Pig Tales: Must Read

Pig Tales by Barry Estabrook is a “must read” book for eaters, farmers, and anyone who even remotely cares about sustainability.  Estabrook covers the very best and worst in the lives of modern day pigs and the farms that raise them.
Pig TalesMy hat is off to Mr. Estabrook for telling this important story and not flipping out in the process.  There’s no way I could visit a factory hog “farm” and tolerate seeing 8,000 sows in gestation crates so small that the sows cannot move.  I hope that in my lifetime, practices like these will be outlawed.

There used to be a sacred pact between the farmer and the animals he raised.  The farmer had to earn a living, but he also did whatever he could to give his animals a good life.  The farmer respected his livestock.  I raise my pigs that way and thankfully, there is a small, but growing population of farmers who raise their pigs “the old way”.  Estabrook covers both sides of the story, but clearly sides with the pigs and the alternatives to our American factory farms.

This book reminds me that humans often discount and underestimate what they don’t understand and yet, there is so little effort put forth to even try and understand the unknown.  I learned a lot about pigs while reading this book and was completely fascinated with the stories of lab research that probed the intelligence and capabilities of pigs.

Pig Tales is an easy read and a book that I looked forward to picking up every day.  I hope you give it a chance too.

Demolition Crew

2015-05-27 DemolitionI got up one day last week to find my gilts had decided to demolish their shelter.  It used to have plywood on the back and a third support in the center.  Granted, it was an old shelter, but it had withstood the test of time with eleven goats, so I figured it was stout enough to house four pigs for two weeks.  Nope.  Unlike goats, pigs like to root around stationary objects, then push and scratch on them relentlessly.  For this reason, pigs were historically used to clear forested fields.  The pigs would root around the base of the trees, digging up, chewing on, and killing the roots, then the trees would die and fall over.

2014-12-24 New Pig Shelter

This is my new and improved pig shelter design, built on skids so I can drag it around.  It also has a platform on one end where I can secure both the feeder and the water barrel (I learned the hard way that pigs think it’s funny to push the feeder over and then flip it around until it breaks).  This shelter is still standing after five months of pig abuse, so I think the design is pretty good.  I use standard pallets for the walls and add plywood across the front in the winter to keep the rain out.  Of course, the four gilts that destroyed their shelter last week, haven’t seen this shelter yet, so I may be in for a rude surprise.  As I was walking away from the pig pasture the other day, I think I heard one of them grunt, “Bring it, fool”….

 

Welcome to my farm blog

Pigs!

My name is Matt Alford and I am a small-time pig farmer located in the unincorporated community of Laurelwood, Oregon, about five miles from Gaston and 50 minutes from Portland.  I raise Gloucestershire Old Spot heritage hogs and sell them farm-direct to local eaters, who appreciate the high quality of the meat and the extensive effort that I put into making sure the hogs live the very best life possible.

People who know me, know that I have a very high bar for the meat that I put on my own table.  About fifteen years ago, I quit eating meat entirely after learning what “factory farming” meant.  I wanted nothing to do with that and I spent the next two years thinking about life, death, right, wrong, meat, murder, capital punishment, religion, hunting and all sorts of other tangents related to meat. I finally came to the conclusion that eating meat isn’t wrong and whatever meat I consume, I’m going to know that meat from field to table.  I also decided to confront the fact that meat comes from a living, breathing being that thinks for itself and feels pain.  Meat nourishes life by taking life and at the very least, I owed the animal the respect of looking it in the eye and taking its life myself if I thought eating meat was so important that the animal needed to die in order to feed me.

As a result, I learned how to hunt, first with bow and arrow, then later with rifle and shotgun.  I learned what it meant to hunt animals in the wild, on their own terms and what it meant to eat a lot of salad after coming home empty-handed.  I spent days and weeks sitting quietly in the woods, watching animals interact with each other, care for their young, and live in freedom.  I learned humility and respect for every piece of meat I brought home for the table.Chewy

Eventually, I started raising packgoats to help me carry my camp into the backcountry and the meat back out to the truck.  I was a slow learner, but my goats were kind enough to teach me lessons over and over about what it meant to put up a fence and keep it up.  They also made sure I understood that they viewed anything I built as a temporary structure and they were put on this earth to see to it that temporary structures were torn down.

After about seven years of “goat learning” I decided to raise a couple weaner pigs for my own consumption.  HeaderI already had good fences, water, and pasture.  While I expected the final pork would taste great (and it did), what I didn’t expect was to like being around pigs as much as I did.  Pigs are funny.  They chase each other around, root in the dirt, and like to come over and investigate whatever I’m doing.  Now, my farm doesn’t feel complete without them.

I like pigs and I’m happy raising them in a manner that supports their “pigness” and happiness.  It seems that other people like it too because wherever I go and talk to people about how and why I raise pigs, there is someone who asks if they can buy pork from me.  That makes me happy, because every pig that I sell reduces the demand on factory pig farms.  Maybe someday, enough people will buy local, pasture-raised pigs that there won’t be any demand for factory farms and they will just become a shameful foot note in our history.  Industrial pig farming hasn’t been kind to pigs and they deserve better.  I’m doing my part, a few pigs at a time.

–MATT