Saturday, January 29, 2011

Impostor Berkshire Pigs

Can you spot the impostor Berkshires above? After reading this blog post you won't have a problem.  Scroll to the bottom for the answer.

I had a very eye opening experience yesterday.  However, the story actually began last week which is where I will start.  I received a lead on some Berkshire pigs that a man was wanting to sell.  Normally, I only buy pigs from one of three farms that I have established excellent relationships with.  Additionally, they have invested in the highest quality stock as well as agree to produce piglets to our humane and natural standards.  So when I called on these pigs this man had, I drilled him with questions.  What kind of feed had they been started on? Where did the breeding pair come from? How had he been treating them? Had he clipped tails and teeth? Had he been using antibiotics?  The man, a farmer, assured me that he had been feeding them grain grown on his own farm, had not docked tails and clipped teeth, and that the breeding pair we were both papered Berkshires.  Everything seemed good and the price was right so I agreed to meet him to have a look at the pigs as well as check out where/how he had been raising the pigs.

We set a time to meet (yesterday).  When I pulled up, I couldn't see any pigs anywhere.  I figured they were in a pen behind a barn or something like that.  I met the farmer and after exchanging greetings he asked if I was ready to see the pigs.  He led me over to livestock trailer where he had the pigs "ready to be loaded".  He acted as if he was offering me a convenience but all I saw was a red flag.  I asked where he kept his other pigs especially his breeding stock as I wanted to see their characteristics.  He mentioned that they were kept at another place and then said he had already sold the sow.  Another red flag.

Next I looked inside the trailer.  I saw ten black pigs and one white pig.  However, not one of the black pigs was a Berkshire.  They looked like Hampshire pigs (a commercial breed of pigs).  The white pig was what is called a "Blue Butt" which is the coloring you get when you cross a Hampshire with a Yorkshire.  I asked about the white pig, and the man laughed and replied, "Can you believe that?  He is out of the same litter!"  I told him that none of his pigs were Berkshires and that I wouldn't be able to buy his Hampshire pigs.  He argued that he had "papers" proving that they were Berkshires.  I told him that he could show me all the papers he wanted, but that his pigs were not Berkshires.  And that perhaps, whoever sold him the pigs had sent him with the wrong pigs to go with his papers.  I pointed out all the distinguishing features of the Berkshire and showed him how his pigs differed.  I then explained that one of the unique things with Berkshire pigs is that nearly all of their identifying characteristics are recessive traits.  For example, Berkshire pigs have six white points consisting of four white "socks", a white tail, and a white face.  Poland China pigs have the same markings but have floppy ears instead of erect ears (additionally, they have a thinner coat than Berkshires).  Berkshires have a short snout and a curved back unlike commercial breeds that have an unnaturally straight back.  They also don't have the defined hams and muscular tone that commercial breeds have.  Many breeders have successfully bred Berkshires to look more like commercial breeds in this regard, but we prefer the old fashioned body type.  Interestingly, the commercial breeds are becoming more difficult to breed naturally as a pigs anatomy isn't designed to reproduce with huge hams and straight backs.  If a Berkshire pig doesn't have all of the above characteristics, then they are not a purebred Berkshire. 

Of course the body shape and appearance isn't the reason that chefs in any fine dining restaurant prefer Berkshires (Kurobuta) over any other breed. The reason their preference is the Berkshire is because of the  incredible quality of pork.  Berkshire pork has three characteristics that set it apart from the rest.  First, is the marbling of the meat.  Berkshire pork is finely marbled throughout; even in traditionally "dry cuts" like the ham and loin.  Second, the deep red color of the meat is unique in appearance and flavor.  It is a reminder that this breed hasn't been bred to look like chicken which has been the goal of commercial producers for decades.  Berkshire or Kurobuta pork is definitely not, the other white meat.  Lastly, is the pH level of the pork.  Berkshire pork has the lowest pH level which leads to all kinds of wonderful cooking qualities and moisture retention that chefs can explain much better than me.  But I will add that this is why commercial pork is injected with brine solution at the stores. These characteristics are also recessive traits which is why cross breeding doesn't give as much of the Berkshire benefits as many would assume.  We know this because of experience and later research (when the pork didn't turn out as well as we had hoped).  : )

I think I finally convinced the man that he didn't have purebred Berkshires, maybe some Hampshires that had been crossed to a Berkshire.  I was frustrated that had already sold the sow and some other pigs as purebred Berkshires.  This means that somebody else is now raising and selling pigs as purebred Berkshires when in fact they are far from Berkshires.  Berkshire pigs take longer to reach a butcher weight, consume more feed, and produce smaller litters.  This adds a significant amount to our production costs.  Of course we feel it is well worth it as I am sure many of our customers do as well.  Part of our farming philosophy has been to ethically and humanely raise premium quality meat at a price that is affordable.  In other words, while we could probably charge more for our pork and beef, we don't because we want average families to have a viable alternative to the meat raised under traditional commercial practices.  Raising cross bred pigs is an easy way to lower production costs.  However, it also lowers the quality and flavor of the pork significantly.  Sadly, I know the person who bought these pigs.  They have been marketing their pork as being the same as ours only at a lower price.  A price that isn't sustainable for long term business.  They are new to raising pigs even though they portray themselves has having been doing this for years.  I am sure that they are convinced that they have purebred Berkshires and are not intentionally being deceitful.  The lower price they are able to charge is simply reflective of the lower input costs of the crossbred pigs they raise. 

