“Four-legged tilling machines.” Meet the most productive landscapers on our farm…our pigs. Just as with our cattle we purchased these hogs nearby, this time from Brattain Farms in Putnam County less than 45 miles from WE Farm. The Brattain Family has been husbanding and breeding heritage breeds of hogs for 4 decades. They steward purebred lines of Tamworth, Hereford, Berkshire, and Spotted pigs. These pigs are sturdy, have vigor, and have the constitution to be self-maintaining range hogs, as much of their time at the Brattain’s is spent in field and pasture digging up their own meals. We appreciate the Brattain’s commitment toward maintaining these old-school lines. While we plan to purchase our breeding stock initially, we eventually will breed and rear all of our own hogs. Right now we are finding the right animals and genes to serve as the foundation of our future pig herd.
Finding the Right Pigs in Heritage Breeds
Its no coincidence that growers all over the nation who are reestablishing farm traditions of free-ranging hogs in pastures and woodlots are turning to heritage, or historic line, breeds. These heritage breeds were all developed at a time predating modern agriculture; meaning, these pigs are ancestors of those hogs trailing wagons during the westward migration of American settlers or at least more recently surviving in pastures and woodlots on small family farms with little input from their owners. When it comes to breeds we try not to play favorites. A good hog, is a good hog, is a good hog regardless of its breed. That being said, we have chosen to bring to WE Farm the Tamworth, the Hereford, and the Berkshire pig.
The Tamworth is known for its excellent mothering abilities, its high activity level, and its good-humored yet protective nature. They arrived to the U.S. from England by 1882 and their popularity continues as a reliable range hog. As a culinary aside, these lean, deep-bodied hogs produce some of the finest pork bellies and bacon.
The Hereford is much like the Tamworth, but a much younger breed developed in the 1920′s. It too is known for its mothering ability, high activity level and foraging ability, and for their culinary appeal to produce succulent pork. We can’t say enough about how we enjoy their demeanor; our Hereford is a very friendly and likable animal. We plan to keep her a mother in our breeding program.
The Berkshire was chosen for WE Farm because it makes an excellent crossbreed with the Tamworth and the Hereford. Berkshires are one of the oldest English pig breeds and were brought to the U.S. in the 1820′s! The “Berk” has been one of the most celebrated hogs put to use in America. Although falling from favor in the modern confinement system, this pig is very fertile, shows superior ability to grow under range conditions, and its culinary appeal as a more tender, juicy, and well-marbled pork. All these quality balance nicely the great mothering and lean profile of the Tamworth and Hereford. We plan to use our two young Berkshire boars as the foundation of our breeding program, and use our young Berkshire gilt (female) as a means to preserve the pure bloodline.
Hybrid Vigor – The Best Breeding to Make One Fine Pig
When we crossbreed animals of high quality like the one’s above the result is heterosis, or, “hybrid vigor.” What does this mean? It means the union of the differing purebred sow and boar creates a young pig with the best qualities of both its parents….it has “hybrid vigor.” This is important because an animal with strong hybrid vigor will experience less stress as it will be well suited to taking care of itself while grazing our woodlots and pastures. Eliminate stress and sickness decreases, growth and health increases, and the pig can focus more on being a pig. Achieving this ultimately means healthier, more wholesome, more nutritious, and more sustainable creation of food.
The Habit of Pigs – The World as a Buffet – Pigs are not ruminant animals with multiple stomachs as cattle are, but rather are omnivorous animals with a single stomach. This is an important point and goes far to explain a pig’s dietary needs, their body construction, and their behavior. Pigs are infinitely curious animals and they choose to experience much about their world through their snouts…to a pig, everything is food until proven otherwise.
They are relentless explorers and spend nearly all their waking moments plodding about on stout legs, snouts plowing through whatever is in the way, with curled tongues and lips sampling whatever may pass initial inspection as food. Such is the habit of a pig. This drive is what makes them four-legged tilling machines.
Their Diet – Our Sustainable Nutrition Program Mission
Our pigs’ diet is currently a blend of fruit and vegetables, raw milk, cracked corn, soy meal, crimped oats, and various food scraps. They also receive a balance blend of natural micronutrient and mineral supplements: North Atlantic Kelp Meal, Sea Salt, Sea Minerals, and natural probiotics (Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium). ALL anti-biotics, hormones, or synthetic products are withheld from these animals and we focus on providing balanced nutrition, alleviating stress, and achieving high environmental quality as the backbone of our health program.
Kicking the Feed Habit: We are a start-up farm in transition, as such, we have yet to break free from purchasing our grains off-farm as feed for these animals. We have a “zero-tolerance” goal for off-farm feed purchases for 2011. How will we achieve this?
Fruit, Vegetable, and Food Waste Upcycling: Target 35% Immediately, we are coordinating ever-increasing volumes of vegetable, fruit, and food waste saving for collection and feeding. Currently, we are coordinating with mindful schools, restaurants, farms, and food cooperatives in Bloomington to save and collect this material. We refer to this as an “upcycling” program because we are diverting valuable organic matter from the landfill and converting it into precious soil fertility and nutritious animal feed on our farms.
Fodder Cropping and Hogging: Target 25% In the medium term, we plan to sow into our pastures various fodder crops for our herd to “hog down” or harvest themselves in the field. We will interseed several acres of oat/pea mix, open-pollinated corn/brassica mix, and bean/cereal grain mixes.
Grazing and Foraging: Target 15% The pigs will be rotated through our woodlots and hillside pastures so that they may dine on acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts, berries, paw-paws, grubs and anything else they can find while rooting about.
Homegrown Organic Feed: Target <25% Later in the Spring, we will work with my family, the Egenolf Family, at Triple E Farms to plant and harvest our own corn, soybeans, and cereal grains. We will rent a small crop field from them, plant a few acres of these grains organically, and then harvest them in the Fall. These grains will be ground into stored feed and will be used as a supplement for the hog’s diet next Fall and Winter. We will be producing our own organic grain and feed just 12 miles from WE Farm!
We hope you now better understand the care, thought, and hard work we put into raising our pigs in the WE Farm Way.