Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"And on this farm, he had some..."

Pigs!  This past weekend we brought home our new pigs that we will raise over the summer months.  Compared to our hog debacle last year in which all of our hogs got loose the day we brought them home and my poor husband ended up chasing one of them all over the neighborhood (read about it here), things went smoothly with no added stress.  See?  We DO learn from our mistakes!

Pig pile!

Our two main reasons for raising hogs are: 1.  We want to produce our own meat and know exactly what those animals ate and how they were treated, and 2.  We want to clear some land of invasive plant species, mostly Tree of Heaven (China Sumac) and Garlic Mustard weed.  Hogs are terrific at tilling the land.  It's as if God created a creature with a bulldozer built into the end of it's snout!  Last year, we were a bit disappointed that our hogs didn't tear up the land as much as we had hoped.  We couldn't decide if it was the breed (modern hog breeds are raised indoors for commercial pork production, where they physically cannot root, so the instinct is not as strong anymore) or if it was the drought that made the ground too hard for them to root.  Last year we had Yorkshires and this year, we decided to try Hampshires, a Heritage breed not widely used in commercial pork production.  Hampshires are one of the oldest American breeds and are well known for their foraging ability (the desire to  find their own food), which makes them a great candidate for raising on pasture.

Checking out all the good stuff to eat. They especially love the walnuts from our Black Walnut trees.

The pigs we brought home are about 40 pounds and we will raise them until fall, when they reach about 250 pounds.  The hogs will have about a quarter acre of pasture to explore and root around in.  Hogs are omnivores, so they will eat nuts, roots, grass, worms, bugs, vegetables, meat, kitchen scraps and pretty much anything else you give them.  In addition to what they find to eat in their pasture, we also offer them feed.  We were thrilled to finally track down a mill that sells Non-GMO hog feed (Tom's Feed Mill in Coopersville, MI - they don't have a website).  In the future, we hope to be able to raise our hogs on an Organic feed, but at this time, the cost is prohibitive (Organic feed costs over twice as much as conventional).  Non-GMO feed is not perfect, as the crops are still sprayed with herbicides and pesticides like conventional feed, but we feel it's a step in the right direction... and we're trying to not beat ourselves up and let "Perfect Be the Enemy of Good".  We're doing the best we can with the resources we have right now.

A sign of a happy hog is a dirt covered snout!

When we brought the pigs home, we spent a long time simply watching them settle into their new home.  They had never been outside before, and it was obvious to see they they were delighted to root in the grass and dirt.  This fills me with such joy - to see animals engaging in the activities that God created them for.  Cows were designed to eat grass, hogs to root in the dirt and chickens to peck and scratch the earth.  In the past few decades, we have increasingly denied farm animals these basic rights.  Cows are now live in small enclosures or concrete pads and eat corn (GMO corn, mind you), something that they are not created to digest and eventually makes them very sick.  Hogs are confined to indoor barns made of metal and concrete, which offer them no opportunity to root.  Chickens are trapped in tiny cages for their entire lives, or if allowed to be "cage free", are crowded into barns and have their beaks removed so they can't cannibalize each other.  Industrial agriculture has not been kind to animals.  I'm not saying that all animals need to be treated like pets, but it seems to me that since they are providing us with such life-giving milk, meat and eggs, it only seems natural that we would want to give these creatures a comfortable, fulfilling life in return.  I don't think that is too much to ask.

Doing what they do best - rooting in the dirt, looking for grubs, worms, nuts and roots with their bulldozer-like snouts.

We're working on treat training the pigs and getting them used to being handled.  Since we have young children and so many friends with kids, it's important that all our animals be friendly and tame.  Of course, we bear safety in mind, but we love allowing children under supervision to enter the hog pen and play with the pigs.  We're also trying on to come up with names for the pigs, as we observe them and discover their personalities.  I know many people think it's morbid to name the animals that you intend to eat, but we find it to be the opposite.  Naming them gives them dignity and respect.  Last year, we named each hog and took their photograph.  At the end of the season when they were sold, we gave our customers a photograph of their hog.  Our picture of Ned the hog is still on our fridge and each time we eat pork, our kids shout out "Thank you, Ned!"  I know, some of you are horrified by this... but this is our way of honoring our animals and appreciating them.  I love that my children know exactly where their food comes from.  It creates a meaningful, almost sacred eating experience.

So come on over and check out our adorable hogs.  They are sure to amuse you with their playful antics and joyful pig noises.  See you soon!

1 comment:

  1. I love your way of thinking, Lori! Your kids are blessed to be raised in that environment! I'll have to get Becki and come out for a tour again, soon. :)