Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Big Mamma

We would like to thank our customers for the overwhelming response that we had in selling our first group of Berkshire pigs. We are excited that you are excited about having Local, All Natural, Humanely Treated, Pasture Raised Berkshire Pork. Although we have raised pigs in the past, we are new to this level of farming. We have now sold all of the pork we had for sale. We have started a waiting list and have pretty much sold out on the next litter of pigs we will be raising. We are now glad that we have already purchased 4 more Berkshire sows. We are in the process of breeding them and hopefully by this time next year we will have 4-5 times the amount of pork for sale. Our goal is to operate our farm in an open, honest, and transparent manner. We would love to hear your feedback as we move forward.

We are anxiously awaiting a new litter of purebred Berkshires! Big Mamma is getting bigger every day. We figure she should be due around Mother’s Day. How appropriate! Since we let our pigs run together in the field and let nature take its course, we don’t always see when the sows come into heat. Big Mamma has very large litters for the Berkshire breed. The average is 6-8 piglets/litter for Berkshires; however Big Mamma gave birth to 13 piglets the last time she farrowed. (Farrowing is the term used when pigs give birth.) Two of them were stillborn which is always sad but fairly normal and part of life on the farm. She is such a good mom and weaned off all 11 piglets.

Yesterday, my five year old son, Hans, came out with me to check on Big Mamma. She was lying down in the straw inside one of the huts. She is very tired these days! She just looked at us and we could tell she wasn’t very comfortable. We decided to scratch her and try and make feel a little better. We started scratching her sides, right away she rolled onto her side so we could scratch her belly. She loved it and closed her eyes as we worked our way down to her belly. While we were there, we could feel the little piglets kicking around. For those of you have felt a baby kick while in the womb, try 10-14 little guys all moving and kicking. It seems very busy in there, no wonder she is so exhausted! All that scratching that Hans and I were doing quickly relaxed Big Mamma and before long, she was snoring. We quietly got up and let her get some rest. At times our pig farm is very hectic and stressful. This was a very peaceful and rewarding moment. I thank the Lord I was able to share it with my son.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beyond Organic

Christiansen’s Hog Heaven raises “All Natural, Humanely Treated, Pasture Raised Berkshire (Kurobuta) Pork”. So does that mean we raise “organic” pork? The answer is yes and no. While our pork is organic in every sense of the term, we are not certified organic by the USDA. We don’t feed our pigs antibiotic laced feed or give them hormones etc… We feed our pigs fresh, Utah grown grains consisting of wheat, barley, oats, and triticale.  They also get alfalfa as well as the pasture they graze. We go beyond organic by not just controlling the feed, but also controlling the pigs’ environment. Pork can be certified organic while the pigs suffer inhumane living conditions their entire life. We don’t believe pork raised under traditional methods is “organic” just because the corn they eat is organic corn. Unfortunately, consumers have the misconception that “organic” labeled food is truly natural and in the case of meat, raised ethically.

To be certified “organic”, farms have to pay fees, fill out government forms, and keep a daily log of farm activities. For a small farm like ours, this is cost prohibitive and more importantly time consuming. Raising pigs on pasture the way we do already requires more time and money than concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We are busy and simply don’t have the time to keep the logs necessary to prove to the government that we are organic. If anything, we would rather take the time to update our blog once in a while and prove to you, our customer, that we are “organic”. The additional fees that the government charges our farm would have to be passed on to our customers. This makes our pork less affordable to some families. We would rather our customers learn first hand that our farm is devoted to natural pork while keeping an affordable price point.

