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Posted 11/7/2014 2:46pm by Monique Russ.

It’s not every day you get a call from a farmer who is retiring and get told they have a herd of pigs they want to donate to your farm, but it just so happened to us a few weeks ago! Whaaat?? No waay! You’re serious? What an amazing opportunity for us! A retiring farmer just graciously gave us some free pigs to help grow our small farm…and not just any pigs either... Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs!!

Gloucestershire Old Spots (pronounced Gloss-ter-sheer) aka Old Spots aka GOS are another heritage breed of pig, but they are considerably more rare in America than Berkshire pigs.They are listed as Critical on the The Livestock Conservancy's Priority Status List which means there are fewer than 2,000 GOS pigs worldwide. (Berkshire's aren't as rare in the U.S. as the GOS is, but in most other countries the Berkshire is listed as critical on that country's conservation list.) GOS pigs nearly went extinct globally in the 1960's, but a recovery effort has slowly increased their numbers.

Among the numerous pigs donated we were given two pregnant sows which are due to have babies in the next couple of months. (exciting!) These pigs have only been on our farm for less than a week but already Ben and I really like this breed because they are quiet (so far) and are very docile and relaxed. They are absolutely adorable to look at too because they are white pigs with big black spots and giant floppy ears. We love our Berkshires though so we have no intention of switching breeds – we will offer the GOS pork in addition to the Berkshire pork.

We haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this pork yet, but we do know a few people who have and they said it was fantastic. Many chefs say it rivals Berkshire because it has many of the same qualities; beautiful marbling, tenderness, moisture, texture, deep color, etc. Not only are we adding another wonderfully flavorful type of pork to the menu we’re also helping to conserve another rare breed and help bring the GOS back from the brink of extinction.

In early 2015 we will offer wholes and halves of the Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, and add it to our CSA Program. Once the farmers markets start back up we’ll begin selling it at the markets too. (We love our Berkshires so we are not switching breeds - just introducing another one.) Having never raised this breed before we’re not sure how long it will take to raise the GOS pigs to market weight. Our purebred Berkshires take about 8 -9 months on average and from what I’ve found the GOS are similar but only time will tell. Back in the day in the UK these pigs were known as the ‘Orchard Pig’ because they were used to clean up windfall apples in the orchards and they were easily fattened on the fruit and dairy products. They are supposed to be excellent foragers and fantastic pigs to raise on pasture as their caloric needs are supposed to be less than most other breeds. The Gloucestershire Old Spot is also said to be a smaller pig so there will likely be a learning curve in determining when they’ve reached a desired butcher weight.

For now the GOS sows are housed separately from our Berkshire sows as we have some pretty large girls who could easily inflict injury if they all didn’t play well together. We also maintain a closed herd to prevent disease on our farm so all new pigs are quarantined from the existing herd for a minimum of 30 days to observe them. This period of separation will also allow us to get to know the sows and build a foundation with them without the existing sows getting jealous and chasing them away from getting pets. I can say we have a lot of work to do with these sows – it doesn’t appear they’ve really been trained to respect personal space and they also don’t seem to understand what belly rubs are yet. They’re still learning our routines and trying to figure out who we are and why they’re on our farm, so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.      

Stay tuned!

 

Posted 7/29/2014 9:16pm by Monique Russ.

I love pigs, and they’re by far my most favorite animal. They’re affectionate, playful, emotional, fun, and they each have their own unforgettable personalities. Because these misunderstood animals are so much like dogs it makes what we do incredibly difficult, but we can’t keep every pig we raise as a pet.

From birth these animals are played with, pet, cuddled, and given a wonderful life where they’re allowed to just be themselves; free to do whatever it is they want when they want to do it. We could be like many farms and just put them in a pen and ignore them aside from feeding and watering them, but we don’t know how to do that. That’s not who we are. Instead, we interact with them every day and when their end comes it’s always a very difficult day for us. There isn’t a day that I haven’t cried when we’ve had pigs slaughtered and I expect it will always be this way.

Generally we do not name the pigs that are intended for slaughter, but last December we decided to keep three of Tinkerbelle’s babies who became known as the Three Stooges. We later renamed them because we couldn’t help ourselves; Potter reminded me of Harry Potter because as a baby he had a similar lighting strike of white on his face, Spaz, who had identical markings of his momma, was always the one to dance and twirl around, and Tenacity, well, I think her name explains how she ended up with that name. They were goofy, mischievous, curious, and just downright adorable and irresistible to play with. Because we only kept three out of Tinkerbelle’s litter (sold the rest) we let them stay in the barn for a couple months and every day we’d go out and romp around with them in the straw; they’d crawl all over us and give us piggy kisses, they’d untie our shoes, grab our pant legs to rouse us, etc. I knew back then I was way too attached to them, but I figured I’d have some time to distance myself before their day came. 

