Monday, November 12, 2007

Pigs or Sheep?

The question running through my mind lately is this ... Pigs or Sheep? What should the next addition be to Stoneyfield Farm. Even though we are not on the farm yet and have no definitive plans of when that will happen (if ever), I would like to see us, and the us in this case means myself and my dad, take steps in the direction that I would eventually like to end up. Maybe it just means I help with the research, marketing, and ideas or maybe it means I'm there working on the farm everyday. Either way, I'm beginning to think about what to add to the farm, if anything, in the spring.

On one hand, we have talked quite a few times about bringing some sheep to the place. Either ewes or wool wethers or market lambs. We don't really have a clue as to what we would do when it comes to the sheep. In fact, between the two of us our knowledge of sheep is practically nil. The one thing we have going for us is that my uncle (dad's brother) has quite a bit of experience with sheep so there would be some help close by. One of the positives of sheep is their browsing ability and the help they would give in cleaning up old fence rows that criss-cross the property. We would like to clean out a lot of these areas that are over grown in order to replace fence or put up more effective fencing. In this case, we would be using the sheep as a labor force. The other reason we are considering sheep is because they are a great animal to follow cattle on pastures because they are a dead end host for the parasites (and cattle the same for sheep). It would be nice to have this tool in our arsenal. We just need to continue to research this idea. We are planning on going to a few sales in the area to see what the market is like right now, and I would like to find some cattle people who are also raising sheep, or vice versa.

Pigs ... can't live with them, can't live without them! Pigs are kind of a sore subject in my family. In the late 80's, when the hog market was high, we had a lot of pigs on the Book family farms, and they all smelled really bad. Once the market dropped we got out, but it was never a really enjoyable thing having that hog lot on the place. Obviously we would be doing things quite a bit differently this time, but the stigma still exists. On the plus side, we have personal experience with raising hogs from farrow to finish. Of course, this knowledge is in the more conventional setting, but it still would apply. I like the idea of adding pigs because there are some areas that I would like to reclaim to pasture or savannah as I have previously mentioned, and because I really like to eat pork. I figure if I'm going to raise food I better be passionate about eating that food also! Again, there is still much research to be done, but maybe we would feel a bit more comfortable going into this animal than any other ... if we can get past the stigma!

If you are interested in reading some more about pigs, pasture, and the combination of those two things, I encourage you to check out this THREAD over on the Homesteading Today forums. I had initially asked about different heritage breeds that people were using in their pasture situations, but it also brought up a lot of good thoughts on pastured pigs and breed selection.

So, Pigs or Sheep ... Do you have an input?

16 comments:

Niki said...

Sheep all the way. They're fluffy and much more attractive than pigs. And you can make delicious cheeses like pecorino. In general, I prefer animals who are used to make sweaters over those who are used to make footballs.

We just got a cooler full of lamb from a veterinarian-farmer friend of ours.

Ethan Book said...

Seriously ... you think you can just pop onto my blog and start telling me what to raise and what not to raise just because you know about cheeses that can't even pronounce let alone have even heard of?

See, if you were still in Iowa you would be able to get lamb from me ... along with beef!

Steven said...

I'm guessing you two know each other?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecorino_Romano_cheese

Ethan Book said...

Okay ... yeah ... we know each other, but she is so cultured I don't know if she would want to admit to knowing a lowly wanna-be farmer like myself!

Thanks for the link though. Now I feel informed, but I don't know if I'll be milking any sheep!

Steven said...

I would be WAY more in favor of a flavorful pig than sheep. Someone that I work with has a Christmas tree farm and raises Belgian horses, sheep, and rabbits. Each year our company buys one lamb from him and has a big lunch. This year we had pork burgers and lamb steaks. I can't say how much better the pork burgers were than the lamb! mostly it was a texture/greasiness issue but the pork won out non the less.
Lamb can probably be cooked to taste better, but it's just SOO greasy!

Steven said...

Also I talked to some sheep "raisers" this year at the fair that said they do good to break even paying someone to come and sheer them. I imagine if you sheered them yourself you couldn't make too much.

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

Let's get both! In the fall we can play football while wearing sweaters.

We can even let Niki come and milk our sheep to make cheese. :p

Alex said...

I don't think you can go wrong with either, although personally I prefer pork to lamb, and I don't really go for milking. Also I hear that wool is not worth much these days.

Great blog, by the way.

Ethan Book said...

Alex, thanks for the comment and for checking out the blog! I agree, if it were up to eating it would be hogs hands down. That being said, I am interested in checking out the possibilities of sheep!

Krystle said...

Greg Judy - who I see you've mentioned in another post - uses Tamworth pigs, and says they're a great grazing pig. Also, I've heard that there's a new market emerging for X-finished pork. For example, Salatin runs his pigs in the woods with electric fence--and there you have premium walnut-finished pork! I know another farmer who's thinking about running her pigs through the apple orchard--apple finished pork! In terms of direct marketing, it seems pork has more potential; anyone I know selling pastured pork is turning people away.

Ernie said...

Ethan I would look into Hair Sheep as they dont have to be sheered. Here is a good link:
Katahdins
As for pigs, look into Red Wattles a heritage breed. Very good eating.
Five Ponds Farm
I know this is a little late as I just found you site 2 days ago and am working through it from the beginning. I also have the same dream as you and have been researching the same material as I. Only difference is you are quite aways ahead of me. :-)

Ernie
Kansas

Ethan Book said...

Ernie - Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting. I think you should receive a medal of honor for trudging through all those posts! Hopefully it can be somewhat informational or encouraging for you!

Also, thanks for the links. I have spent a little time checking out the hair sheep breeds and I have actually seen some red wattles before. In fact if you do keep reading you will find that my Dexter bull comes from Five Ponds Farm! I was down there to pick him up and I was able to check out the Red Wattles ... they are on my radar! :)

Thanks again for the links and for checking out the blog!

Steven said...

I read an old article a few weeks ago about rotating hogs through an apple orchard (as Krystle mentioned). One guy that was actually doing it in his existing orchard business said his hogs were getting a whopping 90% of their feed from forage (weeds & grass) and the fallen apples!! That made me excited to plant apple trees. Also I thought about the possibility of rotating them through someone else's orchards, but the one I used to work at sure did spray alot of chem.!

Ethan Book said...

Steven - We are also planning out an orchard. The spot where we would like to put it is the section that we are going to leave in CRP, so we have to see if we can plant trees on CRP land.

Also, speaking of pigs eating downed apples ... one of the heritage breeds we are looking at is the Gloucester Old Spot which was called an orchard pig because they were often used in orchards! That would be a great way to supplement feed...

Steven said...

That's pretty awesome that they were used that way in the past!

We're getting plenty of deep bedding built up right now so I think we're going to try and find a couple of hogs later in the summer to dig it all up... and find the corn I've been throwing in. :-)

Hobbyhorse1027 said...

One of the main concerns with raising pigs would be having a reliable food source. Some friends of mine raise 2 pigs per year. Their time is consumed by searching for low cost or free food for the pigs. Vegetable and fruit from a market garden as well as dairy from the farmstead cows/goats/or sheep could provide a large portion of their diet. I would prefer raising pigs because waste from the farm can be used to create a wonderful product. Sheep can provide more saleable products than pork but milking and processing fiber is labor intensive.

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