To Save These Pigs, Ky. Farmer Says We Have To Eat Them : The Salt Travis Hood is raising a rare species of pig called the Red Wattle. He's part of a small but growing movement across the country to hold on to biodiversity and save heritage breeds.
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To Save These Pigs, Ky. Farmer Says We Have To Eat Them

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To Save These Pigs, Ky. Farmer Says We Have To Eat Them

To Save These Pigs, Ky. Farmer Says We Have To Eat Them

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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OK, many people grow up knowing the story of "Charlotte's Web" - a spider with literary talent saves a pig named Wilbur from the slaughterhouse. Now from Robertson County, Kentucky we have the story of two pigs from an endangered breed. The catch here is that experts say in order to save pigs like them, they need to be eaten. Leslie Guttman reports.

TRAVIS HOOD: Come here, buddy.


LESLIE GUTTMAN, BYLINE: Luther, a Red Wattle pig, is stuck in a mud pit - all 700 pounds of him. Farmer Travis Hood hoses water on Luther while his 9-year-old daughter, Taylor, sprinkles feed on the ground to try and motivate the pig to climb out. Luther and his fellow Red Wattles are a threatened breed according to a group called The Livestock Conservancy. There's only about 6,000 of them in the United States. Hood is one of a small group of farmers raising them.

HOOD: Fifteen-twenty years ago, there were less than 50 of this breed of hog. And because of slow food movements, it has made a comeback. So because they're desirable and finding themselves into restaurants and farmers' markets, you're giving us a reason to raise them.


GUTTMAN: That slurping is Lucy - a 650-pound sow eating lunch. Lucy's 5 years old and the farm matriarch. She's earth-toned with the trademark wattles. Those are pieces of cartilage about four inches long that hang down from either side of her neck. This tiny county seems an unlikely place to find a campaign for genetic diversity in our country's food system. But Warren Beeler, of the state's Department of Agriculture, says what Hood is doing is critical.

WARREN BEELER: You don't want to lose any genetics because when you do, you lose it forever. And so the Red Wattles - they take a step back in terms of being those kinds of hogs that will survive very well out in the open, where the hogs that we've got now probably couldn't handle that. That's a degree of toughness.

GUTTMAN: Gregg Rentfrow, a meat scientist at the University of Kentucky, says Red Wattles don't add much to global food production because heritage pig breeds take longer to get to market than conventionally raised pigs.

GREGG RENTFROW: When we start to solve the problem of how we're going to feed 9 billion people, you know, we have to make sure that not only we were able to feed all these people but we're able to feed them cheaply.

KATHY WATKINS: Just looking to see what you have.

HOOD: Three kinds of bacon.

GUTTMAN: And Red Wattle meat isn't cheap. At this farmers' market in Lexington, Kathy Watkins buys some of Hood's bacon for $13 a pound - almost double what she'd pay for bacon in a supermarket.

WATKINS: It's got a nice color.

GUTTMAN: She fries it up for breakfast the next morning and says it tastes different from regular bacon.

GUTTMAN: How is it?

WATKINS: This is delicious. It's got kind of a deeper - a smoky kind of a taste going.

GUTTMAN: Hood says this year he sold almost three and a half tons of pork products at farmers' markets and to restaurants. The farm turned a profit for the first time. It's the payoff from a risk he took five years ago when he left a 16-year career as a golf course superintendent.

HOOD: It went from a salary position with full benefits down to an hourly position, no benefits. So I thought, well, at the very least we can feed ourselves. So we got a couple of hogs to, you know, supply our own meat. Well, it started to snowball.

GUTTMAN: Hood's entire family works on the 78-acre farm, but his daughter, Taylor, is very different from Fern, the girl in "Charlotte's Web." Fern wanted to save Wilbur from the slaughterhouse - not Taylor.

TAYLOR HOOD: I honestly think it's good for just us - that the world - because fresh pork is good pork.

GUTTMAN: Hood is a little more sentimental - about Lucy, at least. His favorite pig. His first pig. He says it'll be a sad day when he drives her to the slaughterhouse sometime in the next several months.

HOOD: It takes a certain mindset in order to do it 'cause you do get attached to them.

HOOD: Luther.

GUTTMAN: Luther has more time on the farm - another two years or so. And then Hood will sell him for breeding.

Meanwhile, Luther's still trying to extricate himself from the mud. Hood shrugs and moves on to more farm chores. He says when Luther gets hungry enough, he'll stop complaining and muster the energy to climb out. Leslie Guttman, Lexington, Kentucky.

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