There are also some other issues with organic foods that consumers fail to realize. Since the USDA is a government agency, it is subject to lobbying. During the past 20 years, large corporate owned farms have observed smaller farms charge a little bit more for products labeled organic. The truth behind organic is that it is less efficient than using chemicals and fertilizers to maximize production. This means more land and labor are needed to produce the same amount of product. There is also a higher waste factor as farms cannot sell fruit that has worm holes in it; something that a chemical can prevent. Also, animals raised in confinement without constant antibiotics will get sick; and disease can quickly spread throughout a CAFO killing a lot of animals or making them unsuitable for processing. Large corporations don’t sell organic products because they feel a moral obligation to. They do it because they see small farms charging higher prices than they are able to charge. These corporations have gone to Washington and lobbied for exceptions to USDA organic regulations in order to accommodate themselves and their profits. An example of this was seen in December 2005, when the 2006 agricultural appropriations bill was passed with a rider allowing 38 synthetic ingredients to be used in organic foods. When a regulatory agency such as the USDA gives in to big corporations, they hurt the small farms and devalue a well intended label. It becomes nothing more than an advertising ploy.

After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Agricultural Science, I was very excited to take a job with a large farm in Arizona. They grew vegetables with tomatoes being their focus of production. I noticed that they had a label on their tomatoes. It was an award given by a certain organization of chefs. At that time they had “won” the best tasting tomato several years in a row. This was an award they were very proud of and bragged about it to their customers. It turns out that they “won” the award by paying a company somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 every year. They just slapped it on their tomatoes to help sell more of them.

For these reasons, we currently have decided to not participate in the USDA certified organic program. Since we choose not to participate, it is illegal to use the term organic to promote our food. Similar to how potato farmers in Idaho cannot mention the word "Idaho" in any way unless they join Idaho Potatoes. As stated above, we would rather educate our customers about the natural or organic process in which we raise our pork rather than dupe you with a label. Regardless of how we raise our pigs, in the end it is the customers who decide how pork is raised. You see, every time we buy food, we vote for the method that it was raised. We vote with our wallets. If you average the price of the various cuts of pork found at the supermarket, you will find that our pork is cheaper! Not only that, but you're buying a product that is beyond organic, premium gourmet quality, and mouth-wateringly delicious. So go ahead and vote for Christiansen's Hog Heaven!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pork for Sale

We are excited to announce our first Berkshire pork for sale! All natural, humanely treated, pasture raised, purebred Berkshire (Kurobuta) Pork. We are the only registered farm in Utah raising Berkshire Pigs. Berkshire pork tastes the way pork used to taste, before pigs were bred to compete with chicken (the other white meat).  Berkshire Pork is often called the "Kobe Beef of Pork". It is finely marbled meat and honestly the most delicious pork you will ever eat. It is more tender and moist than any other breed. We have loads of information on our blog as well as two different side by side comparisons between our pork and traditional pork.

We sell our pork by the half or whole. The cost is calculated by the hanging weight usually 160-220 lbs for a whole pork. Click here for current pricing and here for availablility. This is the finest pork in the country and at prices similar to the artificially enhanced grocery store pork. We will deliver the pork to our drop points in Salt Lake County, Utah County, and Tooele County.

Support your local farm! We care about our animals and pamper them. You are welcome to visit our farm and pick out your own pig if would like. You will be surprised how happy and healthy our pigs are if you have visited other farms. Our place doesn't reek of ammonia and have zombie looking pigs laying around. These pigs are not fed any bread or leftovers. Some farms advertise grain fed pigs, but what they don't tell you is that they are also feeding them bread, twinkies etc... This greatly reduces the quality of the meat. Our Berkshires are not raised in 6" of their own waste but rather in pasture where they can eat fresh grass, locally grown grains, and alfalfa. Because they are so healthy, there is no need for antibiotics and never any hormones. All this on top of genetically being the best tasting breed means the healthiest, most delicious pork. Thanks for checking out our blog and learning about where our meat comes from. We will be happy to answer any questions for you.

Feel free to contact us with any questions!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

We Want to Hear From You!

Meet Dozer our 1100+ lb boar. The name Dozer comes from bulldozer since he can knock over anything. I guess that is to be expected when 70% of his body is solid muscle mass and a low center of gravity gives him incredible lifting abilities. Dozer is actually very mild mannered and loves to be scratched. I will share a few quick examples of his strength.

