Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A Visit to Pork of Yore Farm

I had arranged to visit Pork of Yore farm, 1632 Scotch Bush Road, near Douglas, Ontario, on our way out to visit relatives in Ottawa. On the way there, we had been annoyed to have lost about half an hour travelling time when we hit construction in Algonquin Park, but it turned out it was lucky that we did. As we drove the last half hour to the farm, it was clear that we had just missed a severe storm. There were trees and electric wires down in quite a few places we passed.

We arrived at Pork of Yore to discover that their driveway was blocked by a massive fallen tree. Ida Vaillancourt and Gary MacDonell were just starting what was clearly going to be a very large clean-up job. In spite of this, Ida said she would show us around.

The last of the storm can be seen receding in the distance behind the barn. 

The thing about a pork farm that raises its pigs in pastures, is that there are not very many pigs to be seen. Especially when they have all just been sent scurrying in fright into the woods, to which they have access. These were just a handful of the 100 or so pigs usually found on the farm, in a pen close to the barn as they were scheduled to go to the butcher that afternoon.

Most of the pigs are Tamworths, although the farm also has Berkshire pigs.

All the pigs have open-sided shelters available to them, and they are rotated through different fields to root around and forage. When one starts to look worn down, they are moved to another field. The farm is a fairly typical small-farm size, at 112 acres of mixed pasture and woods.

Like other forms of rotational grazing that I have seen, the separate fields are pretty simply deliniated with electric fencing. It's inexpensive, and boundaries can be changed as needed. The down side is that the storm put them all out of commision for a while!

Because most of the pigs had disappeared into the woods during the storm, some of the photos in this post were taken by Ida; this is one of them. These pigs are part of the breeding herd. Ida says, "To ensure production practices incur the smallest carbon footprint possible, the pigs are fed locally grown grains milled in a nearby facility that is certified free of any medicated feed. Pigs will turn feral and dangerous very quickly. Feeding them a small amount in addition to their forage keeps them friendly and tame."

Many of the fields contain small scrubby fruit trees, apples and plums, and the pigs eat the fallen fruit. Including the green, unripe ones. Ida says they get a stomach-ache when they do that. They do it anyway. Hmm, reminds me of someone I know. (Uh, hi. Not that I eat green apples, but, you know...)

The pigs are also taming the short, scrubby junipers which with the farm was becoming overgrown when they bought it, in 2007. This is not rich farm land, and it's impressive to see how well the pigs do on it. They do get fed locally grown and milled grains in addition to their foraging. Still, it takes three times as long for a Pork of Yore pig to reach a marketable weight as it does for a standard industrial pig raised in a standard industrial way.

Oh dear, yet another massive fallen tree, a big old basswood. It really was a wild, wild storm.

Ida walked back behind it to see if she could find any of the pigs pastured in the back field. She couldn't though; they had hidden themselves really well. She said they did not reappear until quite late the next day! One of the disadavantages to giving your livestock plenty of space and varying terrain, I guess.

The advantages are that pigs, which are forest animals naturally, lead a very pig-like life, foraging and rooting through the fields and woods, finding shade and cool mud as they need it - (and they need it, because they are not capable of sweating). The sows raise their piglets themselves, and do it well. Pigs have a reputation for being terrible mothers, but apparently that's only true when they have been bred for maximum fast growth, and live in grim industrial conditions. With good shelter and lots of bedding, the Tamsworth are fine mothers.

Here's a photo from Ida showing the pigs having a huddle during calmer times. You can see they have a lot of variation in coat colour, being a mix of two varieties and also closer to their wild ancestors than modern industrial pigs. I think they may be under a choke-cherry tree here; another fruit that they hoover up when it falls.

The sky was threatening to dump yet more rain on us, so we headed back to the main section of the farm, Ivy the Lanseer Newfoundland dog leading the way. Fortunately, this storm veered away south and missed us.

Gary hitches up the tractor to haul away one of the many trees downed in the storm, while Ivy looks on. The wood in the shelter is used in the furnace next to it; this actually heats the water and is the heat source for their old log home in the winter. Looks like they are going to have plenty of wood this year!

Ida described to us how she had been out by her chicken tractors when the storm hit. She spent the storm in the tractor, holding down the roof to keep it from blowing away. Scary! The chickens, by the way, are Barred Rock, a standard dual purpose chicken, and Chantecler, a rare Canadian-bred dual purpose chicken. These are raised to supply eggs. We have chicken tractor (and chicken) envy!

Here's a picture Ida sent of the chickens out and about during calmer weather.  These are the White Rock and Bonnie's Heavy Reds, which are dual purpose birds Ida is raising for meat.

We didn't see them, but Pork of Yore farm also has some sheep and Morgan horses, which are happy to graze together.  

As part of her vegetable garden, Ida has a "three sisters" section where she is growing white flint (flour) corn from the Curve Lake Reserve near Peterborough, native corn-field beans and Ni-Es-Pah squash, a native squash from the American mid-west.

This pig is a Tamworth-Berkshire hybrid, ready for processing. Meanwhile, it's enjoying frolicking through the goldenrod - a very different creature from the pigs crammed into tiny pens in giant barns, and fed a bizarre mixture of the cheapest foods the farmer can get for them, often spoiled foods not bad enough to throw out but not suitable for sale. (One pig farmer I spoke to once told me his pigs ate a lot of ice cream!) Not Ida and Gary's pigs; they have a natural diet free of any meat products.

As I posted earlier, we found Ida at the Carp Farmers Market on Saturday, where we bought a few cuts (all cured or smoked, as we were hauling it in the car all day). Prices were about two or three times typical supermarket pork prices, I would say, depending on the cut. I don't think that is surprising given the enormous differences in how they are raised compared to industrial pigs, and well worth it just for knowing that the pigs were treated so well during their lives. But not surprisingly, it tastes so much better too! You can also order sides for the freezer or cuts by contacting Pork of Yore directly.

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