The animal kingdom is full of surprises. Through the thousands of years that mankind has been on this planet, we have seen the rise and fall of countless other species of animals. We've discovered so many interesting creatures, while at the same time we have either directly caused the endangerment and/or extinction of so many other species, or at the least allowed it to happen.
We are creatures with an unsurpassed ability to bend this world to our own wills, but the process of animals dying out because of us hasn't always been a bloody one in every case. Rather than hunting them to extinction, we've been responsible for the rise and fall of many a species simply to suit our own needs. We crossbreed and selectively breed all types of domesticated animals to produce different varieties that emphasize and/or de-emphasize certain characteristics as needed. This is how early ancestors of wolves were eventually bred into becoming the loyal lapdogs of today.
Over the centuries, farm animals have also seen their share of rises and falls, with certain species rising to prominence as tastes change. Take Black Angus or Kobe beef for instance. When I was a kid, the former was practically unheard of while the latter was only just starting to be noticed. Some 20-odd years later, these are the first two names many diners think of when asked to name a "quality" beef.
These are Mangalica (a.k.a. Mangalitsa/Mangalitza) pigs, a wooly pig breed from Hungary. They almost look like it's half-sheep don't they? Their wooly coat even feels a lot like sheep's wool.
They tend to grow to about 200 pounds or so, and come in three breeds (Blonde, Red, Swallow-bellied) that are virtually all the same, other than their color.
The Mangalica was first bred for lard production in the 1830s by Archduke Joseph of Austria, who was Palatine of Hungary at the time. Mangalicas are considerably fattier (nearly double the fat) than the comparatively lean pigs that most consumers are used to today.
When the veil of Communism fell over Hungary, stricter farming practices and a shift in demand to lower-fat foods in the 1950s and 1960s led to a severe decline in Mangalica numbers.
The breed almost went extinct, but it was thankfully revived in the 1990s by a series of Hungarian pig breeders, including the famed Peter Toth.
Today, there are thousands of Mangalicas in Hungary and in 2007, some of them even came to America, where they are quickly gaining popularity. Cultural perspectives are once again shifting - people are starting to realize fat is not necessarily the devil it was made out to be. The rich, fatty meat of Mangalica pigs has been compared by some chefs as being the pork equivalent of Kobe beef.
The average sow will give birth to a litter of anywhere from 8-12 piglets, though this number is highly dependent on the actual pig. The pigs are great natural foragers, but they do need a little supplementary feeding daily.
Mangalicas are a lovely, smart, hardy breed. With proper care and handling, they can even become as tame as your dog!