A few months ago I had Dozer's previous owner come over to help me get a blood sample so that he could finish transferring the American Berkshire Association registration papers over to my name. In order to do this, we had to corner him and get a drop of blood, similar to a diabetic pricking his finger to measure his blood's sugar level. I have a weighing scale that doubles as a chute for handling the pigs that would allow me to do this type of task. However the scale is only rated to 500 lbs. And Dozer stands at least 8" taller than the top of the scale's cage. In fact Dozer's back is level with my belly button and I stand 6'2". He is over 8' long from nose to rump! My point being that there is no way he would fit into the scale. So James (the previous owner) and I herded him into a pen. (My pens consist of 8' long railroad ties weighing 200lbs each buried 30" into the ground. Attached to those are welded wire hog panels that are stapled into the posts using 2" long barbed fencing staples. Each post has 20-25 staples securing the panel to the post.) Once we had him in the pen, we cornered him using 1.25" thick plywood panels that we were holding. Dozer didn't like the idea of being confined, especially since he is used to playing anywhere on our pasture he wants. He decided to turn around which about knocked us both over. Now his nose was facing a hog panel secured to a railroad tie. Dozer decided he wanted out, so he simply put his nose down and under the panel. With one swift jerk he sent all 25 staples flying out like a machine gun from the bottom to the top. Bent the panel into a 90 degree angle and simply trotted back out into the pasture. We finally cornered him in his hut and were able to get a blood sample. However, what I thought would be a 10 minute chore turned into 1.5 hours!

Since the weather has been warming up the last few weeks, the pigs have been playing in their trough more than they have been drinking from it. Our trough is actually an old steel bathtub that weighs about 50 lbs. I estimate that it holds 70 gallons of water when full meaning that it probably weighs around 600 lbs. when full. Hollie has been filling it up everyday only to go out and find it tipped over. Hmmmm... I wonder who the culprit is... Well yesterday, Hollie finally caught Dozer in the act. She had just filled the tub back up. When she turned around he was bouncing and playing with a full bathtub on his nose like it was a ball. It only took a few seconds of this until it tipped over and the rest of the pigs ran over to play in the mud.

We trust Dozer when we are working around him, but we never turn our backs. As sweet as he is, he is still an animal. As Hollie often reminds me, "He could bite your leg right off you know!". I like to use a pitchfork when I am working around the pigs. If a pig tries to push or charge, I can quickly put the tines into the ground and create a barrier in between me and the pig. In a worse case scenario, I can use it as a weapon to defend myself. Fortunately that hasn't ever happened.

I have had a few people contact me and state that they have tried to leave a comment but have been unable to. Since I am new to this whole blogging thing, it took me a little while to figure it out. I think I had some settings wrong, which hopefully have been changed. For those of you who tried to leave comments before, we would love to hear from you now. We would like to hear your comments, suggestions, questions etc... What do you like about our farming philosophy? What do you dislike? What is most important to you when choosing a farm to buy your food from? I like to follow a few other farms just to compare notes, perhaps that is why you read this blog. Is there something about our farm you would like to know more about? We are anxious to hear from you!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Last Night's Dinner

Last night, we invited my sister and her family over for dinner. On the menu was pork chops, diced potatoes, and asparagus. My sister brought a pack of pork chops she had purchased at Wal-Mart. For fun, we provided some Berkshire pork chops so that we could all have a side by side taste test.

The diced red potatoes went into the oven after being seasoned with Red Robin’s seasoning that you can buy at their restaurants. We love the seasoned fries they serve there. The fresh asparagus was prepared to be steamed. And then we took out the pork chops. Immediately we began to notice differences. The Berkshire chops were darker in color. I pointed out the fine marbling to my sister and explained that this was why Berkshire meat was so much more flavorful and juicy. I also explained that the marbling of the meat is a characteristic that is unique to the Berkshire breed. Also very noticeable was the difference in size. The Berkshire chops were cut 1.25” thick. The Wal-Mart chops were about 5/8” thick. Hollie lightly coated all of the chops in a marinade of olive oil and Famous Dave’s grill seasoning. (I am realizing we are suckers for other restaurants seasonings.) We placed the chops on the grill and soon the kitchen began to fill with mouth-watering aromas.

