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China’s Breeding Giant Pigs That Are as Heavy as Polar Bears (bloomberg.com)
91 points by jelliclesfarm 61 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

>Big Bill, the largest hog ever recorded at 2,552 lb (1,157 kg), was a Poland China. Poland Chinas rank highest in U.S. pork production in pounds of hog per sow per year.


However, "Poland China" has nothing to do with China, and it is a US breed originating in Ohio.

Hogs grow quite large. Due to the shortage and the rising prices, farmers are letting their hogs grow larger, rather than marketing them at the usual weights. The meat may be a little fattier and not as tender in the older animal, although Chinese cusine may not care about that. But it's not like they are genetically engineering giant mutant pigs.

> it's not like they are genetically engineering giant mutant pigs.

No but they've gene edited pet dwarf pigs: https://www.nature.com/news/gene-edited-micropigs-to-be-sold...

Are they more efficient though? Right now the average seems to be 4kg of grain per kg of pork[1]; if these large pigs require 5kg per 1kg of pork, then does them being bigger create any benefits in a shortage? Another question is growth rate - how fast are they growing? Someone correct me if I'm wrong here, but their end size seems to be one of the less important factors in the mix when it comes to efficient pork production.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/sep/02/era-of-chea...

Your intuition is spot-on. Feed conversion efficiency drives profitability in the pork industry. The average live weight of US hogs at market is right around 280 lbs., not because the animals can't get larger than that, but because growing them beyond that size cuts into profits as efficiency drops.

I think pigs-as-big-as-polar-bears was just an opening hook to draw in eyeballs that would otherwise have skipped over yet another headline about African Swine Fever (ASF), which is covered in the second half of the article. ASF is the real meat of this story (pun intended, sorry) and the most significant factor currently impacting Asian pork production.

>The average live weight of US hogs at market is right around 280 lbs., not because the animals can't get larger than that, but because growing them beyond that size cuts

For reader reference a full grown sow can weigh 500+ lbs, a full grown hog can weigh 1000+ lbs and live 20+ years (~900M heartbeats). Livestock pigs reach market weight in 6-7 months.

"Really Big" pigs of the sort in the article are a common sight to anyone attending a county or state fair in many rural parts of the US:


> ...their end size seems to be one of the less important factors in the mix when it comes to efficient pork production

Biological processes are often non-linear, so your intuition is probably correct. Here's an interesting paper[1] I found that looks at body size, energy metabolism, and lifespan.

[1] https://jeb.biologists.org/content/208/9/1717

Not an overly helpful comment, but this is loosely the premise behind the movie 'Okja' on Netflix. It was an interesting idea and made you see both sides. Weird it seems to be coming true.

True story: I stopped eating pork after watching Okja and reading up on pig intelligence.

That final scene... oof. (bawl)

I heard this joke when I was young and never really got it until I was older. ---------------

A TV reporter became lost on the back roads and stopped at a farm to get directions. As he was talking to the farmer he noticed a pig with a wooden leg. “This could be a great story for the Six O’Clock News. How did that pig lose his leg?” he asked the farmer. “Well”, said the farmer, “that’s a very special pig. One night not too long ago we had a fire start in the barn, and that pig squealed so loud and long that he woke everyone, and by the time we got there he had herded all the other animals out of the barn. Saved them all.”

“And that was when he hurt his leg?” asked the journalist anxious for a story. “Nope, he pulled through that just fine.” said the farmer. “Though a while later, I was back in the woods when a bear attacked me. Well, sir, that pig was nearby and he came running and rammed that bear from behind and then chased him off. He saved me for sure.”

“Wow! So the bear injured his leg then?” questioned the reporter. “No. He came away without a scratch. Though a few days later, my tractor turned over in a ditch and I was knocked unconscious. Well, that pig dove into the ditch and pulled me out before I got cut up in the machinery.” “Ahh! So his leg got caught under the tactor?” asked the journalist. “Noooo. We both walked away from that one.” says the farmer.

