Friday, January 25, 2008

Mmmm... Tasty Pork!

Okay, the Gearld Fry article wasn't the only cool article I read on New Farm the other day. I also ran across an articled titled, "Customers seeking taste, type, integrity and terroir drive traditional pork revival" by Kelly Klober. Mr. Klober is the author of a few books, including "Dirt Hog" which I received for Christmas and will probably start reading after I finish the book I'm on now. The title really tells it all with this article, but it really is a good read. Plus, it is another plug for the heritage breeds.

The article has a quite a bit of information and gives a nice overview of some of the possibilities available for the small pig farmer these days, but I won't take up the space to give you a blow by blow account of the article today ... I'll just give you some of my thoughts and encourage you to check out the entire article.

In the late 80's and early 90's my family was fully entrenched in the hog industry. At the time my uncle was running hogs in a confinement building along with some cattle and his row crops and my Father had hogs ... well, he had hogs everywhere! We were living on an older farmstead in the Northeast part of the state with a couple of barns and various other outbuildings. We started finishing feeder pigs in one barn ... then they spread to the second barn ... next they made their way into the old chicken house which we added a wooden feeding floor too ... and finally they were pretty much everywhere! Mostly we were buying feeder pigs and selling them when they finished. It was good money (although it was stinky work) for a time ... but, then the bottom fell out of the market and the family was no longer in the hog business. Luckily we didn't lose much other than a source of income (which is a big deal).

Well, I don't know all of the details ... but, after the market dropped things started to change in the hog industry. It hasn't quite gotten to the point of the vertical poultry business yet, but it is on its way. At one time in this country every farm had some hogs just because they were considered a safe way to get a consistent return. That is no longer the case ... unless you are doing something different.

Even here in Iowa (confinement capital of the world) people are beginning to desire something more from their pork. Our blogging friends up at Sugar Creek Farm are selling farm raised pigs and many other Iowa farmers are starting to tap into what I would call the "real pork" or "quality pork" category. In fact the PFI along with other organizations is holding NICHE Pork meetings around the state. People are trying different breeds (lots of Berkshire) and different methods in order to get back to the way pork used to taste.

I must admit that now that we have our cattle pigs and the pork that comes with them are pretty high on my list. In fact, they will most likely be the next piece of livestock that we purchase. The question is, "what do we get and why do we get it?"

Over the past few months I have mentioned Tamworths, Berkshires, Ossabaw Island, and other heritage or rare breeds. I also would like to add Glouchester Old Spots because I just found out there were a few breeding those. We need to have hogs on our farms that not only can tolerate the outdoors, but that can thrive in the outdoors. We need hogs that can "root" up part of their meals (root, hog, or die!). And, most importantly we need hogs that can become a sustainable component of the farm.

One of the many things that I do is coach high school girl's soccer. I've been doing it for just at four years now and I enjoy it for many reasons. But, one thing that I have observed is that too many girls are focusing on just one sport. They won't go out for soccer because they only do volleyball or they only do basketball, yet study after study has shown that when athletes aren't out their competing in a diverse area of competition their sport of choice can suffer. Just think about when you grew up in a small town. The same people went out for every sport ... just because! Well, that isn't always the case even in the small towns today. People think they need to specialize to be successful.

Farming has fallen into that trap also. People are grain farmers, cattle finishers, dairymen, or pork producers ... too much specialization. In order to get back to quality (just like our high school athletes) we need to have diverse farms that not only have a well rounded balance sheet, but that also produce a variety of foods. Pork is just another part of that variety!


Kramer said...

Intially I wanted to raise a few pigs a year for family. After reading how commercial hogs are raised, and what they are fed, I felt that I had the capacity to provide a much better, healthier for your family product. Thats when I really decided to make pork a large part of our vision as a sustainable farm.

I didn't realize what a huge demand there was for pastured pork. Not only this, but different varieties. This new area I have built for my hogs, about 8 acres, is loaded with oaks. Acorn finished pork is a delicacy. Problem is, acorns fall around Oct. and Nov. So now I have to develop a way to catch acorns on all our trees so that I can store them and finish hogs in the spring as well.

Your right. In todays market where people want to be able to visit your farm and actually see with their eyes their food being raised, you have to be able to offer more than one thing. If people want to buy beef from you, it only makes sense to provide their pork, chicken, lamb, eggs, etc. Sort of streamlining products but keeping the same integrity.

Good post.

Yeoman said...

My wife's uncle, who was mostly a hay farmer, has started to raise pigs. Some friends of ours do as well.

Goodness it's good.

I have to admit this surprised me. It shouldn't, as our own beef is much better than the supermarket beef. The same is true of farm raised pigs.

The only disagreement my wife and I have on this pertains to the ham. I really like the ham, but my wife isn't quite so keen on it. I think it's more lightly cured than the kind you get in the store, so that's probably the reason we disagree on it.

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