I am by no means a chef and tend to overcook our meat when grilling. Like many others, I am always afraid I will get food poisoning if I don’t cook the meat long enough. (I guess I should get a meat thermometer.) Anyway, the beauty of Berkshire pork is that it is so moist and tender, that it is difficult to mess up. As the pork chops neared completion on the grill, I took a knife and carefully cut a slit into the center of a few of the chops to see if they were ready. The Wal-Mart chops were done as was evident by the color and texture of the meat. I made a small cut into the Berkshire chop and it filled with juice so fast that I couldn’t even see the inside of the meat! I had to hold it on its side to allow the juice to drain while I checked it.

I placed the chops on a plate and took them inside. The Berkshire chop was still 1.25” thick. The Wal-Mart chop had shrunk down to 3/8” - 7/16” thick. We all had a good laugh at the “poor little Wal-Mart chop” as we called it. Because it was so thin, I accidently burned it a little bit. Like I said, I am not a chef.

I carefully cut four pieces off of each type of pork chop. We all tasted the store bought pork chop first. It was good (as all pork is) but very salty. We checked the packaging and noticed the fine print that stated that these pork chops were enhanced. Salty is often mistaken for “flavorful” which was very apparent when contrasted with the flavor of the Berkshire pork, which followed next. The Berkshire chop had a very different texture. It was similar to a beef pot roast in texture. It was tender but not at all mushy. It was incredibly moist and bursting with flavor. It was actually very similar in texture and flavor to the filet mignon wrapped in bacon that you can get in a nice steakhouse. I actually am not sure how to fully explain it. If salty is a “hard” flavor, then Berkshire pork has a very “soft” flavor. When I say I soft, I in no way mean lacking in flavor. It had a very strong flavor; it just didn’t “bite” like the enhanced pork did.

Being the evil parents that we are, we fed the rest of the Wal-Mart chops to the kids and ate the good stuff ourselves. As a further testament to the Berkshire pork chops, some of our kids asked for more “chicken”. My son came up and asked if he could have a bite of my “steak”.

All in all, it was a very delicious meal. It is always fun to eat good food with good company. In our case the good food was Berkshire chops, red potatoes, and steamed asparagus. The good company was my sweet sister and her wonderful family. We love them very much and are happy to have them as neighbors.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Why Buy Our Pork?

So why should you buy your pork from Christiansen’s Hog Heaven? Well the most obvious reason is that our pork tastes better than any other pork available in Utah and the surrounding states for that matter. I often see farms advertise “High Quality Pork”. I ask myself, “What makes it high quality?” Aside from being local and therefore fresher, how is pork that is most likely fed bread, donuts, and antibiotic laced pig feed and confined in 6” of its own waste any different from other pork available? Rather than just tell you that our pork is the best, I will explain why our pork is the best.

First, we start with incredible breeding stock. Our pigs are purebred Berkshire pigs and they are registered with the American Berkshire Association. Berkshire pigs are known worldwide for producing the best tasting, best cooking quality, and for being more tender and moist than any other breed of pig. In fact Berkshire pork aka Kurobuta pork is often referred to as the Kobe beef of pork. For years the pork industry has tried to breed their pork to look and taste like chicken hence the term “the other white meat”. Berkshires are a heritage breed, meaning they haven’t been subjected to these breeding programs which is why they have retained their wonderful attributes. Berkshire meat is pinker and finely marbled. It isn’t mushy or dry when cooked like traditional pork. Because Berkshire pork isn’t available in stores, it hasn’t been enhanced. That is another subject, see this link about enhanced pork.

Next we treat our pigs humanely. A quick Google search will reveal absolute horror stories about the way the majority of confinement raised animals are treated. Treating animals inhumanely is sad, unethical, and in my opinion, contrary to God’s will. (Buying meat from the grocery store encourages this kind of “farming”.) But since we are talking about taste, I will try to stick to the topic. Confinement raised animals are stressed and often sick. The stress can release hormones and chemicals into the meat which make it taste funny (another reason for enhanced pork). Many animals are sick (and medicated) when they are slaughtered. While this may not affect you directly, it just doesn’t seem right and certainly isn’t appetizing.