“So how did he get the wooden leg?” asked the journalist. “Well”, the farmer replied, “A pig like that, you don't eat all at once”!

Oh wow you ought to watch this one https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vwZee0r_ICs

It is in French and subtitled, but so exactly relevant to your point!

How awful. Imagine if the subject of this was a dog instead, it would anger so many people.

Indeed, that's kind of the point.

Social mores are part of being human. We're full of all sorts of contradictory beliefs and principles. Trying to reconcile all of them will quickly make you a crazy hermit.

On the topics of pigs, dogs, and pets; most people don't realize how intelligent and affectionate cows are. Dairy farmers often love their cows more than their dogs. And the farmers that have dairy cows and other cows have this mental barrier where one group is food and the other is family. I bet most people that have eaten a hamburger have never pet a cow.

This is not some meat-is-murder tirade - I'm not even vegetarian. It's just neat to think about the assumptions that construct our worldview.

> I bet most people that have eaten a hamburger have never pet a cow.

Given that most Americans have definitely never pet a cow, and I'd go as far as to propose most have probably never even seen a cow in person, that's probably a very safe wager. But what percent of people that have pet a cow, would you wager also do eat beef?

Per your last sentence, I'd have thought vegetarianism would be much higher amongst city dwellers.

I’ve read that vegetarianism is far less common among people who grew up on/around farms. The claimed reason was that people who grew up away from farms are heavily influenced by movies and television that anthropomorphize animals. People who grew up near farms don’t equate animals with humans so much.

I might be ousting myself as a hick but surely 80%+ of people have seen a cow before, r-right...?

I grew up in rural Bavaria. I have vivid memories of the view from my rooms window to the dozens of farms and hundreds of cows directly outside. And of one cow getting loose in the middle of the night, chasing down my mother in our garden and ramming through the terrace door.

I've never considered the possibility of someone never ever having seen a damn cow.

I have many head but "Brisket & Ribeye" go to slaughter in November. I was just outside petting them and making sure they have great quality grass to eat.

The animal barn is a pretty popular feature at state and county fairs.

I suspect a decent number of those who have pet a cow are cattle farmers, so probably most?

>Social mores are part of being human. We're full of all sorts of contradictory beliefs and principles. Trying to reconcile all of them will quickly make you a crazy hermit.

I don't know if people are more crazy or more horrible. But whenever I see moral grandstanding on HN it always reminds me of experiences in SV and Seattle watching peers step over or ignore homeless, distressed human beings by day and do the same kind of moral grandstanding over drinks at night.

Hahaha. That's Terrible, but funny.

If you read Animal Farm, there's a reason why Orwell made the pigs the most clever leaders of the farm.

And other animals?

I've traveled extensively, by motorbike, in the northern vietnam region bordering southern china. I started in the south of vietnam, which has pigs, dogs, cats, buffalo, chickens, ducks and everything else you can imagine just running around wild.

At some point as you travel north, you stop seeing pigs by the side of the road. You start to cross checkpoints where they spray your tires and places where they've put chemical (disinfectant) soaked hay on the roads that you're expected to drive over. You see signs everywhere warning people to spray things down.

The swine flu is real.

Such a strange article.

It has two facts:

1- There is a shortage of pork due to recent outbreaks

2- Large pigs have been breed in China.

The article then seems to insinuate that 2 is due to 1. But the article offers no stats or even any evidence that there is a causal effect.

Worse, the article seems to imply large pigs are a Chinese thing, when America holds the record for large hogs. Mostly large pigs are bread as male breeding pigs and to compete in local events (as therefore as part of a pig breeders boasting status). As far as I'm concerned, large pigs are not breed so much for consumption (though they will be consumed eventually)

Just very odd. Absolutely no journalism in that article. It just mentions two facts and draws fuzzy conclusions from it filled with innuendo. I'm not sure Bloomberg was ever a very quality source (as say the Washington Post or NYT), but I'm quite surprised at the trash rag style they are putting out lately. I also wonder why it's making the front page of /.

