Writing something for the blog when the farm is wet and muddy, the days short and (so far this month) dull can be a challenge – even the ever alert geese have been caught napping and trying to ignore it all.
But, the sun did, temporarily, come out and there was a sharpness to the view and temperature, it’s time for a little inspiration.
One (at least to me!) interesting little topic is how characteristics are inherited in pigs – yes really, it is interesting. Over her lifetime our sow, Crackle, has so far had 6 litters (pregnancies) that produced 76 live piglets in total and she has reared 67 of those piglets ( with most of the losses of piglets in just one of her six litters). We have had lot of piglets to look at, and (from a farming point of view) piglets produced at the respectable rate of over 11 pigs weaned per litter. Gradually we can see how characteristics are inherited, at least by our pigs, and one obvious characteristic is their ears.
Crackle has upright ears that she can move around and a white and blue skin. When the sire, father, of her piglets was also of a white breed with upright ears the piglets (unsurprisingly) have had similar ears and skin colour to hers. For a wild pig (pictured) having acute hearing with ears that can move (to better pick up and locate sound) and that carry high will mean a better chance of hearing any danger than if it had ears that flop down, and so such pigs will be more likely to survive and reproduce. And it is the case that wild pigs are very alert to noise and have upright ears that can move to hear sounds – it’s no wonder farmed pigs never miss the sound of food with such ancestors as theirs! But for some domesticated pigs it seems some things are a little different.
Recently the boar we use has been of the breed ‘Large Black’ (and he is large and black!). Large Blacks also have floppy ears, very floppy ears. When he is the father we see changes to the piglets.
The two litters sired by the large black have seen a mixture of piglet types. Usually there are about half black and half blue and white piglets and all the piglets have floppy ears. But, in the most recent litter four piglets have upright ears out of the eleven surviving. Surprisingly two of piglets even have one floppy ear and one upright ear. All very odd…
Now, several piglets did not survive so we don’t know what they would be like, but it does seem that colour inherits half from the mother and half the father (just like many ‘genetic’ characteristics) but that ear carry is rather different.
So why is this? Its probable floppy eared pigs in the wild are rare and the characteristic not often seen, but that over time farmers have clearly bred from pigs with such a characteristic (such pigs tend to have better temperament – well, they can’t see past their ears for a start…, so would be easier to keep) and it is likely the case once such a characteristic is in a population it will inherit in a more normal way (so floppy eared pigs can pass on such a characteristic to their offspring) even if one of the parent has upright ears and especially if farmers and breeders continually select for breeding pigs with floppy ears.
By this ‘selective breeding’, wild pigs have been changed hugely from what their wild boar ancestors were like and how their ears are is one easy to see sign of that change.