Our pigs are raised on pasture. The organic pasture grass and alfalfa help bring out the delicious natural flavors of the pork. The fresh greens are loaded with vitamins which benefit the pigs and virtually eliminate the need for medication. In fact pasture raised pork is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins making it healthier for our families. During the winter, we custom mix our own feed consisting of locally grown alfalfa and grain. Since there are some big apple farms around, our pigs are spoiled with delicious apples which actually sweeten the meat.

As you can see, we have chosen a very natural approach. The genetic makeup of Berkshires naturally give us superior meat. The environment we raise our pigs in give them a healthy, happy, and stress free life. The feed we give our animals is natural and the best quality we can find. Offering moldy bread and outdated, processed foods is not an option. Everything that goes into growing our pork, (animal, environment, and feed) is the best. As the old saying goes, you reap what your sow.

Enhanced Pork

Did you know that a lot of the "fresh" pork sold in the grocery stores is actually enhanced pork? Enhanced pork is injected with a solution of the following ingredients: water, salt (sodium chloride), sodium phosphates, sodium lactate, potassium lactate, sodium diacetate, and varying flavor agents to bolster flavor and juiciness, with the total amount of enhanc­ing ingredients adding 7 percent to 15 percent extra weight.

Did you notice how many times sodium is mentioned? Enhanced pork has to be injected with flavor because factory farmed pork has so little taste. Since enhanced pork contains a lot of water, meat meant to be “tender” ends up soggy and mushy. Check out this link for more info about enhanced meat.

Our Berkshire pork is naturally flavorful, tender, and moist. There is no need to artificially create these desirable qualities.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Yummy Berkshire (Kurobuta) Pork; A Professional Review

Helen Rennie is a culinary instructor from Boston Massachusetts. She has graciously allowed me to post a review of Berkshire (Kurobuta) pork from her blog. Thank you Helen!

Pigepiphany -- noun -- 1. Tasting real pork for the first time. 2. A realization that 99% of pork sold in the US is complete crap.

American pork is bred for leanness to meet consumers’ unquenchable thirst for all meats to look and taste like chicken. Nothing against chicken, but people’s obsession with it is absurd. If American food industry could breed chicken in fish, pork, beef, and lamb flavors, they would. Since food science hasn’t reached such heights yet, we settle for “chicken of the sea” tuna and the “other white meat” pork.

I’ve been experimenting with pork chops from Whole Foods for the past month with terrible results. Brining, marinating, high heat, low heat… nothing worked. They came out dense, with a taste of salt and sugar, not pig. Just as I was about to swear to never cook another pork chop in my life, helpful readers of this blog and my fellow chowhounds from the home cooking board came to my rescue. The opinion was unanimous: “It’s not you; it’s pork!”

“What you need is Berkshire or Kurobuta pork,” the chowhounds told me. Big foreign words to describe something as simple as a pork chop make me nervous. But curiosity got the best of me and I Googled for Savenor’s phone number. Surely, a butcher where Julia Child used to shop had to carry it.

“No, we don’t have it,” the Savenor’s butcher told me, “but our pork is excellent.”

“It is fatty?” I asked.

“Oh no – it’s beautifully lean!”

Ok guys. The words “beautifully lean” would be a compliment for a model, not for a pig.

Try number two -- John Dewar’s. By now I felt like a desperate drug addict calling a dealer.

“Do you have Kurobuta pork?”


“How much?”



I’ll be there on Wednesday.”

You’ll love it!” said the butcher at John Dewar’s as he cut me 2 ribs of a pork roast, “It doesn’t even taste like pork.” Hmm, doesn’t taste like pork? That was the whole reason I was in this crème de la crème (and price de la price) of Boston butcher shops, paying $20/pound for a pork chop. I could be eating bluefin sashimi or foie gras for this price, but no, I had to go on this ridiculous pork chop quest. What I was hoping he meant was that it didn’t taste like the “other white meat.”

For comparison, I decided to get their regular pork chop for $6/Lb.

Regular pork chop ($6/Lb)

Kurobuta pork chop ($20/Lb)

“Are they from different places?” I asked.

