Pastured/Forest Pork

Getting Ready for Bacon Seeds (aka baby piglets)

It is starting to look and feel a lot like spring in our neck of the woods.  Sure signs are the little rivers of water running everywhere, slushy driveways and daylight savings time. 

We are very quickly approaching baby animal season.  All the babies should start arriving next week. 

Three week old 2017 Berkshire piglets

Three week old 2017 Berkshire piglets

Our pasture-raised Berkshire sow is all tucked into her large, comfortable, well-bedded stall in the log barn after spending all winter outside with the boar.  We don’t farrow (that’s what it’s called when a pig has babies) outside because at this time of the year we can get predictably unpredictable blasts of winter.  Having her in the barn allows us to put heat lamps in a blocked off corner of the stall for the piglets if the temperatures become frigid.  The Berkshire breed is a heritage breed.  They are well adapted to our climate of extremes.  In the winter they have a thick coat of hair to protect them from the elements.  Normally, they are very docile animals that are pleasant to be around.  We raised our momma sow from a baby so she will follow me around just about anywhere I want to lead her.  All I have to do is grab a pail of grain and head toward where we are taking her.  I do say “I” because she won’t follow the guys like she will me.  We do not push our animals to extreme production.  Most pigs are capable of having three litters per year, but we only aim for two.  One in the spring and another in the late fall.  When we first started raising pigs we purchased a conventional sow from a confinement barn.  She ended up birthing 21 piglets.  That is way too many for one sow to raise.  Our Berkshires only have approximately 8 babies per litter.  This allows the mommas to provide ample nutrition to the piglets while they are suckling.   

When the piglets are six weeks old we assess the body condition of the sow to determine if they can stay with her for a couple more weeks or graduate to being on their own.  After weaning they are moved to portable shelters.  Here we train them to respect an electric fence because once they outgrow the shelters they are moved to the pastures where the mature pigs are living. 

Being a heritage breed the Berkshires grow much slower than conventional pigs. A conventional pig will be ready for butchering at 5 months of age, but our Berkshires can take up to eight months.  In a conventionally raised pig this means that the meat is mushy and lacks any flavor.  The meat from our Berkshires is firm, but tender and loaded with natural flavor.  I had often wondered why so many pork recipes always had a sauce or were heavily seasoned, but now I understand that the age at butchering is the reason.   

The Pekin ducks and Pilgrim geese have started building nests and laying eggs.  We are anticipating new ducklings and goslings toward the end of April.  I also have two large incubators (we’re talking one hundred twenty eggs apiece) with Khaki Campbell duck eggs that should start hatching late next week.  Once the first incubator is empty I will refill it with fresh eggs and start all over again. 

2017 newborn twin lambs

2017 newborn twin lambs

Shortly after Momma sow has her babies the sheep should start birthing their lambs.  This is always such a fun time.  All those little lambs frisky and bouncing around are such a joy to watch.  We raised Dorper sheep which I will tell you about in another post. 

Rosie with her 2017 newborn calf

Rosie with her 2017 newborn calf

Then, a week later the cows are due to start calving.  We allow the cows to calve out on the pastures.  This gives them plenty of clean ground to be on so they don’t get sick.  This also gives all the horse lovers on the farm a reason to saddle up and take a ride through the herd checking for new calves.  When new calves are discovered we give them each an ear tag labeled with their own personal number, their mother’s number and their birth date.  This allows us to make the connection between mother and baby.  Someone once asked, “Why do you ear tag your calves?  After all, the mothers know whose calf is whose.”  It is a good question.  To us it is mostly for convenience.  Because we keep a lot of the calves to finish for beef, we have multiple ages.  So when we see their birth date we know when that animal will be old enough to butcher.   

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And, last but not least, we are expecting one foal this year.  One of our work horses is expecting in late May again.  I will keep you up dated when that one arrives. 

Come on back next week for another visit.  Maybe I will even have brand new baby piglet pictures to share with you all! 

 

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What is the Big Deal with Pasture/Forest Raised Pork?

Thanks for dropping by again.  It is nice to spend time chatting with you. 

