Our Raising Practices
How They’re Raised
Our animals are raised the good old fashioned way…roaming freely on roughly 20 acres of organic pasture outside of Yakima, WA. They are raised outdoors in their natural environment and are never confined in "dry lots" or mud pits, and we despise the use of gestational and farrowing crates. Our sows farrow their pigs either outside in the pasture during warm months or in a big heated barn in the winter. We believe in allowing our animals to truly free range on our farm, and they live happy, stress free lives. Because of our raising practices we focus on the health and well being of each animal instead of mass production, and therefore, the number of hogs we produce each year is limited.
What They Eat
Our Berkshire hogs freely forage on organic pasture (which has never been sprayed with pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, etc.), and in the winter are provided with timothy hay when the pastures cannot be grazed. Because grass is lysine deficient which is the primary amino acid for pigs to develop properly they are supplemented (free choice) with all natural grains. Throughout the growing season our animals are treated to organic fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown on our farm, and our hogs are typically finished on apples and walnuts in the fall. Our animals are NEVER fed hormones, growth promotants, animal by-products, antibiotics, etc...EVER!
Animal Husbandry Practices
In addition to providing our pigs and poultry with a natural setting we believe in and implement excellent animal husbandry practices. All of our animals are raised humanely and ethically, and those who visit our farm, including the butchers, always tell us they're amazed how friendly and engaging our pigs are. It’s emotionally trying to befriend each and every animal and treat them the same despite knowing how the story ends. Regardless, they all get pet, scratched, hugged and played with because giving them the best quality of life is the most important aspect of raising animals, and it’s our farm’s focus.
We take a holistic and an all-natural approach when raising our animals, so their welfare is our primary concern. Should a situation ever present itself where, in emergency situations, one of our animals needs a prescribed antibiotic or pain reliever we would not hesitate to administer it. We would not allow our animals to suffer unnecessarily, but proper withdrawal and processing protocols would be followed.
All of our pigs are bred, born, raised, and slaughtered on our farm, so they spend their entire life here. This is not a common practice on farms today. It's incredibly important to us that our animals are treated humanely every step of the way, so we closely monitor the entire slaughter process. We go to great lengths to ensure our animals stay calm and never experience fear before the upcoming event, and we NEVER process our market animals in front of or within ear shot of our breeding stock.
On processing day we prohibit farm visits and/or tours. This is a quiet day on the farm - a day of thanks and a time for reflection.
R Heritage Farm uses sustainable farming practices such as integrated pest management, soil fertility management, rotational grazing methods, and water conservation methods by using our farm’s natural resources. Examples of some of these practices include using rain barrels to water our animals and gardens, using natural vegetation to control soil erosion, pasture rotation to reduce soil compaction, and creating and utilizing our own compost. Wherever possible we use and enhance the natural resources available to us.
While our farm is not currently certified organic we do use organic production systems and practices as defined by the USDA. Instead of using chemicals we opt to use beneficial and natural predatory insects to control pests, we do not use chemicals or synthetics on our pasture or woodlands, and our animal feeds only contain natural ingredients.
The Heartache in What We Do
Years ago I used to blog about our farming adventures, but when we moved to Yakima I stopped. Below is a blog post I did a few years ago that I just couldn't bring myself to eliminate from our website when we revamped it. It's a heartfelt true-story that captures the joy and sadness of raising animals the way we do.
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. 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 is explanation enough. 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.
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. 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, and raising them the way we do gives us peace, and it enriches their lives as well as ours. I would rather go through this heartache every time, and as difficult as it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way because I just don’t trust anyone else to do it. We hope that for every animal we raise and sell that it's one less raised commercially in confinement.