Friday, July 18, 2014

Meet the Bacon

May 23rd, three shy lads.
They would only run away unless I bribed them.
Every year we add something new. Well, usually several new projects but we try to limit the biggest, scariest, most costly or most intimidating projects to one per year.  For 2014 it is bacon.  Or pigs, depending on how you want to keep track of the semantics.

I've been told before that "lots" of people keep and raise poultry but you aren't "really farming" until you have "real" livestock.  This stipulation apparently then only includes the likes of pigs, horses, or cows.  I'm not entirely sure I agree, as raising (and handling, and butchering) 60+ lbs. live weight turkeys sure feels like "real farming" to me but even based on this extremely limited view of farming as of this year we are, in fact, playing with the big boys.

...And they are certainly shaping up to be BIG. (continued)

May 26th - Froggy boots added for scale.
There are many "flavors" of pigs.  Standard varieties are the lean muscled fast growing types, carefully selected for the biggest, fastest growing hams or equally large varieties selected for their ability to bear large, frequent litters.  All the pork chops in the grocery cooler case come from pigs like this, the byproduct of conventional "more is more" and "faster is better" thinking. There are even varieties of pigs bred to literally have more ribs and longer bellies in order to increase the total area of pork belly (which becomes bacon) per hog.  

Not long ago other factors were more important than how quickly an animal could turn its ration of corn and soy into more meat.  There were pigs that could survive on what they could forage, feeding a family without costing them.  Some pigs put on fat so well they called them Lard Pigs, and as animal fat was rare, and lard extremely useful (and marketable), the additional fat was often more valuable than the meat.  Never mind that every cut on a Lard Pig often has enough fat to make it into bacon in its own right, or that the properties of pig fat are ideally suited to sausage making and far superior to other fats for that purpose.

May 26th again, with a 1 gallon bucket.
We elected to try American Guinea Hogs (AGH).  The AGH is a rare variety of pig, one known not only for good foraging instincts but also incredible taste and good behavior.  Barring a few exploratory nibbles at my shoes (a testament more to their decrepit state than any malice harbored by the pigs) they do not bite. They do treat any visitor as a potential "treat bringer" first and a "friendly visitor" second which probably shouldn't surprise me. It is also true and somewhat amusing that anyone who steps into (or even just near) their enclosure is likely to be rushed by the boys just on the off chance that a morsel of food might be forthcoming, which is coming a long way from where they were at the beginning, when I had to bribe them just to get them close enough to touch.

Today - three lazyboys
These days the boys, Porkchop, Tenderloin, and Bacon (yes, I can tell them apart) are happy to come over to the edge of the fence just for a scratch behind the ears and a little bit of conversation.  The tone of their noises actually changes to less of a cry for attention to more conversational, friendly sound.  The squealing for attention seems to frequently occur more as a reminder, as though they are saying "HEY! We're over here! Don't forget to feed us!"  I suppose the fact that my pigs are always acting like they are hungry has more to do with them being pigs than how much I am feeding them.  We're trying to strike a balance between easy food access and forage behavior and so far we seem to have kept it about right.  The boys LOVE to spend their time between meals eating grass and rooting out dandelions and while the meals never last much past feeding time they usually take a nap right after rather than heading back to foraging so I think they must be sated then, if only for a little while.

I know these three will not be 300 lbs. monsters at the 6 month mark like the industry hogs would, and while part of me (the part excited about easy access to sausage in the freezer) is sad I'm mostly happy about that.  Our feed costs have been modest thus far, the pigs are happy, and the size they have gained is not insignificant in the time they've been in our care. It's a little early to label the 2014 pig experiment a success, but if they remain well behaved (and growing) for the rest of their time here I have little doubt that we'll be planning to repeat the experience next year.  Perhaps we'll even be ready to raise some baby bacon of our own.

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