“No. Both from Iowa, but different breeds.”

“Should I brine or marinade them?”

“No, our pork doesn’t need any of that.”

“Even the regular chop?”

“Oh yeah! With supermarket pork, I’d recommend it, but with ours…”

I don’t know why I always ask them for advice. I guess I need that extra reassurance with meat. They’ve told me stuff before that backfired, and different butchers at Dewar’s have given me conflicting advice.

I agree with the Dewar’s guy on brining. It’s really a cheap and dirty trick to enhance otherwise mediocre meats. I love how consumers are all up in arms about “enhanced pork,” so they buy Whole Foods’ untreated pork only to bring it home and brine it. How do you think pork gets “enhanced”? Marinade is a whole other thing though – it doesn’t make the pork spongy and can impart flavors other than just salt and sugar. Not to mask the flavor of the meat, I settled on a simple marinade of rosemary, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

After a couple of hours, I fired up the grill, dried off my chops, and grilled them – first on the bone side to melt the fat and crisp it, and then on the flat sides. As soon as they browned, I turned down the heat to low until the chops reached 125F in the center. It’s not as undercooked as you’d think since the temperature went up another 10-15 degrees while they were resting. The only thing I did differently this time was keep the grill uncovered. This allowed the chops to brown nicely, while keeping the ambient temperature of the grill lower. The higher the temperature, the more the meat toughens, but the lower the temperature, the less the meat browns and less flavor develops. Man, and people say cooking fish is hard!

Regular chop grilled

Kurobuta chop grilled

After a 5-7 minute rest for the chops, during which they posed for pictures, we finally got to take our first ever bite of Kurobuta pork. Oh my! This is the part where words escape me. You didn’t need a knife. You didn’t even need a fork. The only reason you needed teeth was to get the pieces into your mouth. From then on, they just melted away. If this was a wine, I’d say it had a nice long finish of a Burgundy Grand Cru, but instead of truffles and violets, it tasted like a platonic ideal of a pig -- more flavorful than ribs, more tender than a tenderloin, more tasty than any pork I’ve ever had.

Inside of a regular chop

Inside of a Kurobuta chop

Eating a regular pork chop after this revelation was like drinking Two Buck Chuck. Ok, maybe not that bad. Whole Foods chops are like Two Buck Chuck. Dewar’s are like a $10 Australian Shiraz -- slightly better than the supermarket chops, but still of the “other white meat” garden variety. We took a few bites for the sake of science and left it at that.I must confess that the reason I undertook this experiment was to prove to myself once and for all that pork chops are not worth cooking and that paying $20 for pork is complete insanity. In that respect I failed miserably. That pork chop was worth a bowl of bluefin tuna; it was worth a slice of foie gras terrine; it was even worth an hour in the gym.

CAFOs and the Inhumane Treatment of Animals

We advertise that we treat our animals humanely. Some people find this odd and will ask something to the effect of, “Aren’t all animals just raised on a farm and then slaughtered?” Or, “What kind of inhumane treatment exists at other farms?” This type of response is saddening to some degree. It shows that there are people who have little, if any, idea where their food comes from. I can’t say I blame the individual for this, I think it is more of a social issue. Our culture has been blessed to be able to go to the store whenever we want and be able to instantly buy anything we need. For some products, it may not be a big deal. I can’t say I know how the sprinkles found on a donut are made. However, when it comes to food from animals like meat, dairy, and eggs, I feel that we have a certain obligation to learn about the life that went into our food.

I recognize that everybody is unique and that just because you can’t bear to watch the slaughtering process doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consume meat. Rather, we should understand that meat isn’t created in some machine but from an animal.

The acronym CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. The majority of the meat in the US is raised in CAFOs. When it comes to pork, large buildings house thousands and tens of thousands of pigs under one roof. It is here that I feel a great deal of animal cruelty takes place.

