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Vancouver Island farmer raises rare breed of giant pig to create more sustainable meat

Just south of Qualicum Bay on Vancouver Island, a farmer is trying to preserve a rare breed of pig by advertising its tasty meat.

Gene Ambrose is hoping to save a heritage breed of pig from extinction by creating a market for its meat

Sizzle, a sow of the "large black" breed that lives on End of the Road Ranch in Qualicum Beach. (End of the Road Ranch/Facebook)

Just south of Qualicum Bay on Vancouver Island, a farmer is trying to preserve a rare breed of pig by advertising its tasty meat.

There are about 400 "large black" pigs left in Canada. At End of the Road Ranch, owner Gene Ambrose is trying to grow his herd of hefty swine by creating a market for his pasture-fed pork.

"The farms that are raising these endangered breeds are themselves endangered," Ambrose told All Points West host Jason D'Souza. 

"It's hard to make a business case for raising them and it requires a dedicated client base."

Gene Ambrose raises "large black" pigs on his farm in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver island. These gentle giants can grow to be over 800 lbs. (End of the Road Ranch/Facebook)

The female pigs can weigh anywhere from 550-850 lbs, with boars growing even larger, according to Ambrose. 

But they're not as intimidating as their size might suggest.

"They're gentle giants. They're very mild mannered and they're very easy to handle," he said.

Popular in the West Country of England in the late 19th century, these pigs thrived in the pastures of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset as grain was expensive and land was available. Once grain became a more cost-effective option, the large black pig was largely phased out in favour of the more common Yorkshire pig.

The large black breed of pig produces what Ambrose describes as "marbled, tender, juicy meat," which pork isn't generally known for.

It currently sells to a client base of about 50 regular customers. Products are available at local farmer's markets and online orders through Farmgate.

Foodie photos

"I have a few customers who were children in the 1950s and have come back and have said that this is exactly like pork was when I was a kid, which is really cool to hear," he said.

Some returning customers actively participate in their weekly meat draws by providing tasty snapshots of how they've chosen to prepare their cuts.

"There have been a lot of people who have been cooking some fantastic dishes and sending photos in — that's a real foodie reaction."

But to keep business going at a level that would expand their herd, they would need to grow their clientele to roughly 500 people.

He hopes the number of small farms raising this gentle heritage breed grows, which in turn will help with gene diversity — making healthier, more resilient pigs and better meat.

With files from All Points West