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.
Meet the members of the band - the band of little red piglets, that is, siblings of a litter of heritage Red Wattle x Berkshire hogs. Since they are red (obviously) and this is the Year of the Chili Pepper, they have been named Hatch, Aleppo, Cayenne, and Dundicut. The feisty little pigs are as lively as their namesakes and off to a good start.
As most of you know, our sow Pistachio had a false pregnancy, which meant no piglets from our farm to raise up. And our customers were already placing orders and putting down deposits for their hogs this fall, so we found these piglets at a neighboring farm to satisfy that demand.
They were raised in a large lot, which concerned me a little. Would they adapt well to our pastured model here at the farm? Those concerns fell by the wayside pretty quickly. We sequester new piglets in a 9 ft x 35 ft stall for their first few days as they settle into new surroundings, get used to the hot wire we use here (a strand stretched across the stall gate trains them to it quickly), and are assessed for health issues. They are quite smart, and recover from the stress of weaning from their mom in short order. I threw in alfalfa hay, which was quickly consumed. I pulled up turnips that had overwintered in the pasture. The vegetables were quickly gobbled up. They were absolute naturals when I turned them out into the pasture the first evening, and within a couple of days, they were working the green oat grass and turnips in the paddock like old pros. Now they spend their nights cozy in a straw bed in the stalls and spend most of their day out on the pasture, except for naps. Naps are good.
They were a little scruffy and a little too ravenous when we got them, so they were given a dose of wormer, and they have been growing and getting sleeker ever since. They will get one more dose and then get rotated to the next pasture area. The rotations allow each pasture enough time before it is revisited so that it helps break the parasite cycle. We do this as a matter of course when we get animals from off site because there is no guarantee that they carry a low load of internal and external parasites. We want to feed pigs, not worms.
Little Aleppo is digging into some turnips and oats sown last fall (they overwintered nicely). These pigs lost no time exploring the area, munching down on tender greens, and running up and down the length of the pasture just for fun. They have been rooting as well, which I do not discourage. At night, they are safely snugged up in their stall and bury themselves under a stack of loose straw, and it is fun to watch them erupt from their nest in the morning, covered with straw and ready to meet a new day. I enjoy sitting and watching them when I get some time; it is a great way to learn their personalities. Wee Hatch, the smallest of the pigs, is persistent in pushing forward into a choice bit of pasture or into the feeder, and it is paying off. He is beginning to catch up in size with the others. He is also the only pig that won't let me scratch him at this point. He'll get there eventually, but it is ok to have one pig that is a bit wary.
Cayenne is my easiest one to handle, and fast becoming a favorite. She's affectionate, eagerly seeks out a good scratching and rub behind the ears. It is always beneficial to have one animal that is easy to coax and easy to move. Once I get one pig to do what I want, the rest follow in a monkey-see, monkey-do fashion, Sometimes an animal who performs this role is referred to as a "Judas"; I refer to her as "lucky". First to get tender morsels. First to get fresh, cool water. First to get muddy in a wallow. First to get scratched and petted. And sometimes, her temperament is the deciding factor in whether or not she stays on the farm.
Our English Shepherd pup, Gilly, is being investigated by Cayenne and a sister. Gilly is learning how to help do chores and manage the pigs. She does great with the big sows, but these smaller pigs make her somewhat nervous, especially when they circle around and eye her like a potential breakfast item. They are mutually interested in each other and will form a bond over time. Cayenne has grown quite a bit since I took this picture - they have been growing and thriving here, just as they ought to.
Nothing too profound in this week's post, just a typical meet and greet. The little red peppers are kind of the hot stuff around here these days, and they will be getting some visitors over Spring Break. Maybe they will put on a concert or serve chips and salsa. Me? I'm out to sow some seeds ahead of two days of rain so the sows and the piglets will have good things to eat in their next rotation. Thank for coming along today.
It's been a couple of harsh weeks here on the farm. A reminder that, no matter how much you plan, things can take a course of their own. And a time to reconfigure how we do some things, let go of some dreams, pursue others. I am opening up the darker heart of being a farmer, just as I have shared the joy of it, and together we will get to the other side and move forward.
