Until the last decade pig breeding was considered, along with other forms of livestock breeding, an art rather than a science.
Scientific principles of nutrition, housing and management were quickly adopted by progressive farmers, but it is only during the last 15 years that we have seen any application of scientific breeding techniques to the agricultural industry.
In particular one thinks of the current situation in poultry breeding, where in ten years we have seen a complete revolution from pedigree breeders producing stock in their own locality to the vast breeding companies which now control the breeding of the majority of the world’s egg laying and meat producing poultry.
Could the same revolution occur in the pig industry in the 1970s?
Traditionally pig improvement has been in the hands of pedigree breeders who selected their stock mainly on visual appraisal along lines defined by the breed societies.
It would be unfair and incorrect to say that this resulted in no genetic improvement of the national herd.
Selection occurred among indigenous breeds and in Northern Ireland this resulted in the formation of the “Ulster” as its major breed. During the 1930s, however, it became apparent that the Large White Yorkshire was superior in its ability to produce satisfactory bacon carcases and very soon the imported “York” ousted the “Ulster” from popularity.
Unfortunately, over the following 25 years, selection of replacement stock was basically made according to show ring standards and in the main these bore very little relationship to the characteristics of commercial economic importance.
Fortunately, during these years the emphasis was on quantity of meat production and not quality, so that commercial producers did not suffer to any great extent.
In the early 1960s, however, we saw the increasing consumer demand for quality being reflected in grading standards and almost simultaneously the introduction into Northern Ireland of the Landrace.
This breed had an excellent reputation for the production of quality carcases and with the increasing popularity of carcase competitions it provided a type of yardstick of improvement against which the Large White and other breeds could be measured.