Mei Yu, Huazhong School of Animal Sciences, China

Some of the Original Importation Herd, TL -Meishan-TR Fengjing-LL Minzhou- LR US Duroc for reference.Duroc Photo compliments USDA USMARC

In addition we do have data on the actual pigs which were dispersed in the final dispersal of the USDA USMARC herd. The final seven pigs in the USMARC nucleus herd were dispersed on May 26th 2016. All had just crossed their first birthday and all were in the 300lb + class. It should be noted that breeding practices at USMARC included weaning Meishan piglets between 21 and 24 days. That can be done because Meishan piglets are born with more developed digestive systems than typical domestic breeds. However our members have noted significant growth spurts of piglets between week three and week six when they are still nursing and allowed access to supplemental feed.Once again the Association believes that this data is a good baseline for the growth rates of the bloodline and breed.

Gary Rohrer USDA USMARC with some young USDA Meishan Gilts.

Keeping in mind that this data reflects piglets weaned at 3 weeks (which was the practice at USDA USMARC) and raised in indoor confinement on a granulated 16%  hog feed only. In the case of slightly longer weaning intervals with access to pasture and some supplemental feed the above data may only be a baseline for the potential growth rates for the North American Meishan herd.  Already member breeders are seeing increased growth rates up to 30% better  when genetically healthy Meishans  are allowed access to pasture and a diet more tailored to their unique characteristics.

How Many?

A 2006 UN FAO report put the number of Meishans in China in the 10,000 range.However today those numbers are drastically lower. China currently operates one conservation farm which focuses on the small  Meishan type and four conservation farms which focus on the middle Meishan type.Those four middle Meishan farms have approximately 1200 Meishans total. Of that number only about 120 are boars. The number of boars is extremely significant,. Under current Chinese regulations pure Meishan boars are strictly controlled and only conservation farms may own them. There are a number of Meishan crosses in the general population but the verifiably pure examples are only on the above conservation farms. We have located small herds in Japan and a few trace animals in Europe.Combined with the limited number of verifiably pure Meishans in the United States our current estimates set the worldwide population of Meishans at below 2000 animals and perhaps as low as 1500 . Clearly the Meishan breed is at a precipice.For that reason we have been working with the Livestock Conservancy and providing them with the data as we uncover it.The Conservancy hopes to decide on whether or not to take the Meishan breed under study in 2018. We are encouraged by their interest and positive feedback  to date.

The future of the Meishan breed in the US . Another genetically healthy and pure litter.

In closing:

We are deeply indebted to our members, our advisory board, the swine manager at the University of Illinois , the researchers and staff at the USDA US Meat Animal Research Center  and the research staff at Huazhong University in China for how generous they have been with their knowledge and data. Using the above information our members and potential members can reasonably evaluate any pig represented to them as “pure” and genetically healthy examples of the Meishan breed. That is a healthy, pure, non inbred example of the breed does have a standard medium size,will produce large litters by its third parity and should meet or exceed the growth data presented above. We encourage everyone  interested in the Meishan breed to consider joining the A.M.B.A. Your membership dollars will help fund continued research and promotion of this critically endangered breed. There is value in membership.

Be well and be Blessed

#makemineregisteredmeishan #makeminemeishan

Rico Silvera


American Meishan Breeders Association

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