Agriculture has always been the base of American society. It was just as important to the Indigenous people that developed corn and squash crops as it was to the newcomers, the Europeans who brought their wheat and livestock. It was one particular animal that made European settlement on the American continent possible. That animal wasn’t the horse. It was the pig.
Pigs were newcomers to America. They came with Columbus, and with DeSoto as he explored Florida and more. They came with the English to the first Yankee settlements, and with the French and Dutch into the Caribbean and Canada. The animals were tough and capable creatures that thrived in the new land. Over time, many escaped domestic life and become feral hogs, joining wandering packs that had few predators. They became as established in the new land as the people who had brought them.
Hogs were on almost every farm in those days, and those not needed for dinner were sold off, sometimes as ‘Barrelled Hogs’. Yep, pork-barrel was a thing back then. As domestic hogs spread out with the settlers, the feral hogs continued to run wild and became a favorite game animal for hunters. Early in the 1900’s Eurasian and Russian Boars were added to the mix, creating a larger, more cantankerous target for the hunters. Today, wild feral hogs still hunted for sport, but now are also targeted as unwelcome trespassers that destroy crops and damage grazing land with their activity.
Today’s domestic pork belly isn’t too different from those earlier pigs, except leaner and less fatty. Commercial pork production has created a healthier animal, one that is better fed and raised, and the end result is a healthier, tastier ham and bacon, and a more lean cut of pork. There are 60,000 hog farms in the US, producing some 115 million has each year worth about $20 billion. It’s no wonder we’re now the world’s largest hog exporter.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.