The picture above is of Pistachio one week before she was scheduled to give birth. It was our first indication that something wasn't right, because a sow usually fills up her udders with rich milk by then. Pistachio had gotten larger, had started nesting, in short, had given every indication that she was pregnant. But she wasn't. She had a false pregnancy, and the anticipated litter of piglets due on Valentine's Day didn't happen. This meant that we had no piglets to raise for our customers who were already putting down deposits and ordering their hog for the Fall; it meant we have no extra weanlings to sell as feeders. No income, no inventory,
Why did a false pregnancy happen? There are lots of reasons - they came from another farm, so maybe they haven't gotten used to the bugs on our place yet. Stress can do it, and there has been lots of struggle between Pistachio and Petunia over food, pecking order, and other things. We'll never know for sure. The good news is, she is back to her svelte self and in good health.
Petunia has been showing a bad attitude for a while, becoming increasingly more aggressive towards me and towards the other two sows. The day before she is in standing heat, she acts like a boar, and apparently sees me as competition. She has gotten very pushy, has even trapped me out in a pasture before, but recently, she trapped me in the corner by the gate and attacked me. I was able to grab the water container and fend her off, but she was trying to push it away, bite it, even reared up and pawed it to get at me. I was able to get out, but it was pretty scary. And she has been very rough with the other two hogs she shares space with, and not just when she is hormonal. It causes a lot of agitation and stress, and, as discussed above, that can influence the pregnancy of another sow. We sat and sorted through everything and made the painful decision to cull Petunia. I wish we could keep her - she's a fine looking sow and a really good mother. And she's also dangerous. Temperament is heritable, and aggression is one trait we do not wish to select for.
Big Lil was scheduled to go into heat, so we ordered her mail order beau, only to discover that her cycle had shifted, probably to synchronize with the others, and that we missed our window of opportunity. No piglets and unused boar stuff.
A common theme of all of this is reproduction. Besides the admonition of 'don't count your piglets till they are a week old,' what else have we learned? One - vaccinate the breeding stock instead of letting them potentially lose a litter because of the 'bugs' on this farm. It works well to insure the reproductive health of the herd, and we will be vaccinating Big Lil and Pistachio before they get pregnant. Two - if we aren't keeping a boar (and there are sound safety and economic reasons for not doing so), I need to be extra vigilant about the cycles on our sows so that we can catch the window of opportunity and not waste money or time. Three - too much stress in the herd isn't a good thing, not for the animals, and not for me.
So what does the future hold? I don't know for sure, but with any luck and some good management practices, it should mean piglets born in the summer. Not an ideal time, but manageable. In the short term, I have customers wanting healthy, pasture raised hogs from our farm, so I went and bought some Red Wattle x Berkshire piglets from a farmer nearby, and they are settling in quite nicely. They promise to be excellent foragers who will make the most of what we grow in our pastures, and the flavor and quality of meat from both breeds is outstanding. It has healed my disappointment to have the little red pigs running about and exploring their new world; they are a delicate promise that the wheel always turns, and that we turn with it, that for every dream that dies, another is born. And that is where we will pick up in the next blog post. Cuteness alert: see photo below to meet the new members of our farm.
My favorite picture of the hogs from last year is this one - I think it sums up our farm ethic in a glance. Heritage hogs - English Large Blacks - out grazing in a diversified pasture that is up past their bellies, and they are covered in mud. Those are some contented, healthy pigs!
The land and what we grow on it is the foundation of our whole program here at Farm 2 Fork Pork. And I'll be making a presentation on our use of diversified pasture, fermented feed, and the use of herbs in raising pork this May at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, AR. Being chosen to make this presentation is exciting, and it most certainly is an honor. But why, might you ask, is a pig farmer presenting at an herbal conference?