We have had an interesting week on the farm.  The weather is giving us a glimmer of hope that spring is on its way.  It has been slightly above freezing for most of this week.  As the old saying goes;  if March comes in like a lamb it will go out like a lion.  It looks like that just may happen this year.  

We have unofficially started to calve this week.  The cows are not supposed to start calving until the beginning of April, but a couple decided they wanted to come extra early.  Two cows calved, but only one calf is alive.  I hope the rest of the cows will wait until it warms up a lot more before they calve.  

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Pigs have been on my mind a lot this week.  In order to raise the best possible meat we like to re-evaluate our farming practices once in a while.  Doing this allows us to determine if we are balanced in doing what is best for the animals and farm.

Why We Raise Pork

We raise pork because we like to eat all the good things that can come from it.  Things like bacon, hams, pork chops, sausages and the oh so coveted lard.

In the long ago past we would purchase a pig for butchering from a local, large scale, confinement hog operation.  We thought that we were purchasing meat that was healthier than what we were getting in the grocery store because it was local.  What we didn't realize when we first started this was that there was not difference at all.  When we went to pick up an animal for butchering we were allowed to go into the barn to pick out the one we wanted.  This was before "bio-security" was used as an excuse to keep consumers out of the barns. What a sickening experience that was.  There were pens that were absolutely stuffed with pigs.  If they wanted to move around they had to move as a group because there was not enough room to more as individuals.  The unpleasant smell was overpowering.  It is no wonder; they were living in their own feces.  They were in terribly unsanitary conditions.  When we came out of the barn we felt like we would never get that smell out of our nostrils.

When we were cooking this meat it always smelled like a hog ban.  The stench from their terrible living conditions must have permeated through their skin into the meat we were eating.  Every time we would eat this pork Larry would become sick to the stomach.  It actually took us a couple of years to figure out that the sickness was connected with the commercially raised meat.  When we finally made the connection we quit eating pork for quite a few years.

Missing Our Pork!

We missed our pork.  We started to hear about an "old fashioned" way of raising pigs on pasture.  We thought this might be the answer to getting better pork.  So as we quite often do we jumped right into raising our own to see if it would make a difference. I have to tell you, there was such a night and day difference it was almost unbelievable!

Choosing a Breed

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The first mama pigs we purchased were pink pigs from a conventional hog barn.  They did pretty good on our farm, but in the summer they would get sunburned ears so bad even with pasture shelters available.  So we kept searching for a better answer.  We finally found the "Berkshire" pig.  Berkshires are a heritage breed that are well suited to be raised outside on pasture or in the forest.  They are straight black with a white strip down their nose and white feet which means no sunburnt ears.  Overall their attitudes are quite good.  They are gentle and very easy to work with.  They are excellent foragers, utilizing pasture much better than the pigs that have been bred to grow fast in a commercial hog barn. 

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Feeding our heritage pasture/forest raised pigs

Because of this well-adapted foraging ability they can be fed a much more diverse diet thus  consuming far less grain.  They love to use their strong snouts to root for treasures underground.  These tasty treasures include the roots of grass and shrubs.  If we have a pasture that we want to cultivate we can use the pigs for this.  In the forest they will tear up the ground searching for the roots of shrubs like wild rose and bracted honeysuckle.  After we move them out of the forest we can go in and clean up the remaining sticks and plant these areas to productive perennial forages.    Our growing pigs enjoy skimmed milk from our milk cows on a regular basis.  The Berkshires are an extremely cold hardy pig.  In the winter they have access to well bedded shelters, but usually choose to burrow into their hay bales.

When we want to move them from pasture to pasture we just grab a pail of grain then lead them into a new area.  If it is a pasture that is a little farther away we put a little grain in the stock trailer.  They jump right in and we drive them to their new area.  With the use of portable electric fencing we were able to raise our pigs outside on clean pastures.  The fencing allowed us to move them around the farm to fresh, clean pastures.

Enjoying Pasture/Forest Raised Pork

Raising our own heritage, pasture/forest pork allows us to enjoying all the products that can be made with it.  Join us next week as we explore all the yummy things we make with our humanely treated, home-grown, pastured/forest raised, clean pork.

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