End of the Road Ranch owner Gene Ambrose stands with some of his large black pigs, a rare breed he hopes to keep going with the help of local diners. — Adam Kveton Photo

Local farmer raising rare gentle giants

Gene Ambrose helping to keep endangered pig breed alive

A farmer south of Qualicum Bay is hoping the local community will help him keep an endangered breed of pig alive.

By eating them.

Gene Ambrose runs End of the Road Ranch at the end of Thorpe Road South, where he’s begun selling pork this year from his stock of large black pigs.

Though they might not sound that exotic, the large black, sometimes known as the lop-eared black, is native to Cornwall, Devon and Somerset in southwestern England and grew popular in the last half of the 1800s.

Known as a heritage breed, the pigs are listed as endangered in Canada, according to Rare Breeds Canada, with Ambrose estimating there are about 400 of them in Canada now.

“The value that these animals hold is their ability to forage,” he said.

That means they are able to gain weight on a pasture rather than needing to be raised in a barn on grains. That’s why the pigs were so popular into the early 1920s, until a reduction in grain costs after the Second World War led to raising hogs on feed in a barn being cost-effective, he said.

The animals are also easy to work with, said Ambrose.

“They are fantastic. They are gentle giants,” he said, adding that there are other breeds of pig that you wouldn’t want to get in a pen with for fear of getting bitten.

As for their taste, Ambrose said they produce a marbled red meat with much more flavour that your usual lean, white pork.

While eating an animal to preserve it may seem counterproductive, Ambrose explained that the pig just won’t survive as a livestock animal unless there is a proven desire for it.

“I need the support of local diners,” he said.

He’s also saving the best of his large blacks as purchasable breeding stock.

Currently Ambrose is selling pork through his website, eotr.ca, as well as at the Errington and Qualicum Beach farmers markets.

So far, the venture hasn’t been selling as well as he needs, but Ambrose said he hopes locals will see the benefit in helping to preserve a pig that doesn’t need a barn and feed to survive, and helping to preserve more genetic diversity within pig livestock in general.

For more info, go to eotr.ca or to the ranch’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/End-of-the-Road-Ranch-1901072220125366/.

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