The easy answer is, a lot of people in this area eat pork. If they are what they eat, so is a pig what it eats. Given an opportunity, the pastured pig will choose different things to eat depending on the age of the animal, the stage of maturity of the plant, what the pig needs, and what tastes good. We give them some fermented feed daily, because this populates their cecum with intestinal flora that aid in the digestion of vegetative matter, as well as providing probiotics for improved health. We give them herbs that enhance their overall well being, that add minerals that are deficient in their diet, such as magnesium and calcium, and that assist the breeding females with their reproductive cycles. Some of these herbs are organic, dried herbs, some are grown in their pastures.
In our pastures, we have gone from a patchy, monocropped (fescue), hard patch of field to a diverse biome that includes various forage plants and native plants, including herbs. The pigs eradicate weed plants, such as Johnson grass and thistle, contribute manure, and do a thorough job of tilling and loosening the soil. In addition to clover, turnips, alfalfa, radishes, cowpeas, buckwheat, and rapeseed, they also eat the seed heads of plantain, the tender new leaves of chicory, and roots of dandelion, as well as many others. In the picture above, the hog is deep in one of our improved pasture lots, and at the top of the picture, you can see the fescue only lot that was replaced by it.
More plainly, our pasture plots went from looking like this...
You can bet that I will be learning a lot at the herbal conference that I can bring home and use in the fields as we update and continue to improve our grazing program, as well as the health and flavor of our hogs.
If you are interested in the herbal conference, please check it out. Their herbal conferences and workshops are truly quality events. http://www.ozarkfolkcenter.com/calendar-of-events/details.aspx?id=130267
One of the other sows figured out that Pistachio was getting more food and started pushing her around, so we separated the mama off a week early to the paddock and corral adjacent to the barn. I am still working on the finishing touches on her large farrowing pen, but she is able to come in for shelter, and she is wasting no time in preparing her nest. Everything in the barn was pawed and nosed to test its suitability as nesting material. She even tore off a little of the insulation on the wall.
We put wood shavings and some straw in for her, and as you can see, she is already arranging the furniture, so to speak. This activity will continue up to the time the piglets arrive. I spent an hour in the barn today, watching in fascination.
Pistachio is pawing and raking the straw into heaps, breaking the fluffy straw down into smaller bits. She gathers it up in her mouth to chew the straw down to a size she likes, or to place a clump of it just so. She will move it from one place to another, and she will make a nest-like hollow in the middle of it. She sleeps there for now, but it is all part of her deep instinct to make a safe, warm spot for her pigs.
As you can see, she is moving the straw around pretty rapidly. She was engaged in a flurry of activity, and she was vocalizing throughout, a sound between a grunt and a purr. Occasionally she would stop for a drink and maybe a scratching, then went right back to work. It is fascinating to see how agile her trotters were in forming the pile and raking the straw back and forth, instinctively preparing for her litter.
She is looking healthy and robust, enjoying the extra food as her babies grow larger inside of her day to day. Her body will change rapidly over the next ten days leading up to the farrowing of this, her second litter of pigs. We will post again as we get closer to her due date of February 13th.
o A farm in the winter is picture-postcard beautiful. A winter on the farm is another thing. We are fortunate here in the Ozarks; we don't enjoy the frigid temperatures and several feet of snow that hits the Northern tier of this country. It does present challenges that contrast with the crisp air and the beauty of a barn in the snow.
The weekend after Christmas, we got almost a foot of rain in two days, followed by a cold front. The two enemies of animals is wet, cold conditions. Although the sows are on a hill, it rained so much that the upper field, which is flat, drained down into the sow palace. We heaved and ho'd and flipped the thing, in spite of Pistachio deciding she needed to step in and see what was up. Petunia sneaked up behind me and gave me a goose with her wet snout. It was all kinds of fun. We put down lots of wood shavings and a bale of straw and all was well. Except...
Pistachio hadn't been drinking enough water and her electrolytes got wonky. For a while, we were afraid she was going into labor way too early and losing her piglets. And it was a Sunday night, not the best time to call out the vet. I placed a call with my Pig Mentor (a guiding light and guardian angel if ever there was one!), who recommended giving her some Dr. Pepper. I was desperate, so yes, I crawled into the sow palace with a pan of DP laced with sorghum. She was lying there, panting, scarcely able to lift her head until <snurffle, snurffle> she got a whiff of the soda, buried her nose in it and drank it all up. She rose, went to the bathroom, drank water. By the next morning, she was at the gate, loudly demanding her breakfast and some more of that Dr. Pepper, please. She's had no troubles after that.