There is little I can do about people who advertise something other than what it actually is whether they do so intentionally or not.  Of course it is a little concerning that enough of them could ruin our little niche by offering a hybrid pig as a purebred Berkshire at a price that is lower than what a purebred pig can we raised for.  However, we will worry about that if/when that day comes.  In the meantime, we hope to educate our customers with lots of information so that they know what to look for if Berkshire pork is what they are after.  Hollie reassures me constantly that we have the most loyal customers of any business she has ever seen.  That is certainly true.  Our customers have been so good to us.  Maybe there really is something to that whole Karma thing. : )  Besides there is more to a pig than just purebred or not.  There is also the treatment and diet of the pig that play equally distinguishing factors in the quality of the pork.  For those who would like the real deal and not an impostor pig you can order here.   : )

Answers to the pictures at the top of the page:
First pic: Hampshire
Second pic: Poland China
Third pic: Berkshire

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Backyard Chickens For You!

A big thumbs down to the Springville city council for voting down a proposal that would allow residents on less than 1/2 acre of ground to keep backyard hens.  I hear people complain all the time that the Federal Government is taking away our rights.  As a member of a city council myself I can say that there is no government more invasive and more likely to take away peoples rights than city government.  Springville has a rich heritage in farming and agriculture and now has apparently forgotten its roots.

I can completely understand concerns with keeping chickens if residents are asking to keep roosters as well.  Roosters can be noisy although I have lived next to dogs that were far noisier.  The Springville city council cited two concerns as grounds for rejecting the ordinance:

   1. Cost of enforcing the ordinance
   2. Chickens will attract wild animals into the city

The cost of enforcing the ordinance.  This is a lame excuse.  How many residents do they actually expect will start keeping laying hens in their backyard?  The town only has about 6,400 owner occupied households.  Subtract a few hundred for condos and such and they are left with 6,000 owner occupied households.  I would be shocked if more than 1% of households kept chickens.  Of these, how many are going to abuse the ordinance to require enforcement?  Portland, OR a very "foodie" city allows residents to keep up to 3 hens.  For four or more, a permit is required.  In all of Portland (pop. 582,000) only 52 households have applied for this permit.  Regardless of the minuscule cost, why not just fine the non complying households enough to cover the enforcement costs?

Chickens will attract wild animals into the city.  Based on this logic, they city would need to ban backyard gardens as well as pet food, bird seed, backyard BBQs, and picnics at the park.  We keep lots of chickens and turkeys.  We live in the country where at least once a year I see mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, badgers, raccoons, and skunks.  All are potential predators.  The only problems I have had are with raccoons and skunks.  I can raise chickens all year without a problem, but as soon as the garden starts to produce corn, here come the raccoons.  They wreck havoc on our gardens.  The skunks have killed chickens on occasion, but mostly they go after cat food and garbage.  My point is, that there are far greater attractions for critters than just chickens.  Again, we live in the country where there is far more wildlife than in a suburban setting.

It is saddening that a small city like Springville deprives its residents of the opportunity to produce their own eggs.  I can fully understand the problems with keeping common livestock within city limits.  As a resident of Springville, you can have numerous dogs, cats, rabbits, reptiles, hamsters, parrots etc... all of which you can breed and produce offspring.  Try and keep a couple of chickens to do something meaningful like produce your own eggs and that is problematic. Wake up Springville City Council! Booooo!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Real Beef for Sale

This morning I read in the news that Taco Bell is being sued for false advertising for listing "ground beef" as an ingredient in their products. 

"...the "taco meat filling" used by Taco Bell is only about 35% beef, with binders, extenders, preservatives, additives and other agents making up the other 65%."

Just what is the other 65% made of?

"...water, sodium phosphates, soy lecithin, modified corn starch, and anti-caking and anti-dusting agents, among others ingredients."

Quotes extracted from the following AP news article.  Click below for the full article.

Fox News has a similar article where it lists, wheat, oats, maltodextrin, as additional ingredients to the "ground beef".

I have expressed my opinion on this blog in the past that labels are often misleading.
"Beyond Organic" and "Food Inc and Thoughts on Organic" are two posts that summarize my opinion well.

