Thursday, March 6, 2014

On Raising Our Own Meat

The arrival of pigs on the farm again completes the full cycle of our first experience raising our own meat. As I see it, the cycle didn't end with the trip to the butcher shop, or the first pork chop dinner, but with the return of live pigs, full knowing what lies at the end of their long and joyful road. Last February we had welcomed our first herd to the farm, they were intertwined with our daily lives until harvest at the end of October. There is no question, John and I both agree that it was one of the most amazing and meaningful experiences in our lives.

Our 2013 herd, 7-mo. old feeder piglets. Daisy, Lauren, Jaymey,
Yoda and Oliver were raised with much love, open air and freedom (and many, many apples).
Before the end of the season we knew we wanted pigs again this year--the farm will no longer feel complete without animals, pigs in particular. There were difficult times, especially at the end. Tears were shed, more than once. No regrets were had, ever. And the meat? Amazing. The first pork chop dinner John made with our homegrown, pastured meat was delicious--we high-fived each other three times during that meal.

Pigs are affectionate, social, lovable creatures.
While raising our own meat was the main intention for this venture there were other benefits as well. We wanted to grow our own meat, because we would know exactly how it was raised--humanely, in the fresh air, no hormones and the freedom to live as the animals that they are. It is just wrong to raise animals in confinement barns, better called concentration camps, it's unnatural, unhealthy for the animals and people who consume them, and bad for the environment.

Pigs on green grass, the way it's supposed to be.
The pigs provided another benefit by closing the loop on the farm. By this I refer to a cycle of nutrients and a reduction in waste. Extra, bad and damaged produce, thinnings and trimmings went to the hogs, whom received them happily. Their bedding, which contains some manure, is applied to the field at the end of the season--adding organic matter and nutrients back to the soil. Last year they were put out on the barley field, after harvest, to clean up grain and spread their manure.

Those lucky hogs also had tickets to an unlimited apple buffet. The other main reason we decided to try pigs (aside from meat production) was for pest management at the apple orchard. Cleaning up the fallen apples at the orchard disrupts the pest cycle--extremely important in organic production. The pigs spent two weeks at the orchard in 2013 assisting in pest management. A couple trailer loads of apples were also brought back to the farm for them. Now, not only are we removing the downed apples, but we are able to make good use of them too. And the pigs were happy to help.

The piggies helped me with a Schell's photo contest.
The pigs brought therapeutic benefit--providing stress relief, affection and connection. Even in the middle of the hardest work, or the beating heat of summer a visit with the pigs would lift spirits and invite laughter. Every day we could watch them on pasture, which was a clear picture of the difference we are making in our little corner of the world. The pigs loved belly rubs and it was not uncommon to go in their pasture only to have two or three of them flop down around you for their turn. As soon as we went out to work in the morning we would wait to hear those first oinks of the day, and they always brought a smile.
The pigs grown and ready for harvest.
Having the pigs on the farm became the best way to get Emily, our teenager, involved. Although she wanted nothing to do with vegetables and weeds, bringing animals to the farm created a connection with her. This is a sure way that she will be outside each and every day, nurturing the pigs, and now chickens as well. That alone is worth so much. She now regularly takes her favored chicken, Bonita, for "walks" and has introduced her to the new piggies.

Vera and Lilly settling into their new digs.
Enter Vera and Lilly. We are already madly in love with these ladies. They have wonderful dispositions, they are playful and affectionate. The girls are sisters, two years old and a mix of 75% Ossabaw Island and 25% North American Guinea Hog, both smaller, heritage breeds. They were bred to Professor Beefcake in February and should farrow (give birth) this June. What exciting times we have ahead of us!

Lilly and Vera saying hello to the camera.
As we tend to and grow our herd we strive to give them the absolute best possible lives they could have, and we take pride in doing so. It is challenging work tending animals--they are live, active beings that are much different that kale and tomato plants (and tomatoes just aren't as playful). The experience of raising our own meat has been, and continues to be highly rewarding and invigorating. Being able to care for these precious animals is a gift. Putting nutritious and healthy meat in the freezer is a blessing for our family. Educating our community by sharing our story is invaluable. 

For videos of the pigs, and other farm happenings, head over to our new YouTube channel.

Don't forget to follow us on facebook, there are sure to be regular piggie pictures.

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