It has since gotten a lot colder. The water tank has a heater, but the water isn't warm enough to keep the nipple drinker thawed. Up hill I go with buckets and a jug of hot water to thaw things out. I do this three times a day at least, and the girls know by now to camel up. They also get crimped oats with molasses and pig pellets mixed into a mash with warm water.
As long as their housing is dry, they stay pretty warm. Grown pigs are essentially land-locked walrus, and with three of them in the sow palace, they stay nice and snug. The outside of the palace is dark green, which captures a bit of solar energy.
One thing I have learned from observation is that the boss sow arranges the communal nest. It is her Big Mama role, apparently. Every day, Pistachio assesses the weather conditions and moves things around. If it is warmer, she pushes straw and bedding to the front; if it is colder, she rakes it in with her trotters and snout and makes things snug. I throw a flake or two of straw in every couple of days, and she gets busy chopping the straw up and incorporating it into the nest. She hadn't gotten to the new straw I added in the photo below.
If the day is sunny, even if there is snow on the ground, the sows are in a good mood. They all are black, and the sun warms them. They are extra friendly and want some scratching and food. Pistachio is in her last trimester of pregnancy, and she wants her food and everyone else's, but it is too early to let her have much extra. The hot mash slows her down and the others get most of their food before she exerts her prerogative. She is getting more round, more gravid looking and loves a good belly scratching, and I pet her babies gently through her flank. February 14th isn't very far away now.
Petunia is happy to announce that she is pregnant. She is always radiant when she conceives. She lost her last litter early on, so I will be keeping a close eye on her. and hoping for the best. She really likes to be scratched behind the ears. She's a beautiful sow, long and big and graceful.
Big Lil is adjusting to life with her new herd. She has grown continues to grow and is in good condition. She is due to come into heat and I am observing her for signs to determine the right date so that she can be bred for the first time, which should be 21 days from when she is in standing heat. This can be tricky to detect with gilts, so I feel like it is test time for the farmer.
Funny to think that her babies will be conceived in the cold of winter to be born in early June. It's that promise of life and the cycles of seasons that keep me going as a farmer. Knowing that harshness can be endured and it will carry you forward to better times - and sure, other challenges - but always moving forward, even through set backs and the days you doubt your decisions and yourself. And I guess that is, for me, well worth hauling water for.
Keep warm, incubate your dreams like baby piglets, and keep looking forward. More news from the farm will be coming your way. We've got things a-cooking as preparations are made for the next batch of pigs, the first born on our farm. Exciting times.
These beauteous, bountiful sows, these queens of the meadow, are two of our sows, a pair of Berkshires. Petunia is on the left, the boss sow, Pistachio, is on the right. We have added an English Large Black gilt (female that hasn't yet had a litter) recently, and these three sows will be the foundation of our pig herd and mothers of future generations of pigs born and raised on our farm.
Pistachio is the queen sow, and she rules in an understated manner, but when push comes to shove, she gets it her way. It's part of the pecking order, and it works for them. As you can see, she is pregnant and due on February 14. We are looking forward to welcoming her little sweethearts to the farm! In the future, when we keep any of her daughters to add to the sow herd, they will be given nut names to remind us of her parentage. Part of her job as boss sow is to make sure that the communal nest is arranged to her satisfaction, just as she will make a nest prior to farrowing (giving birth). We moved the sow palace this week, and she spent a day rearranging the new bedding and making sure it was just so.
Petunia is the one with the colorful personality. Everything is bold and showy with this girl, from the broad blaze down her face to the way she demands a back scratching. When she goes into heat, she walks the fence alongside of me, bites the gate while giving me a goofy look, and sometimes doesn't want me to leave the pasture.. She makes it pretty obvious what she wants most of the time. She's a large, fine looking sow, and we have just had her mated, so we are expecting piglets in late April. We'll know she's pregnant - she is a radiant mom-to-be. Bold in motherhood, just as she is in everything else in life.