The hard and frustrating aspect to all this is that since we can't trust a label or how a business like Taco Bell advertises, we the consumer become burdened with a difficult task.  The task of researching and finding out the truth about our food.  And then supporting the food providers we find to be acceptable.

I really don't have an issue with Taco Bell adding fillers like oats, wheat, and soy to their meat so long as they are honest about it.  After all, is it not the consumer who has demanded that tacos be sold for $0.59?  I don't believe I could make a taco for $0.59!  And I'm a farmer!  How would I expect a business to buy the ingredients, pay for employees to make my food, as well as an expensive retail location that is convenient for me for less than what I the farmer can make that meal for?  The scales of economy can only reach so far.

The problem as I see it is two fold:  1. Businesses lack integrity. 2. Consumers lack knowledge of where their food comes from.  I believe one solution will solve both aspects of the problem.  The solution is behavior-changing knowledge.

As consumers learn about the food industry, they will become more aware of the food they are eating.  Hopefully this will lead to a change in their food buying habits.  Businesses that are honest and offer a product that consumers demand will thrive and grow.  Those that are deceitful and/or don't offer products that consumers demand will suffer.  Slowly the food industry will change for the better.  The consumer has the money and therefore the power to make changes.

So if tacos sound good for dinner, we would be happy to provide you with some real ground beef.  Ground Beef that has been dry aged so that it is full of deep flavor and wonderful tenderness. 
(Dry aged ground beef cannot be found in stores.)  Our beef has not been washed in ammonia.  It is grass fed and therefore lean, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated lineaic acids (CLA's).  Our ground beef comes from perfectly healthy young steers.  Not cull cows or injured animals.  Best of all it is 100% pure ground beef made from the whole beef and not just the trimmings.  While your taco may cost a little more than $0.59, I think you will find it well worth it.
Order your ground beef here.

While your at it, may I suggest that you top your taco with fresh heirloom tomatoes from Jacob's Cove or another local farmer?  Jacob's Cove grows their produce in greenhouses and can provide produce most of the year. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Logo

This is a cry for help! : )

I am thinking it is time for a new logo.  However, I am not very good with computer graphics.  Would anybody be willing to help us design a new logo in exchange for some pork?  If this is of interest, please contact me and I will give you an idea of what I have in mind.

I am also wanting to make our website easier to navigate and clean it up a bit.  Does anybody have any recommendations for a good website design software program that doesn't require writing in HTML?  I simply don't have any training in writing code.  I am thinking of using WebPlus X4 by Serif.  Can anybody recommend this program or perhaps something better?


Friday, January 7, 2011

Beef and Ground Beef CSA Shares Available

For those who have been waiting for a Standard Beef CSA Share as well as a Ground Beef CSA Share, you can now order them on our website!  These shares are a direct result of customer suggestions.  As we continue to say, "We want to be your Farmer!"  Please keep the feedback and suggestions coming.

A little about our new CSA Shares:

A Standard Beef CSA Share consists of 30 lbs of our grass fed beef and will include ground beef, steaks, roasts, stew meat, short ribs, etc... We will make every effort to distribute the cuts proportional to the yield of the animal.  Due to the low yield of some cuts, not all CSA Shares will receive every type of cut available.  However, we will make sure that each CSA Share contains a fair and proportional variety of cuts.

A Ground Beef CSA Share will simply be 30 lbs of our premium ground beef.  Each package will contain approximately 1 lb of beef.  This beef is no different than any of our other beef.  We do not use cull or "retired" cows.  Rather our ground beef comes from healthy young steers.  We simply ask the butcher to grind all the meat rather than cut into the usual cuts of beef.  Because our beef is grass fed you will enjoy lean and healthy beef that tastes like steak!

As with all our beef, our cows are treated humanely and grass fed (pasture raised) from start to finish.  We don't feed our cattle any grain resulting in lower cholesterol, lower saturated fat, higher omega 3 fatty acids, and higher conjugated linoleic acids (CLA).  Our CSA Shares are a great way to sample our gourmet quality meats.  Find out why even our "Foodie" customers proclaim our beef to be the best tasting beef.  Feel free to contact us with any questions.  Order here.   

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Now on Facebook

We may be a little behind the times, but we are finally on Facebook!  Several of our customers have suggested we create a Facebook page over the past couple of years.  After it was (once again) recently suggested we decided it would be worthwhile.  We hope to provide more frequent farm updates, as well as greater insight into our farm.  Our iPhone will allow us to post right in the field providing close to real time updates.  It is kind of interesting how our technology is changing farming.  Can you imagine explaining this capability to farmers 50 years ago?!  The thought makes me laugh!

Please follow us on Facebook.  You can "like" us and share our page and info with your friends.  This is a great way to support a family farm!

Click here to check out our new Facebook page.