Saving the Guinea Hogs: The Recovery of an American Homestead Breed is one of the newest books on the Acres U.S.A. digital shelves this month. This narrative non-fiction book is the first definitive history of the Guinea Hog breed, and the result of much in-depth research by its author.
Recently, we asked author Cathy R. Payne to tell us a bit more about herself, and the process of writing Saving the Guinea Hogs.
Tell us a little bit about yourself – where do you live, and do you own any guinea hogs or other animals?
I live in Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia, the first chartered land grant university in the country. I live with my husband, Jon, an English Shepherd (retired farm collie) named Cody, and a 15-pound ragdoll cat, Chico. My yard is home to a wide variety of songbirds, pollinators, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums, rabbits, and meandering whitetail deer herds. We sold our farm in early August of 2018, along with all the animals.
When did you first encounter guinea hogs?
I met my first Guinea Hog in 2013. When I started looking for more information, it was hard to find. The hogs were hard to locate at first, too. Once I met them, I was convinced they would be ideal for my small farm.
What convinced you to write a book about them?
I like to find original sources and do in depth research once I get an idea about something. The Guinea Hogs were described as being unique and different, but it was a vague concept and nobody was certain about the history. Genetic lineage was very fuzzy. The breed association was only seven years old at the time. So I decided that if I wanted to read the book, I’d have to write it first!
Was it difficult to find the information you needed?
Yes and no. It took almost six year of research to get the information packed into my 240 page book. However, it was so fascinating! I love doing interviews and hearing stories from the past. I am curious about everything and love getting my questions answered.
It was a bit slow at first because I didn’t know how or where to start. I began by announcing to the world that I was going to write the book and asking for contact information about older people who used to raise the Guinea Hogs. One person on a Yahoo Group sent me some pedigree information and copies of emails from the early breeders. From those documents and conversations with her, I began to develop a plan.
Just this week I found a notebook dated November 27, 2013. I had listed the names of eighteen hogs I was looking for, and the names of four breeders and a few farmers I wanted to talk with. I’ve interviewed every owner of those eighteen hogs, and they are all referenced in Saving the Guinea Hogs. There are only three people on the list that I did not speak with. I was really taken aback when I found this notebook I had not touched in several years after writing down my wish list.
From there, other people stepped forward with a name, or a phone number, or an idea. The Livestock Conservancy opened up its archives to me so I had their historical documents and summaries of DNA testing. One thing led to another, and it seemed like doors were flung open for me every step of the way.
What was your favorite part during the writing/creation process?
It was so much fun to find someone after searching for days, weeks, months, or years. I completed one interview the first week in March, 2019. My ebook was published on March 15th. I had been searching for him for three years. I also enjoyed going back to transcriptions from the interviews. Someone I interviewed in 2013 mentioned “a breeder in Mississippi.” I discovered who that was, traveled to Mississippi, and brought home pigs from him in 2015. So it was fun to make connections, revisit the interviews, and put all the bits and pieces into a coherent story with a timeline.
Did you learn anything surprising while writing this book?
Absolutely! I learned that a large portion of the breeding hogs known in 2005 did not get into the breed association’s database when it was put together in 2006. Their names were recorded, but those breeders never joined the association. They kept their pigs for family use. During my research process, I obtained genetics from these herds and guided others to obtain genetics from the herds. I formed a breeding Network with three other women in three states to keep them and encourage the breed association to accept them as hogs eligible for registration. It was a difficult process and took two years to complete, but including those genetics was a huge boon to the national Guinea Hog herd. Those genetics can easily prevent genetic bottlenecks due to inbreeding in the future. There were only eleven original foundation hogs, and my research revealed that nine of them were very close relatives with some full siblings. There is a whole section of the book devoted to this part of the story.
What do you hope your readers learn or gain from this book?
I want readers to learn southern history, to learn agricultural history, and to learn Guinea Hog history. In the process, they will have a greater respect for our food system, for the role of heritage livestock breeds, and for the importance of preserving our stories. Two of the breeders passed away during my research. Time is fleeting. These hogs meant more than food to the families that raised them. They were part of the family, sources of income, and suppliers of lard for lubricating wheels, making soap, and making candles. They were utilized from head to tail.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I began farming after I retired from elementary education at age fifty-seven. I had no experience or guidance, but I had a vision. it is never too late to start farming, writing, painting, or to learn anything else you would like to do. If you can think of it, you can probably do it. Give yourself permission to start again, reinvent yourself, and go for it! I have plans to write several more farm-related books. My list seems to grow by the week. Right now I’m trying to decide between three I am considering for my next book. Readers can follow me on my website, my author central page on Amazon, on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
LISTEN: Cathy Payne was a guest on the Tractor Time podcast. Listen to her lively conversation with Acres U.S.A. Magazine editor Ben Trollinger.
About Cathy R. Payne
Cathy R. Payne is a retired elementary special education teacher and former reading specialist. She writes and educates about heritage breeds she has raised. From 2010 to 2018, she managed a sustainable 11-acre farm in Elberton, Georgia, with her husband, Jon. This is her first book, and the first of a planned series about the guinea hog breed.