I think you are just slandering Bloomberg. The Chinese are growing pigs to become bigger because they are in need of pork, in sacrifice of taste. America’s record pigs are just for that, to get a record.

I looked it up.

China's pigs average of 110 kilos. The only stat mentioned in the 'news' piece (other than things like 'up to') is producers wanting to 'increase size by at least 14%'.

Average pig weight in america at slaughter is 127 kilos.

The giant pig from the image is likely a competition pig, just like in America. As far as I know, it's not economically effective to raise pigs past a certain point if it's for meat production.

See how you were jumping to conclusions and even inserting things that were never mentioned 'in sacrifice of taste'? That's what I meant in my critique and why I called the style 'trash rag'. News pieces like this are filled with innuendo and are intentionally kept nice and broad so each person can read into it whatever they want.

Reminds me of the song:

We can do "The Innuendo"

We can dance and sing

When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing

We all know that Kraft is king

Size doesn't matter that much. Food-to-Meat conversion and the time to market normally matter more, in terms of profitability.

Also, the bigger the pigs get, the worse their health will be. Unhealthy pigs don't survive to market, convert their food less efficiently, get rejected at the slaughter house or their meat suffers in quality.

Next problem: You want similarly sized pigs for efficient slaughtering. Those "polar bears" won't fit into a standard line. But I guess China isn't that far into their agricultural industrialization yet. They are apparently also playing catch up in terms of food security and management of animal diseases.

The last two points are hampered by the general lack of transparency.

Kind of an odd comparison considering most people don't have an intuitive understanding of the size of a polar bear.

Totally agree, they should have measured it in golden retriever units. This giant China pig = 15.74 golden retrievers! /s

Unclear what could et more stale dinner rolls and discarded bakery pizza, a single scalar 1100lb megapig or a massively parallel array of sixteen hungry goldens.

The golden retrievers would eat it faster though; my impression is that pigs tend to chew and take their time....

The meat-eating utilitarian vegetarian tries to pick meat from larger animals over smaller animals. Since you get more meat per unit of pain inflicted.

So Beef > Pork > Chicken. But if pigs can be bred to be as big as cows that helps a lot!

As someone who accidentally killed a small bull while working on a free range ranch, I can tell you that cows are surprisingly sentient and sensitive. The dead yearling's mother-cow howl-moo'ed the rest of the day and into the late evening. Her moos of agony still haunt me.

I defy you to find 1 chicken in 1000 that is capable of suffering this at this level.

If it was chickens they’d be doing the killing instead of you. They don’t call it pecking order for a reason.

If there were one ton chickens running around they’d probably be killing us. They’re not that far removed from their ancestors.

There were half-ton "chickens" in Australia 5 million years ago. 10 feet tall!


Or the even heavier Elephant birds in Madagascar until 800 years ago.


There was an article I read a while back about a guy in Europe who raises cows until they are like 20-years of age (the end of their life). When they are getting near the end of their natural lifespan, they are then slaughtered and and sold. He denied they are his "pets", but you can tell that caring for a life-form for 10-20 years definitely will cause a bond to develop.

It made me think that cows really are just big dogs. But big dogs that we have taken to eating, unfortunately.

I'm not sure I want to keep eating pork and beef. I do eat a lot of chicken these days in lieu of that anyways.

oh wow, well this is a very silence of the lambs like scenario. thanks for sharing. i, too, have witnessed other animals being extra aware of death in the past.

>The meat-eating utilitarian vegetarian tries to pick meat from larger animals over smaller animals. Since you get more meat per unit of pain inflicted.

By that logic, the endgame would be an animal bred so it can't experience pain or suffering. After all, if it can't suffer, you can treat it however badly you want, right?

relevant Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri quote:

>My gift to industry is the genetically engineered worker, or Genejack. Specially designed for labor, the Genejack's muscles and nerves are ideal for his task, and the cerebral cortex has been atrophied so that he can desire nothing except to perform his duties. Tyranny, you say? How can you tyrannize someone who cannot feel pain?