A sow (mommy pig) is bred and often confined in a gestation crate. These crates are so confined that the sow cannot turn around or even take more than one step forward or backward. The reason they are kept this way is that when you cram this many animals under one roof, they get stressed. The stress causes the animals to start chewing on each others’ ears and tails etc… So sows are locked up “for their own safety and benefit”. Once they farrow (have a litter of piglets) they are allowed to nurse in farrowing crates for about 10-14 days at which point the piglets are taken away and the sow is bred again. As you can imagine this is very hard on the sow and they usually only live 2-3 years. Farrowing crates are like gestation crates except a section is added onto the side where the piglets stay. You see the focus of breeding has been for production and when mothering abilities started to deteriorate, pork producers began protecting the piglets from their mother stepping, crushing, or eating them with farrowing crates. When the piglets are born, they get their teeth clipped off, and tails docked. The runts are often killed the minute they are born and thrown in the compost pile since they are “inefficient”.

Feeder pigs are given 6-8 square feet of floor space for their entire life all of which is indoors. See this link from Pork Magazine where an agricultural economist is proposing going from 7.2 to 8.7 square feet of floor space per pig. Wow, how generous of them. (2 feet by 4 feet of floor space is all these pigs get.) Most pigs have never been exposed to sunlight until they are loaded onto the livestock truck and taken to the slaughter house.
In some CAFOs, workers are required to wear respirators since the ammonia levels from the pigs’ urine are so high that it is harmful to their health. Pigs in most CAFOs are constantly fed antibiotics and pesticides in their feed to help keep disease and sickness down.

Smaller operations are often no better. I always go out of my way to meet local pig farmers as Utah is not exactly known for pork production. It has been wonderful to meet new people, exchange ideas and contacts, and compare notes. It has also been eye opening to see how some farms treat their pigs. While there have been a few places that really care for their pigs like Utah Showpigs. There are many that keep their pigs in small pens and feed their pigs junk. Pigs have a unique attribute where they don’t break down all of their food. A pig’s metabolism takes some of the fat from the food it eats and deposits it directly into its own fat. This is how some farms can control the flavor of their pork by finishing pigs on apples, acorns, corn, or even milk. You can literally detect a hint of flavor from these foods. This also one of the reasons that our pasture raised pork is so delicious. The flip side is also observed when farmers feed their pigs donuts, breads, restaurant leftovers, and other processed foods as the pigs also deposit some of these foods directly into their fat. As some have experienced, this can lead to awful tasting pork that has an excess of fat. Farmers do this because it is cheap and in some cases free. Feed by the way, is the number one cost in raising pigs. I have even talked to some farmers who brag about how they feed their pigs Twinkies with wrappers still on them. One guy bragged that he only lost one or two pigs a year from the pigs choking on the plastic.

Many of the pigs at smaller operations I have visited stand 4-8” deep in their own waste. In fact the general attitude of the farmers of these operations is that as long as the pig isn’t dead and gaining weight, things are good. The animals, lack enough room to exercise, lack fresh vitamins, eat moldy processed foods, and suffer from high stress levels. There seems to be very little concern for the welfare of the animal.
Both large and small operations that treat their animals this way, most likely do it to keep costs down which benefit the customer. Many have grown immune or been desensitized to the inhumane treatment of the animals. I have found that treating your animals humanely, feeding them fresh and wholesome foods, letting them run around, and handling them gently has an abundance of rewards. It really doesn’t cost that much more although I admit it would more difficult on a large scale.

My pigs are happy, healthy, and stress free. They are also are free of antibiotics, pesticides, and artificial hormones. The ability to run tones the muscle and creates a better texture to the meat. The fresh feed, sunlight, dirt, and fresh air keep my pigs strong and healthy. Because Berkshire pigs have not been used for mass production, they are considered a heritage breed and offer some wonderful traits that have not been bred out of them. For example, my sows can farrow in deep straw beds and nurture their little piglets without intervention. Their meat is literally the highest quality meat available and taste is out of this world. I believe that our Creator has given mankind stewardship over animals and that it is our responsibility to raise these animals as humanely as possible. I believe we should do what we can to support humanely raised animals, dairy, and eggs and avoid inhumanely raised products. This is the strongest action we can take on an individual level to encourage change in the food industry.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Buying Local Pork = Job Security!

