"...dairy is a virtually perfect complement to pasture/hay and it is often freely available. Dairy provides the lysine, a key amino-acid, and calories that boosts their diet such that the pigs will grow about as fast on pasture/hay + dairy as they do on an expensive grain fed diet. The dairy gives a delicious sweet flavor to the fat and meat ..." Walter Jeffries, Sugar Mountain Farm
Max sneaking a taste
My interest in raising pastured and forage-based pork began the day I found Walter Jeffries' blog. Back then it was a lot less structured and professional than it is now. I now consider him the expert in pastured pork. I don't think I'm alone, since they are shipping their meat all over the country and have standing orders from restaurants all over VT and neighboring states.
What fascinated me was the concept that pigs can be raised like cattle - out on pasture - and still have a fantastic taste. We've all had that 'way to gamey' grass-fed beef. If you've ever had strong-tasting pork, and I have, you'll understand why this concept thrilled me.
The secret behind sweet-tasting pork, according to Jeffries, is the dairy component of the diet. The dairy balances the pasture and hay, and gives the meat the tender, sweet flavor of pork instead of that bland, no flavor option we're offered in the grocery store.
Warm whey-soaked feed
So, when I discovered piglets for sale on Craigslist I was thrilled. And of course, because I am only 7 degrees removed from Kevin Bacon, I found out that I had a connection through a fellow woman in agriculture.
Enter pigs. (Missed it? Read the blog post, Picking up Little Pigs)
Grateful for my penchant to talk to anyone, I spoke with a local cheesemaker, who was more than happy to supply me with as much whey (organic, grass-fed, thank you very much!) as I would like for the paltry sum of .03 per gallon. You read that correctly. Yes, that's super cheap. Just covers his time to fill the buckets for me, really.
lots of hay for these porkers
I am also blessed to have a mill not five miles from the house. They have a locally sourced custom feed mix that I will using to provide extra calories. Raising pigs in winter means that they need extra calories to grow, AND to stay warm. We'll be going easy on corn (a major ingredient in factory farmed and confined pork operations) and soy, focusing on whole grains (soaked in warm whey), grass hay, alfalfa hay, and of course, whey. They will be getting scraps from the kitchen as well as it's available, and any veggies I can get cheap or free.
We'll wrap up this nutrient-dense experiment with an oak-grove finishing - the pigs will be turned out into our 2 acres of oak groves in the early spring to finish out on acorns. Why acorns, you ask?
Interestingly, even though acorn-finished hogs are fattier than confinement-raised hogs, their meat is healthier. Studies of Spanish pata negra pork have found that the fat they produce is largely unsaturated, often to the point of being liquid at room temperature, and that it is extremely high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that is also known to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol. In fact, the pigs are sometimes called “olive trees on four hooves” because the health benefits are similar to olive oil! (Source: Mast Tree Network)
My hope is that at the conclusion of this little 'experiment', I will have discovered a way to raise nutrient-dense pork that is economical. I'm sure I'll be learning a lot, and provide you with some laughs along the way.
I am finding myself focusing more on our local economy. There is something incredibly satisfying about feeding my family food I've either raised, grown or found locally. And who knows, maybe next year it will be YOUR family I'm feeding. Or, in a perfect world, maybe I'll be someone's 'Walter' and you'll be doing your own experiment in raising your own meat!
Stay tuned for the next blog post: Fence-training Pigs