The newest addition to the sow herd is Big Lil (officially Trillium), who will mother our herb-named daughters down the road. She is an English Large Black, and behind those big sunglasses is a sweet face. Everything about her is sweet, especially her temperament. She went from being the queen of her herd to being the bottom of the pecking order, so it was a harsh transition for her at times, but she is fitting into the sow herd well, and we expect good things from her. She will be bred in another month or so and officially become a sow. These hogs are well-known for being good mothers, and I think she will do just fine. She has already had an impact with her new family grouping; as an excellent forager, she has taught the big sows that there is plenty of food out there in that pasture. Because a pig doesn't want to see another pig eating when it is not, they all are out working over the turnips more often than they did previously. And one day, maybe after Petunia farrows and returns after being in another place for two months, she may come back and find that Big Lil has slipped into the number two spot.
Like any family, there sometimes are squabbles but they present a united front to the outside world. They alert each other to anything new or potentially dangerous. They learn from each other. And on these cold Missouri nights, they all dig into the nest in the sow palace that Pistachio has made, and they keep each other warm and cozy.
Autumn traditionally was the time of harvest, and that included hogs. It still is a tradition, especially in a hog-centric area like Missouri, to take the hogs to the butcher in the fall and winter months, and have fresh hams, bacon and sausage for the family celebrations. The loin chops above came from the hogs we brought to the farm in early May. Notice the dark pink of the meat, the marbling in the muscle. This is what raising heritage hogs out on pasture brings to the table. That, and a whole lot of flavor.
These chops were cut to a decadent 2" thickness, perfect for stuffing and grilling and feeding 2 people per chop. The meat, when done, isn't a pallid grayish white like the typical grocery store chop. It is pinkish-red from all the movement and exercise that the hog takes daily and at free will. Different muscles within the chop have different colors. The texture is fine grained, the meat is still juicy, and the fat is sweet.
Our hogs are not industrial widgets. The heritage breed hogs we have on the farm - currently English Large Blacks and Berkshires - were developed years ago with hardiness, foraging ability, fertility and flavor in mind. They love to move about, even run and play, out in the pastures. They grow a little slower than industrial hogs, but they are healthier and more resilient; they know how to utilize the pasture they are raised on, and they naturally will have darker meat that is marbled, juicy and fine flavored.
We take that wonderful hog and raise it out on pasture that has been seeded with legumes, cole crops, turnips, buckwheat and many other tasty plants, each appropriate to the season. The grazing areas are small, and the pigs spend anywhere from 1-6 weeks on a section, depending on the size of the animal and the condition of the grazing area. Then they are moved to the next section. We have six sections that the animals get rotated through, allowing enough time for the pasture to recover and for the parasite cycle to be broken. The hogs get lots of time out in the sunshine (though they prefer a misty day) and fresh air. They are fastidious in their toileting habits, so it is not smelly, and it is a real joy to see them running and playing out on the pasture, exercise that is good for their physical and mental health.
The hogs are also fed some concentrated food, but we have found that, foraging on pasture, the pigs will voluntarily eat less concentrate. The hogs are free fed on this ration (the buffet is open - all you care to eat!) up to 180 pounds, then they are fed 5 pounds per pig per day plus all the forage they care to eat. This slows down the growth a bit, and more fat is deposited in the muscle (marbling) versus on the fat or in the body cavity. We also feed the hogs some fermented feed, which helps them digest the forage more efficiently, and we add crimped oats to the ration to drop the protein percentage. We also fed a truck load of squash and pumpkins and over 100 pounds of acorns that were given to us. All of these things contribute to the quality of the meat.
This allows us to let the hogs stay and graze an extra two months, where they grow to a size of about 285 pounds, providing a better meat to bone ratio with better flavor and marbling. We are convinced that all the extra time, labor and expense is well worth it. We think the animals deserve no less, and that those who choose to eat the meat we provide deserve no less, either.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.