Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Farm Needs Animals

As farms go, ours is pretty small. 5 acres is pretty much the minimum you can get away with calling a farm and most "real" farmers would say its really just a glorified back yard. But its our farm and it'll be the perfect size for us to get our feet wet and learn what we are doing without being totally overwhelmed. Because we don't have a lot of space we need to make sure that we pick our animals carefully. To this end we are choosing small versions of the animals we want. For sheep we are looking at Shetlands, one of the smallest breeds (and also the most friendly, in my opinion). And for pigs we are looking at heritage breeds that grow slower and stay smaller than more "commercial" breeds. And since we only have space for a few of each type of animal we want to make them count and get the best animals we can afford. Thankfully over the last few years I have been keeping my eye out for farms I like and long before we found the farm, I already knew where I wanted to get our animals.

Today we visited Cane Creek Farm which is where we want to get our pigs. We love this farm for several reasons. The first thing that attracted us to them was the incredible taste of their pork. I have to admit that I never used to care for pork. The stuff you get at the grocery store tends to be pretty bland and is only good if you cover it in tasty sauce or really flavorful spices or herbs. The pork itself is just a filler to take up space on your plate. But did you know that that's not what pork is supposed to taste like? Here is what happened. Back in the 80s when the pork industry launched its "The Other White Meat" campaign (p.s. pork isn't a white meat...) the trend was towards making pork very lean so that it was similar in fat/calorie content to poultry. So all the commercial pigs were bred to that end. And they lost all their flavor and ended up as just, well, the other white meat. Blah. Thankfully small farms kept heritage pigs alive and thriving. Heritage breeds (i.e. relatively rare breeds that haven't been bred for the commercial meat market) are a lot like wild pigs. They tend to grow more slowly and don't get quite as big. They also tend to be more resilient and are better at foraging for themselves. Provided that they have water and a big, healthy pasture with plenty growing in it they can pretty much fend for themselves. Not that you would want to drop them in a field and ignore them- they have too much personality for that.

The quality of the pigs themselves are the main reason we want to get our pigs from Cane Creek, but we also feel good supporting the farm because we love how its run. They raise pigs, cows, sheep and assorted poultry and all of their animals are so healthy and, well, happy. I try not to refer to animals as happy because I think its a human emotion that we incorrectly transfer to animals but if I have ever seen animals that deserve to be called happy its the Cane Creek animals. Did you know that pigs will roll over on their backs so you can scratch their bellies? Or follow you around the field hoping for a scratch behind the ear? Today I stood beside a monster of a boar with big nasty tusks and scratched his back while he calmly nibbled grass and made contented noises. Yeah, that was one happy pig. The new mama sheep watched me carefully while I petted her itty bitty son and the pregnant ewes (Blanche, you are my favorite) rubbed their swollen bellies up against my legs for a gentle scratch. The only animals on the farm that didn't seem happy for human attention were the geese, but then protecting the farm from intruders is their job so their efforts should be applauded.

Farm owner Elizabeth clearly has a passion for her animals and we feel really honored that she is willing to let us take some of her babies home to our own farm. I can tell that she is the type of person who would only sell an animal to what she knew would be a good home, regardless of the money.

Now we just need to decide which pigs we want. In May Cane Creek will be weaning a bunch of Ossabow and Ossabow-crosses. These young pigs are called "shoats" or "feeder pigs". I personally don't like the term feeder pigs because it reminds me of the feeder mice I used to buy my pet snake and I don't like the image of a cute little piglet being eaten by a snake! The Ossabow breed is pretty neat, but I'm not sure they are for us, at least not right now. They super tasty but also really fatty and I'm not sure we really need a freezer full of such fatty meat. I think we'll just buy the really fatty stuff in small quantities from Cane Creek for special occasions. I'd like to have at least one of the Ossabow-crosses, though. They are a bit better balanced for a small farm, in my opinion. Ideally I'd like to start with 3 pigs and, since we are limited in space and want to make the most of each animal, I'd like each pig to be a different breed. That way we have the most diverse experience raising them and the most assortment in our freezer. So one will be an Ossabow cross but what about the other two? More investigating is needed!

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