We have it pretty good here on the farm, the pigs and I, but we owe a lot to one person in particular: my Pig Mentor. For privacy's sake, I'll just refer to her as PM.
PM grew up on a farm, and she also is sharp as a whip - knows how to figure things out, pushes a pencil to numbers to figure if things are cost effective, knows her stock, constantly, is always learning a lot more to add to all the mystical talents and skills that make a good farmer. She's one of the comprehensively smartest people that I know.
PM and I attended OSU's College of Agriculture at roughly the same time, but we didn't meet till years later, when we sat across the table from each other at a Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy farm table dinner one night; it was the pig roast, of course. We hit it off, and she heard my yearning for having a little pig farm of my own. She invited us out to her place and started showing me practical skills - how to run current for electrical fencing over a large area and how to move it to rotate the stock. How to grow a diversified pasture, what to look for as the animals graze it, how to move the animals before the grazing area is damaged but the animals have utilized it well. We discussed lots of things. We planned. She let me farm sit a few times and get dirty. She gave me encouragement, and also realistic advice.
"Farming is an inherently dangerous profession."
"Sometimes farming is the hardest thing you'll ever have to do, and you'll doubt yourself, because all you have is a Sophie's Choice, and you pray you'll make the best decision and you live with the results."
"Farming can be the most rewarding occupation."
As usual, she has been right.
We moved to our little farm in the Missouri Ozarks, and she continued to be my friend, confidant, and wise advisor. We got the little black pigs, and, armed with her advice and planning, put them into the pastures that she helped me lay out. Thanks to PM, we had our infrastructure in place and ready to go when the pigs got here so that all of us hit the ground running and squealing. The tired, old pasture was already seeded with good things like clover, buckwheat, oats, and the piglets added the fertilizer. They grew well. PM suggested that I go ahead and try to get my own sows, then she sold me a couple of proven Berkshire sows and even brought them over from Oklahoma.
PM has always been there to advise me when things aren't going smoothly, such as the night Pistachio went down and sounded like she was in early labor. She commiserated with me when we lost some pregnancies and gave me guidance on what to do next. She celebrated with us when we successfully raised our first bunch of feeders and they turned out healthy and tasty. She has shooed some business this way. She has answered my calls when I really needed it, even when she has been out to dinner or at the movies.
Best of all, PM has given me confidence - in the way we choose to farm, in how we take care of the land that feeds our pigs, in how we raise and care for the land and our stock.. Confidence when I have to make that Sophie's Choice decision, and consolation in having to do it. Confidence in keeping at it, so that it wasn't so hard to buy and raise piglets when my sow didn't have any, and watching those pigs thrive, too.
But the most amazing thing about PM? I'm not her only woman farmer that she mentors. There are others that she shares her knowledge, experience and fine stock with. She generously shares so much with us so that we can grow and learn and become mighty fine stock persons, too, and she does this without expecting much in return. Just the satisfaction of seeing her gift of time and experience going out to help others. Not many new farmers are lucky to have any kind of mentor, never mind one like PM. That's why I will repay her by keeping a keen eye out for someone who needs a PM when they are starting out, and giving her words of support and wisdom as she travels this dicey and rewarding road of being a small farmer. Because at the end of the day, my best tribute to PM isn't a blog post. It's paying the gift back to others that follow. PM, thank you so much. We love you, gal.
Just to be clear, we raise hogs to feed people. The hogs live a really good life for 8 months (about 2 months longer than other meat hogs), and then they have one bad day. As an omnivore, that is a scenario I can live with. As a farmer who sells pork, it is a subject that I often have to handle carefully. Let's be plain - this is the end result:
It is easy to get carried away by the joy of pictures of cute piglets loving life out in swathes of rich, green pasture. Lucky me, I get to live this every day; I have a part in making life like this for these fortunate few pigs, and it is vastly rewarding.
It's easy to get caught up in the pretty part of the story, and it is a very true story, but there is one unspoken fact: We like bacon. And pork chops.
I'm not telling you this to get you down - if anything, you should be happy. Happy that you have a choice between hogs raised our way versus raised like widgets in a commercial hog house (which I personally view as a horrifying situation for such noble and misunderstood animals) for as cheaply as they can squeeze a penny. Because you buy ethically treated pork from a farmer like me, more hogs get to live the good life. The hogs and I owe you our gratitude. And you are rewarded with healthy meat and superior flavor.
This is my thank you note to my small number of customers last year who are helping buy the oats and pasture seed this year, and who helped us afford to keep Big Lil for our sow herd. She's grateful, too.
And this is also a sales pitch. Due to increased interest in our pork, we are raising more pigs this year than last. Our current batch will be ready in August. We have one available - he's a bit smaller, but is by no means runty; he is quite sturdy and gaining muscle nicely, but he will not provide as big a hog as we normally produce. This is great news for someone who wants to try our pork but on a somewhat smaller scale. Right now, we have whole or half hog options available. Pricing information is under the "About" tab on the menu.
Also, we will have more piglets born in June and ready for your freezer in late February or early March. We haven't decided how many to keep just yet, so if you are interested in this batch, contact me.
And to those of you more interested in buying smaller meat bundles or individual cuts of pork, we've heard you! I am working on the legal and logistical details of making that happen in 2017. We will have weekly drop-off points in Springfield, MO. as well as occasional drop-offs in Oklahoma. You will be able to make your selections in our on-line store, put the cuts in your shopping cart, pay in advance, then just come to the delivery point and pick up your package of goodies. By next year, we also plan to include chicken and eggs to the shopping options.
Once again, thank you for your interest and support. The farm, the pigs and I are grateful; we couldn't do it without you.
1. For I awaken each day in a bed of fresh straw.
2. For I walk in the sun and lay in cool soil.
3. For the air I breathe is fresh and fragrant of life.
4. For there is much green food of a wide variety to eat.
5. For I may run and snort and play tag with my siblings.
6. For it is much fun and pleasurable to do so.
7. For to lie and roll in a mud wallow is a luxurious thing.
8. For there are trees here that will bear acorns and walnuts.
9. For I shall eat the acorns and walnuts, and they are delicious.
10. For Farmer Merry knows where to scratch me, and she does so.
11. For all that glisters is gold, if it is a little red pig in the sunlight.
12. For I may root in the dark soil if I wish to.
13. For I am a happy, healthy little red pig living on this farm in the Ozarks.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.