Much can be said about buying local goods and services; in our case local pork. The most obvious reason for buying local is that it helps the local economy. However, most people tend to think of this as just supporting the local farmer. While I don’t want to give a lesson in economics, buying local can have a profound effect on you, including your own job security, which in today’s market, is a topic on everyone’s minds.

Allow me to give a quick example of how it works on our farm. You decide that you would like to fill your freezer with delicious, mouthwatering pork so you buy a pig from me. With the money you pay me, I take some out for the cost of raising the pig and I put a little into my pocket for my efforts. That pig took over 1,000 lbs of feed to raise if you count the feed that goes into maintaining the breeding stock. I buy the grain from my neighbor and good friend, Rich Holden who farms his land. He buys the fuel for his tractor at the Silver Sage, Vernon’s little general store. He bought his tractor at Hobby Tractors in Pleasant Grove, UT which is also where he maintains it. I also need farm supplies, which I buy at Cal Ranch in Tooele, UT or IFA in American Fork, UT. Since the farm is growing, I am in constant need of building supplies. I buy my lumber at Home Depot in Tooele, UT. The steel roof for my sheds I bought at Metal Mart in Lehi, UT. With all of this running around, my truck needs fuel and maintenance. I use K&S Auto in Lehi, UT for repairs and Les Schwab Tire also in Lehi for tires and shocks. The straw for the pigs is bought from a barley farmer in Palmyra, UT. I also buy a lot of used items on KSL classifieds all of which are from people in the area. When the pigs are purchased, I recommend a couple of the local butchering facilities. I have used Gary’s Meats in Payson, UT, Circle V in Spanish Fork, UT, Carson’s Meat in American Fork, UT, and Hunsaker’s Meats in Tooele, UT. With the exception of Home Depot, all of these businesses are locally based. They all employ local residents. These employees and businesses use other businesses and services for their needs one of which you may own or be employed by. This completes the cycle in which some of the money you paid for your pig eventually ended back in your pocket. Of course this effect also ripples into other communities, states, and countries. Buying local however, will keep the majority of the money in our region and will directly strengthen our economy.

In addition to supporting the local economy, there are several other wonderful benefits that come to mind.
- The pork you buy from me is far superior to the pork you buy at the store even though the cost is about the same. This equals higher quality for your money; for meat you would have purchased anyway.
- Better for the environment as fuel is not being used to haul pork across the country.
- Better for the animals since small farms can cater towards each animal’s needs. We raise our pigs humanely not in CAFOs. When people buy pork from the grocery store, they support the factories (I do not consider them farms) that raise pigs indoors under horrible conditions. Not only is it cruel to the animals, but it produces low quality pork.
- You are welcome anytime to see where your food comes from. We also welcome new ideas which gives you input into your food.
- Last and certainly not least is that when you buy local, you help ensure that food is always available to you. A basic economics course will teach you about a principle known as “Specialization” or “Division of Labor”. This principle teaches that it is more efficient for an economy to have people who specialize in just one product or service rather than everybody try to learn and produce everything they need on an individual level. As you include more people, productivity and quality go up while cost comes down. As the scale increase, entire countries focus on a product or service that they offer to the world. This is fantastic in a perfect world. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect, with natural disasters, wars, and terrorists etc… This can create vulnerabilities in large geographic regions. Russia was recently in the news when they stopped sending oil to Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe has no other source for fuel. In the US we have seen a late frost or storm wipe out a certain crop in Florida or California and the prices for that crop go way up. We should be cautious that we don’t become dependent on one source for critical items like food. By buying locally grown foods, you can help ensure that food will be available during less than ideal times.
Some people may not like to admit it, but is seems that during hard times, certain foods can bring joy and peace. We call them “Comfort Foods”. Coming home to the smell of a juicy ham in the oven, succulent pork chops on the grill, or waking up to sizzling bacon, can lift our spirits and bring cheer to our hearts in a way that little else can. So whether the economy has you down, or you heard some bad news, Christiansen’s Hog Heaven 100% Berkshire pork will be sure to soothe your soul and bring a smile to your face.