We’re excited for a new season of farming: full of opportunities, challenges, and rewards. 2017 is going to be a big one for us, as we’re doubling our production and to help manage that growth, Christina is now working full-time on the farm. Woo hoo!
So what better time than now to talk in some detail about how we raise our pigs? Not much has changed from last year, we’re still focused on raising happy animals and making the best tasting pork possible. Fortunately those two goals go hand-in-hand!
We keep our pigs content by eliminating sources of stress and providing all that they might need. The local coyotes and cougars are kept at bay by a livestock guardian dog that lives with the pigs and has bonded to them as his “flock.”
Our pigs get fed a ration of non-GMO grain from our local feed mill (Union Mills Feed, 5 miles from the farm) and pre-consumer food waste (veggies, bread, whey). Pigs grow fast - reaching 280 pounds in 6-8 months and so they eat a lot! One of our goals this year is to reduce the amount of purpose-grown commercial hog food we buy. In a normal system each animal will eat about 1000 pounds of grain to reach market weight. By adding in food waste and turning it back into delicious pork, we’re not only keeping our feed bill down and animals happy but preventing all that food from ending up in a landfill!
The most important part of our management system is our frequent moves onto fresh ground. Pigs want to be pigs and explore their surroundings, rooting and searching for buried treasures. They’re also creatures of habit, and if we were to let them loose onto a huge pasture they would create “bathroom” areas that they would use over and over again. Our neighbors wouldn’t be too keen on giant stinking piles of pig poo and more importantly, nasty bacteria and chemicals would leach into our water system. To prevent this we keep them in small groups and give them access to about 2000 square feet of ground at a time, which forces them to spread the manure around the pasture and allows the billions of soil microorganisms to effectively capture its nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil for use by future crops. We’ve turned a liability into an asset.
This is all well and good, you might be thinking, but where do we get the pigs to begin with? Ultimately it will make sense for us to breed our own piglets and develop genetics that fit best in our system. But at the moment we don’t have the resources (labor, mostly) to do that and so we’ve been buying weaned piglets at 20-30 pounds from some professional breeders in the area. Last year we raised Berkshire/Tamworth crosses. This year, our first group are Yorkshire and Hereford. We like getting pigs that are heritage breeds crossed with conventional breeds, as they are hearty, fast growing, and produce great tasting meat.
So we buy them as babies and raise them up, keeping them healthy and as comfortable as possible. At around seven months old they reach market weight and we load them into our livestock trailer and take them to our USDA and Animal Welfare Approved butcher, who processes the animal into retail cuts. We pick up the cuts about a week later and then load them into our freezers back at the farm, where they wait until they head to market or one of our fine local grocers.
Best wishes to you and your families for a happy and healthy 2017! We’ll see you out there.