Though knowing exactly how a domestic animal evolved and reached domestication enhances one’s understanding of the species’ history, one also must explore how domestication has altered this animal in order to gain a better understanding of the long-term impacts of domestication. The pig specifically, has undergone some major alterations as a result of domestication.
An online article Humans Have Added New Bones to the Pig presents that even since the beginning of pig farming thousands of years ago, humans have altered the original pig by making its body slightly longer. They initially tried to breed longer pigs, which proves greatly beneficial to pork production, until the body length became permanently longer. In fact, 70 years ago, farming reached such intensity that the pig actually developed a full extra vertebrae, resulting towards the push for longer pigs for pork production (Brix).
In addition, farmers also tried so hard to breed pigs with lower fat content, that it lightened the color of the pig’s coat (Brix). This push towards leaner pork has actually altered some of the breeds so much that they now face endangerment (Hutchins).
Furthermore, the skull of the domestic pig has undergone changes resulting from domestication as well. In Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, the author points out that the skull of the domestic pig has actually “changed from its wild form more than that of any other domestic animal besides the dog.” Specifically, “the skull is now broader with a shorter anterior portion” (Hutchins). Other changes have occurred to the head area as well, such as the brain case moving higher up on the skull. Not only the skull, but also the entire head area, as well as legs, ears, and the tail, have seen changes brought on by the process of domestication. The head has shrunk in size overall, and the legs have shortened; and ironically, the cute floppy ears and little curly tail associated with the domestic pig actually resulted from domestication as well (Hutchins).
Beyond physical changes, domestication of pigs has also resulted in altered behavioral characteristics. Most domestic animals are “selectively bred” to exhibit more tameness, and pigs are no exception to this trend. Over the years, pigs have become less and less aggressive because breeders select the pigs who appear tamer, and keep breeding them together to try and ensure tame offspring (Zeder).
More recent changes, occurring within the past 50 years, have resulted from the fad of micro or teacup pets. Several breeders jumped on the tiny exotic pet bandwagon and have tried to inflict a permanent change in pigs to create miniscule “teacup” pigs. However, breeders have not found too much success and have actually gotten into legal trouble for false advertising, once the new owner of a teacup pig realizes he owns nothing more than a runt. In fact, the breeding process of micro or teacup pigs does not actually produce a breed separate from any normal domestic pig, the breeders simply find the smallest pigs possible and continuously breed them together in hopes the piglet will stay at that tiny size (Wood).
Due to this discrepancy between the owners of the “Little Pig Farm,” in Cambridgeshire, and the purchasers of the adorable little pigs about what exactly constitutes as a teacup pig, the company underwent public criticism for “misleading customers” and false advertisement (Cloake). One of their pigs appears in the image below, and one can easily see why they attracted so many buyers.
However, these little pigs do not stay little forever. An article titled “Pet Pig Makes a Splash around Wellfleet,” the author claims teacup pigs should grow to about 13 inches and weigh 30-40 pounds, “if not overfed” (Wood). This simple tagline of “if not overfed” serves to try and justify some of the supposedly miniature pigs reaching full size of hundreds of pounds. Unfortunately, breeders have used a variety of smaller pot-bellied pigs to try and produce these exotic pets (Thaler). According to Andrew Thaler, biologist and geneticist, notes that to a “legitimate breeder,” the term miniature pig to them equates to a 300-pound Vietnamese pot-bellied pig (Thaler).
Due to the choice of a pot-bellied pig for the attempt to make a permanently small teacup pig, naïve buyers often take home a teacup pig the size of a teacup Yorkie, which eventually grows to the size of a Labrador (Cloake). One could easily find this information on the internet, yet many buyers fall for the marketing scheme of “teacup” nonetheless. Even celebrities, such as Paris Hilton, walk around Hollywood sporting this fashionable farm animals. Pictured below is she and “Glitzy,” when she first bought her. Adorable right?
http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/paris-hiltons-teacup-pig And here is a picture of Glitzy full-grown; not exactly suited for a handbag, as a teacup Yorkie or Chihuahua would be.
Unfortunately, many owners of the teacup pigs realize they do not have the housing or funding for a couple-hundred pound pig compared to the 30 pound cutie they thought they brought home, which results in neglect or abandonment of Wilbur. Hopefully, the breeders will honestly depict their true method of breeding, and owners will come to appreciate how much potential these clean, intelligent animals have to offer.
Overall, humans have induced many changes to pigs as a result of domestication, and it appears that many of these changes bring more harm to the pig population than good. In the 2014 section of Deep History and Domestication, the debate has often arose over whether or not the advancement of the human race justifies the artificial selection of animals. It seems as though humans should pick and choose when it is truly necessary to alter pigs to benefit humans. Lowering the fat content of pork could greatly benefit American health, but it comes as the cost of certain pig species. Some believe humans should preserve every species of every animal known to man (literally), while others feel humans have the ability to work around nature and would not suffer a serious setback if one species diminishes. No matter one’s belief system, I think everyone can agree that the pig does not deserve to suffer because it seems more fashionable to keep a tiny pig than the full-sized pot belly pig the “designer pigs” soon grow into.
Furthermore, one could argue that farmers did not realize that the selective breeding of longer and tamer pigs would create a permanent change in the biology of the domestic pig. Even further, the Deep History and Domestication class has discussed various instances where a culture does not even intentionally domesticate an animal, such as with the cat. A village could simply protect an animal because it benefits the community, such as the cat’s ability to catch mice, and poof, they have produced a new domestic breed of the formerly wild species. Should this be the case, one would assume since the humans did not realize the extent of their impact on the animal’s DNA (they probably did not even fully comprehend the concept of DNA or know it even existed, depending on the time period), they should not be held accountable for the change in the species.
Today, humans have absolutely learned how to intentionally alter an animal for the benefit of man, which brings forth the true debate: do humans truly have the domain to choose what changes occur to the animal and when these changes prove necessary? Various arguments for and against the concept of human domain over the animals, but the infamous Darwin makes an excellent point; that natural selection often determines man’s power of selection (Darwin 335). In simpler terms, man only has to work with what nature already has to offer him, so is man truly altering nature, or is he just playing his part in it?