( Originally Published 1912 )
The swine-raising industry has reached a development in America greater than anywhere else in the world. Other countries have effected improvement in their bacon-producing swine, but the world's lard supply comes from the cornbelt. The improvement of swine for lard production began with the occupancy of cornbelt lands. The horses and cattle brought by settlers from east of the Alleghanies and from Europe were satisfactory for the time, but it was not so with the swine. Upon this class of stock devolved the work of readily converting the easily grown corn into a marketable product.
Since the establishment of the first American breed, the Poland-China, down to the present, the most serious problems of American swine breeders have arisen from that striking feature of the environment of their swine, the corn diet. The original types, of which there were many, were too coarse and ill-proportioned from the standpoint of those in charge of the first packing enterprises. It was also clear that a greater economy of production was desirable. Development was too slow and too small in proportion to the feed consumed. The offspring of some of the stock at hand became marketable at an earlier age than the others did and the blood of such was freely used. This was no occasion to consider the idea of impairment of size or prolificacy. The great defects for many years were slow fattening and lack of market qualities. Until the beginning of the second quarter of the nineteenth century efforts to improve the swine were necessarily scattered and not very effective.
Developments of the years following gave promise of reward to breeders who could supply the most profitable type of swine to the rapidly increasing numbers of farmers in the corn-growing areas. The Berkshire was the most carefully bred hog obtainable, though his breeding in England had not been directed with a view to adaptation to utilization of corn. However he was superior in many ways to the native stock and gained a place. Selection among descendants of crosses of the Berkshire with stock combining the good features of the types previously used gave the foundation of the Poland-China.
The pronounced disposition to fatten that characterized this breed brought it into strong demand for improving the stock upon farms where little improvement had been effected. The native sows being disposed to mature slowly but to reach good size and breed freely, the opposite extremes were really needed for mating with them in order that the offspring should be as nearly right as possible. Most of the breeders made their selections to meet the general demand. Heavy feeding of corn was commonly practiced.
Animals of the smaller size soon passed through the period of most rapid growth and became fat at an earlier age than those with greater tendencies to growth.
Because corn alone is more favorable to fattening than to growth its use in herds being bred for early-maturing qualities was an important factor in the elimination of animals that fattened less rapidly in their growing days. Well sustained gains are possible only by the continued development of frame that characterizes animals capable of coming to large size. The extreme of early fattening means rapid gains from accumulation of fat and also cessation of gains at a comparatively early age. It has been said that the tendency in all breeding of improved stock is to go to extremes. Extremes are usually demanded by stock-raisers who see the need of improvement in their previously neglected animals. Continued adherence to an extreme type in the herd eventually results in difficulty. If followed by a majority of those working with a breed it results in the stock becoming unsuitable to the needs of the raisers of commercial stock who first demanded the extreme type. This is no more true of swine than of other stock. Progress toward the extreme in swine was facilitated by the fact that corn-feeding aided the selection of less growthy swine. It also served to accentuate the tendency to small litters which naturally accompanies the curtailment of growth. Because one generation of swine follows an-other only twelve months later the results of selection appear in a very short time.
Judges at fairs are usually breeders. They naturally take as their standard the type of animal for which buyers will pay most liberally. The early type of show hog in the cornbelt was the type that was demanded and needed by the buyers of sires of market hogs. Developments in farm herds of swine also come rapidly and a comparatively few years of breeding to boars of the show type and of heavy corn-feeding brought the farm sows very close to the same type. It was then that complaints were macle of lightness of bone, which means lack of size and growthiness. Smallness of litters was also an outcome of the same conditions and methods. The show type was spoken of as something separate and distinct from the farmers' type although it was first established as a result of farmers' demands.
The earliest improved breeds were the first to undergo such evolution in type and popularity. The logical remedy lay in the use of opposite extremes. These were usually found in newer breeds still retaining unimpaired size and fecundity along with native coarseness and slowness in maturing. All the older breeds of swine have passed through much the same stage. The changes illustrate the idea that every wrong condition works its own remedy though after a great cost to individuals. The incoming breeds have not escaped the effects of the influences that brought them into demand though the workers with more recent introductions have seen the necessity of combining refinement and ready fattening qualities with a desirable degree of size and growthiness and have demonstrated the possibility of such a combination.
The rising and waning of the height of popularity of successive American breeds of swine compels one important conclusion. Neither real success nor profit can come to the breeder or raiser who proceeds by the mating of opposite extremes. Even though the mixing of breeds is avoided opposite types within a breed must necessarily be the product of different methods and the descendants of wholly different animals. The union of such is subject to the same uncertainties that follow blending the blood of animals of different breeds, even though the progeny remains eligible to registration. Errors having been made and realized, such a step may be the beginning of correction but it is a retracing rather than an advance.
Farm production of swine or other market stock is most satisfactory and most remunerative when the necessity for reversing methods and changing types or breeds is entirely avoided. If breeding stock is selected to embody the best possible combination of qualities for the market with the essentials of economic production, progress can continue without interruption. New sires selected for their possession and inheritance of the same qualities serve to raise the standard of the females and to reduce the proportion of inferior offspring by strengthening the blood. What is aimed at in bringing in new sires may also he contributed to in selection of the females which become increasingly uniform and prepotent as time goes on.
There have not been wanting workers with the older breeds who foresaw the ultimate outcome of continued breeding in accordance with the extreme demands and needs of owners of wholly unimproved stock. Such far-seeing men have saved the day for their breeds by breeding the medium types which needed no correction and which they foresaw must ultimately be generally adopted. Occurrences in swine breeding also show the need of foresight on the part of professional breeders. To be permanently successful they must recognize and adhere to the essential points. The final result of the fads and extremes of transient popularity must be foreseen and avoided. The breeder has greater need than has the raiser of commercial stock to forecast demands that come through changing economical conditions or as a result of errors or misconceptions of the large number. It is with breeders endowed with such powers of perception that the permanency of our live stock industry rests. They have also frequent occasion to show the courage of their convictions by running counter to the ideas of a majority of their fellows or by giving the note of warning of the result of adherence to an impractical ideal.
The few breeders of unusual courage and judgment, upon whom so much rests at times, do not always live to see the return of their fellows to the conservative standards. The benefit of their work may sometimes go to those who follow them, though real ability as a breeder very seldom fails of receiving material compensation. The fascination of molding animal form makes the breeder's work an absorbing pleasure. To have earned the right to feel that he has aided in rendering domestic animals more useful to mankind is his most prized reward.