Raising hogs is a new endeavor for us this year, and we are very excited to welcome our first pigs to Red Gate Farm! We believe God gave animals instinctual behaviors for a good reason, and when utilized appropriately, and respected, those instincts can be used to benefit both the land and us humans in a symbiotic manner. We believe that’s part of being a good steward of what God has blessed us with.
In the case of our pigs, we carefully selected a breeder of heritage Red Wattle hogs. The breeder has maintained genetics in their pigs that thrive on pasture and forage. Their boars breed naturally in large pens, and their sows farrow on pasture. Their pigs are happy and healthy, and raised without any chemicals, wonder drugs, or preventative antibiotics. We picked our pigs up as 8 week old babies, kept them in our large barn stall for about 5 days to get them used to my voice and a feeding schedule, and then turned them out into a section of thick forest. We have an almost 3 acre plot of land that is so dense in brush, poison ivy, briars, prairie grasses, and saplings, that we can’t even walk through it. In other words, it’s Hog Heaven! We subdivided this plot into roughly 1/2 acre sections using simple temporary electric fencing. The pigs spend their time rooting for grubs, bugs, and worms, digging up saplings and vine roots, and eating grass, briars, and weeds. Twice a day, we check on them, and keep them coming with supplemental feed of all-natural grains, whey, milk, eggs, and excess garden produce and kitchen foods. When pigs are this busy, they have no desire to bite each others’ tails and ears! They have far too much fun, “piggie” stuff to do!! By rotating them through the sections throughout their growing season, we keep the land from being over-grazed or trampled to a mud-bog, and we keep the pigs fed the best fresh variety. In return, we will be rewarded with pure, safe, extra-nutritious hams, bacon, and chops at harvest time.
You might wonder why we would want to raise pigs, when buying bacon from the store is so much more convenient.
Pigs are usually raised in CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) buildings, where semen is artificially collected from boars, sows are inseminated with a tube, and once birth nears, sows are confined in a tiny farrowing stall where they cannot even turn around, where they will spend the next several weeks. Shortly after the pigs are born, they are vaccinated, given preventative antibiotics necessitated by their living conditions, and have their tails removed to prevent bites by litter mates later. Once weaned, they are moved to cramped growing pens, where several pigs are housed on a hard, slatted floor, breathing the fumes created by the slurry of their wastes in the holding tanks beneath their floor. They are fed the cheapest “pig” ration available at the time, which is also full of preventative antibiotics. Because of the lack of sunlight and wholesome nutrition, CAFO pork has been popularly nicknamed “The Other White Meat.”
Granted, some pigs do have it better. Many smaller enterprises and family farms raise pigs in outdoor pens. Even then, however, many (not all, mind you!!) often live full time in belly-deep muck. For the lucky few that are turned out in pastures, they have rings placed in their noses to prevent the natural behavior of rooting.
Here at Red Gate Farm, we have envisioned a whole different paradigm. A method of raising hogs that is so old-fashioned, it’s becoming new again. If you’ve ever read the Little House on the Prairie series, you may recall the story of how they would buy a young pig in the spring, turn it into the Big Woods for the summer and fall, and then in late fall, they’d bring the acorn- and forage-grown hog up for butcher. No medications and no vaccines were needed. The hog was low maintenance, healthy, thrived in the forest, and the meat was dark pink and highly nutritious. This was the paradigm we want for Red Gate Farm, and this year’s pigs will hopefully give us a running start.