When they went back to the woodlands for the spring months I started distancing myself and stopped visiting them as often in an attempt to sever my emotional ties with them. However, I’m still attached to them, and even just a few days ago I was out in the pasture playing tag with them. (Yes, pigs play tag) They’d follow me everywhere I went and Potter, the smallest of the three, still attempted to walk between my legs and none of them would leave my shoes alone.

(Potter - Tenactiy - Spaz)

Of all the pigs we’ve ever raised these are the boys I might have kept as pets if we had the land for it. I always seem to fall in love with the barrows (castrated boys), but on our small farm aside from being farm mascots and pets to play with they’re not useful in the continued production of our pork. It sounds terrible, but it’s a cold hard fact. These animals have a purpose on our farm; to provide our family with food and pork to sell to our customers. As crappy as it is their destiny is to become food, but that’s not to say we aren’t remorseful.

Friday was Potter and Spaz’s last day on the farm, and even as I write this my heart aches for them. I’ve bawled my fool head off over them, as I do every time we process hogs, but because we made emotional connections with these hogs it’s been harder on Ben and I. My mind is filled with memories of when they were babies, of their sweet faces, and their lovable personalities.

(Potter)

(Spaz)

Every time we process hogs I wonder why in the hell do we subject ourselves to this? Why do we put ourselves through this heartache? Why do we raise animals just so they can be slaughtered? It’s an emotional battle, and I always have to remind myself why we do what we do. The answer is very simple. Humanely and ethically raised food.

I NEED to know the meat I eat comes from animals that lived happy, playful, and relaxing lives. I need to know they weren’t fed garbage or chemical laden feed, that they weren’t given hormones, antibiotics, or raised in confinement. I need to know they lived the best life possible, but just as importantly I need to know they were humanely slaughtered. I have zero tolerance for inhumane practices or practices that don’t meet my strict guidelines because there is absolutely no way in hell I could stand the thought of my food dying in fear, a state of anxiety, or otherwise. Absolutely zero tolerance. We can’t devote so much to these animals, and do what we do so they can have a bad end. We pray for every animal we have slaughtered and we make sure their end is peaceful and calm because we monitor it.

I can't tell you how hard it is (on many different levels) to do what we do because taking the life of an animal is never easy. Ben and I firmly believe that just because an animal is raised for food it should never be made to feel that way which is why we pet and play with them. I would rather go through this heartache every time than give it up just because it’s tough and to be honest, as difficult as it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way because I just don’t trust anyone else to do it. 

Tenacity, the only female (gilt) of the three, will remain on our farm and go on to become one of our sows if she proves herself to be a good momma. Tinkerbelle (her momma) is a fantastic mother and we’re hopeful Tenacity will have the same wonderful mothering abilities as her mom. We need another gilt to grow our farm, and who better to take on that role than her?! Will I stop getting attached to our market animals – never. My mantra has always been “for every animal I can raise and sell its one less commercial animal raised in confinement and the horrible living conditions of those raised commercially.” I hope that’s true, but loving all these animals gives me peace and it enriches their lives as well as ours.

(Tenactiy)

 

 

Posted 8/1/2012 4:56pm by Monique Russ.

This blog is new to me…in fact I’ve never had a blog before, so I’m sure I’ll stumble my way through this. I’m assuming that blogging is like farming – a “learn as you go” process. My husband, Ben, and I have been living on a farm since 2004 and we’re always learning how not to do things. ha! The animals and mother nature can be tough teachers at times, but I’m sure blogging is going to be extremely easy by comparison.

We created our website to not only provide information about our farm, our practices, and the animals we raise, but to also educate people about farming practices. In our blog I plan to share my experiences, stories, and life on a real working mini farm in the Cascade Foothills. The content will vary, but it will usually be centered around farming with an emphasis on the animals.

I am also interested in Charcuterie which is the craft of curing meat, and while I have dabbled into this already I plan to do quite a bit of experimenting in the coming winter months. I also want to make cheeses, yogurt, sour cream, etc using raw milk from our cow, and I’m addicted to canning my own home grown food, so I’ll share the outcome of my various experiments. I have a ton of recipes I want to share as well, but mostly I want to blog about farm life – homesteading, the animals, and our gardens. From time to time I also want to chat about issues that are important such as food safety, nutritional information, and the global industrialization of agriculture and how it affects us.

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