This Little Piggy Went to Market
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
I grew up in Henry County, Illinois, the self proclaimed Hog Capital of the world. It’s true, at one time Henry County raised more hogs than anywhere else. When I was a kid, I remember some of the best soils in the world had hog camps on them. A diverse rotation of corn oats and alfalfa followed by sows in the field. Each sow had their own individual hog house to raise their litter in. Farmers also finished pigs in the field using large portable wood shelters.
Mud up and down the roads, ruts, waller holes and erosion in the fields from bare ground was a common site. It was VERY hard work and VERY dangerous work. Many old farmers have trouble walking because of a run in with a few too many sows.
Dealing with mother nature and the inefficiencies of field raising led to feedlots then to confinements. Today’s conventional pork production is a model of efficiency focused on feed efficiency, labor efficiency, high rates of gain, and maximizing litter size. At the end of the day, farmers are giving the packing company what they want and barely getting by. Some local farmers were able to integrate and get bigger to survive, but most gave up owning their own hogs opting for building a confinement and contract feeding hogs for a large packer.
When we began project OINK, we asked ourselves some questions and these are the answers we have learned in our first year.
What if it could be better than what it used to be? We set out to mimic nature in everything we do. First, was to select a pig's natural habitat. It’s not a concrete and steel heated building. It’s not flat ground on a prairie. It’s in the timber! Our Ranch 226 has over 80 acres of timber ground that makes an excellent natural habitat for our pigs to express their natural behaviors. They love to explore, root and be pigs.
Did pigs naturally stay in one place for their entire life? Neither do ours. We move our pigs every 2 weeks when they are small and up to every 4 days when they are big. Each paddock gave our 42 porkers a ½ acre to forage in. Portable feeders, water and modern fencing made it possible.
What if impact instead of pounds was the goal? We wanted to use the pigs in a way to make the timber better. There are many non-native species cluttering the floor of our timber, and pigs love to dig them up and eat their roots. As invasive species are removed, natural grasses will return and the timber will become more of a natural savanna than a thick collection of thorny crap (I might be giving away how wonderful it is to fence in this stuff).
Rather than use machinery or chemicals to clear the land, we are using pig management to selectively harvest the undesirable plants and leave the native trees. I was completely blown away by the positive impact the pigs can have when managed properly.
What if it tasted great? Our first Christmas Hams are being smoked as I write this and I have yet to taste the meats of our labor. I know they lived a great life and only had one bad day, so I expect great taste just like our beef, chicken and lamb. Heritage Berkshires combined with homegrown feed from healthy soils while living in the timber...I expect nutrient dense, red, fat filled meat.
Was everything perfect in our first year? Of course not, but we know vastly more now than when we began. We made many changes on the fly to overcome the unexpected. Many more changes and adaptations are planned for this winter and spring to get ready for the 100 head we will have next year.
We are very grateful because YOU make our regenerative farm possible. When you choose healthy proteins raised right, you are not only feeding your family food you can trust, you are creating healthy soil, restoring functioning landscapes, providing career opportunities in rural areas, improving ecosystem services of water and emissions, and giving animals a great life.
Bringing pigs back to the land creates Healthy & Happy:
I believe in doing the right thing, always. It only takes time to discover how and the effort to do the right thing. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to do it right. Thank you so much for supporting our commitment!