You've created one of the characters from Douglas Adams' "Restaurant at the End of the Universe", the Ameglian Major Cow, which had been bred to actually want to be slaughtered and eaten.

The definition of vegetarian stretches ever further.

I guess you could just strike that word without changing your meaning.


We don't though. You can be perfectly healthy without ever eating meat. The only vitamins that humans "need" to eat meat to get (basically vitamin B12, and sometimes D) are only present in factory farmed animals because they're supplemented in those animals' diets. Skip a step and just take those same supplements yourself.


My children and 5 and 3 and have (almost) never eaten meat, eggs or dairy. Tested regularily in a world class health system and they are stellar in every way.

B12 supplimentation is pretty trivial.

What? I eat meat, but this comment makes no sense. I have a number of healthy friends that have never touched meat in their lives.


“Need” was perhaps a strong word. But basically if one eats a strictly vegan diet during growth years without supplements, they WILL develop malnutrition related disorders and/or stunted growth. It is the recommendation of pediatricians to feed kids some meat so as to provide a natural source of essential vitamins and minerals. Kids who do not eat meat need to be screened for various malnutrition, growth, and eating disorders.

How long exactly is "from time to time"? 'Cause it's been 36 years for me and I haven't felt the need for meat yet...

There are plenty of ways to express that you value vegetarianism without making false or misleading titles. Part-time vegetarian would be fine.

Yeah but people readily accept almond milk and rice milk, etc... and say, “language changes.” And vegetarian “sausages”.

Sure, but I would be pretty annoyed if someone sold me almond milk as "utilitarian milk".

Oh, and also many countries do not allow almond milk to be labeled as milk in any way.

Behold the "Impossible Milk"!

> meat-eating utilitarian vegetarian tries to pick meat from larger animals over smaller animals

That’s not what ‘vegetarian’ means.


Good on him. It's worth promoting. And going to extremes is almost never the right answer, so enjoying meat on a special occasion with friends seems sensible.

Ironically, the exact inverse of carbon emissions per meat species. Chicken < Pork << Beef

Personally I'd prefer to order it in terms of sentience & intelligence as well, which still leaves us with chicken for dinner..

My dad was a poultry pathologist. Spent some of my childhood touring chicken houses.

I feel absolutely no ethical qualms about murdering chickens from an intelligence aspect. ;)

It'd take a lot of crickets to make up one cow's worth of meat... but I don't think crickets experience anything like what we would call pain. So the correct answer may lie at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Why not Beef > Mutton > Pork > Chicken?

Most of the people that I've ever known who grew pigs only kept them for a year. The sow would have a litter in the spring, they feed up the piglets all summer, then slaughter them before winter. Pigs are pretty easy and efficient sources of protein grown like that - on a family-scale farm you have plenty of excess produce and food waste anyway.

Isn't the availability of water resources a great concern for polar bear size pigs? Pigs are known for their high water needs and I imagine XXXL pig would even need more.

Good question. I wonder how that scales? Do 3 100 pound pigs need more or less than a single 300 pound pig? What about food as well? Maybe even waste, is there less or more or the same coming out?

What about from an ethics standpoint ? Is there less suffering when you compare a single 300 pound factory farmed pig to 3 100 pound pigs ?

Warning - auto-play videos abound

1. Pollution of air, water, and soil (feces-spraying ponds)

2. Antibiotic resistance in humans because of overuse in pigs (it doesn't have to be the same medication, only the same/similar pathway mechanism)

3. Pandemics (zillions of pigs kept in close proximity to each other and humans)

4. Climate change (2nd or 3rd most anthropogenic source)

5. Some other hippie reasons

6. More expensive than plant-based food

More relevant than ever. Some More News on Feral Hogs coming for your children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9MTMCo8JbQ


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