The sun is setting on another day at Pigasus Meats as I finally get the chance to sit down at the computer to begin our blog. We had planned to be updating this as soon as we started our operation but as it turns out, at the end of various 12 hour days involving milking, paddock building, shade structure construction, pig wrangling, calf tackling, and all other tasks that are involved in a start-up farm you just really aren’t inclined to sit down for a little bit longer to type on a computer. However, this evening pig chores were short and Kelsey is finishing up milking, so I figured it was time to sit down, bite the bullet, and get the blog started.
I guess one of the first things I should address is how we ended up starting a pastured livestock farm co-operative in Northern Vermont. Two years ago, Kelsey worked for two incredible farmers, Tyler and Melanie Webb of Stony Pond Farm (www.stonypondfarm.com).
Phelan in tye-stall barn
They operate a certified organic dairy, milking 46 Jersey/ Jersey cross milk cows for the Organic Valley CROPP Co-operative. In addition to their milking herd, they also raise a small grass finished beef herd. Tyler has worked the land for 11 years but at 38 is still a young farmer by todays standards (which I guess makes us infant farmers!). This past October he emailed us to let us know about an opportunity on a chunk of new land he had purchased. It was a parcel of about 35 acres that had been previously clear-cut and had since regrown into a birch/blackberry/sedge-y clump of relatively ungrazeable land. He wanted animal impact to help restore the pasture into possible beef cattle grazing land and perhaps (in 10-15 years) hay land. He knew Kelsey had a large amount of experience with hogs from managing the Warren Wilson pastured hog operation and knew that we were both wanting to pursue livestock farming as a career. He proposed a co-operative venture in which we would manage a pastured hog operation for Stony Pond Farm and begin to develop our own business. Now, we are living in Fairfield, starting a pastured hog operation, and building a business!
Our herd is small at this point, but there is no point in rushing into these things too quickly and drowning ourselves in work. We have 1 boar (Boar George), 4 sows( Beyonce, Lady Butterball, Xena, and Gilda) and 13 grower hogs with two young breeding gilts on the way June 10th. All of our sows are bred and are due June/July (GIlda,Beyonce) and September/October (Lady Butterball,Xena).
L to R: Gilda, Xena, Beyonce,Boar George
We are keeping our herd at this size for right now, with no plans to incorporate more animals at this time. We will sell some of our piglets to help compensate for the cost of buying bred sows and as time goes on, we may cycle some breeding animals that aren’t working in our system to accommodate for others that will better suit our needs.
Pastured pork is a management practice that is quickly catching on in smaller sectors of agriculture as well as with larger industrial operations to some extent. Hog farming is typically an energy intensive farming system with most of that energy expenditure coming in the form of feed. By pasturing our livestock, we are able to cut down on feed costs by providing forages and anything they root up as feed. However, this still leaves a gap in porcine nutrition, mainly in protein components that allow the animal to grow quickly. We are hoping to supplement with dairy products and brewers/distillers grains. Unfortunately, many of these alternative feed sources are already spoken for. It has been difficult but we have been able to get in with a new brewery opening in Burlington, Queen City Brewing, as well as a small goat dairy/creamery in West Cornwall, Twig Farm. These are small sources at the moment and certainly aren’t a silver bullet for our feed issues. With prices of conventional grain running at about $400-500 a ton, we will definitely keep looking and trying to think of innovative ways to feed our animals. Otherwise, these hogs will eat us out of house and home!
I hope that this has been a good introduction to our farm. With future posts, we will give more details of successes and failures, practices that have worked for us, and lots of pictures. In the meantime, thanks for checking out Pigasus Meats and thank you for the monumental support we have been given and are continuing to receive every day!
Before walking out to the pig fields