Pig Farming

Pigs (family Suidae) were first brought to what is now Canada in 1598 by the Marquis de La Roche-Mesgouez as part of his unsuccessful venture on Sable Island. Apart from wild game, pork (pig meat) was the most popular meat of early settlers. It could be preserved in heavy brine and was available as a meat source during the long winters.

Canada ranks sixth in the world in pig production with a population of about 15 million pigs, the other countries being China (466), EU (153), USA (60), Brazil (32) and Russia (17 million). Most Canadian pig farms are located in the Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta), Quebec and Ontario, areas that produce grains and grain by-products for feed use. There is a small organic pig industry in Canada, but the country has yet to introduce national organic standards.

In 1995 about 16 million pigs were sent to market from about 10 000 farms. Production increased to just under 23 million in 2004, yielding $4.25 billion in farm cash receipts (11.6% of the national total). Canada exported 8.5 million pigs in 2004, which is almost 50% more than in 2002. This places Canada third among pig exporting countries with 21.8% of world exports, after the EU with over 30% and the US with just over 22%.

Pig farms vary from large, specialized operations, which market several thousand animals annually, to small mixed farms marketing 100 or less. There are 5 main swine breeds in Canada. Cross-breeding programs are recommended because they result in larger litters of more vigorous pigs, and yield market animals that grow faster and more efficiently.

Yorkshire Pigs
Yorkshire pigs originated in England and are all white with erect ears. The most numerous breed in Canada, it is noted for vigour, prolificacy and efficient feed conversion. Yorkshire sows commonly farrow (produce) more than 10 pigs per litter.

Landrace Pigs
Landrace pigs originated in Scandinavia and are noted for prolificacy, good mothering ability and a lean carcass with a high proportion of ham. They are commonly crossed with other breeds, yielding hybrid vigour in the young.

Duroc Pigs
Duroc pigs originated in the US; all are red (golden to mahogany), with drooping ears, and have a good carcass and feed efficiency. The Duroc is a hardy breed, noted for large litters.

Hampshire Pigs
Hampshire pigs were developed in Kentucky from pigs imported from Hampshire in the UK. They are black with a white belt around the shoulders (saddleback) and exceptionally well muscled, although they are somewhat shorter than the Yorkshire and produce smaller litters. When used correctly in a cross-breeding program, Hampshires yield superior carcass quality in the offspring.

Lacombe Hogs
Lacombe pigs represent the first livestock breed developed in Canada, a hybrid of Landrace, Berkshire and Chester White. Developed at the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Lacombe, Alberta, the breed was first licensed in 1957. Pigs are all white with drooping ears. They have a slightly heavier bone structure and are a bit fatter than the Landrace. The breed is not as popular as in the past and Rare Breeds Canada has raised concerns about low numbers in the national pig population.

A breeding sow or boar requires about 1 t of feed annually. The market pig converts feed to bodyweight gain with an efficiency of about 3:1; that is, more efficiently than beef cattle but less efficiently than broiler chickens (see poultry farming). The market animal (100 kg) typically yields about 80 kg of trimmed carcass, following slaughter and evisceration.

Carcass quality and price paid to the producer are determined by an index, measured by a government grader, which reflects lean meat yield. Slaughtered animals must be disease-free and are inspected by government veterinarians. Canadian pork is produced under a high-standard national Health of Animals program (see commodity inspection and grading; food legislation; veterinary medicine). As a result, Canada is free of serious livestock diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and swine fever.

Since 1937, the industry has access to a uniform national testing system, the National Record of Performance Swine Testing Program. It provides producers with a basis for assessing their breeding stock using techniques such as ultrasonic recording of fat measurement in live animals. The program is now administered by the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement, with member organizations throughout the country.

Pig processing provides more jobs than cattle processing, since two-thirds of the meat is sold in processed rather than fresh form. The average Canadian consumes about 32 kg (carcass equivalent) of pig meat (pork, bacon, ham, sausages, etc) annually, compared to 32.5 kg for beef plus veal and 28.5 kg for poultry meat. Pork is now much leaner than it was in the past. Pork loin centre cut, the source of many chops and roasts, is 42% leaner than in 1987. All raw, fresh pork cuts, except spare ribs, qualify as lean when trimmed of visible fat, since they contain less than 10% fat. This reduction in fat content was achieved through improved breeding and feeding programs, a revised grading system that rewards pork producers for producing leaner meat, and better trimming of fat at the processor level and in grocery stores.

Pork provides many important nutrients that contribute to a well-balanced diet. It is a very high source of protein, containing each of the eight essential amino acids needed to build, repair and maintain body tissues. Pork is one of the best dietary sources of thiamin and a good source of other B vitamins including niacin, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12. Pork is also a good source of minerals, particularly iron and zinc. About half the iron in pork is heme iron - the most readily absorbed and digested type of dietary iron.

The Canadian Pork Council (established 1966) represents pig producers and is a good source of information on the industry and its products.