With the hot summer sun still at our backs for a few more weeks our focus here at the farm is not just about keeping ourselves cool and hydrated. We have found that simple solutions and ideas can make a world of difference in both the comfort and quality of our animals.
As is with our other livestock enterprises, rotational grazing and pasture management are just as important to our success as any other aspect of the business. Whereas cows need to be moved daily, hogs tend to live in one place for a period until they are ready to be harvested. When we obtain a new swine herd we like to let the pasture that housed the previous herd rest. When the new herds of pigs arrived in late July and again in early September, we had the opportunity to put our hogs up in special environment. In my opinion keeping pigs in the forest exceeds the benefits of having them on pasture. Most of the time our pork is raised on all grass-pasture with provided or animal initiated wallowing holes and metal shelters to provide shade from the sun in the afternoon. Having pastured hogs gives us the benefits of having the pigs plow the earth while they root up weeds and deposit manure which adds nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.
This summer has been hot and our grass/forage growth has been slow do to infrequent rainfall. The fact of the matter is that we decided not put our hogs on pasture at all. Two separate herds of 50 plus grower hogs per herd currently have access to an acre and a half (give or take) of heavily wooded forests. Native hemlocks, poplar, oak and white pine provide copious amounts of shade as well as biodiversity.
Before the pigs showed up the areas were overgrown with invasive vines and brambles like wild blackberry and multi-floral rose. Within a few days the hogs had ransacked their new home— foraging and rooting everything of interest. Along with a primary diet of corn and soy, our pigs eat insects, roots, leafy greens, and grass. Currently our nut bearing trees in the forest are providing an additional nutritional option for the hogs.
In other parts of the world such as Spain hogs spend their entire lives in wooded areas. The Jamón ibérico ham (Southern Spain) is a world renowned product that gains its flavor from the unique diet offered by the forests of that region. The pigs of southern Spain (breed: black Iberian) are allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until slaughtering time approaches.
Evolutionary speaking, hogs are naturally at home in forested environment. Behaviors and habits of domesticated pigs parallels that of the wild boar (entirely forage based diet) found in many places of Western Europe and across the United States. Along with the general happiness and welfare of our pig herd we are very concerned with producing a quality, flavorful pork product. Happy, well-fed animals make tasty meat. The variety in our hogs’ diet will be sure to produce some of the best pork available in Western North Carolina.
You can always stop by the farm and check out our pig operation for yourself, and you might just leave with some fresh apple cider and a pork tenderloin ready for your cast iron.