Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Happy Farm

The past few weeks have been busy as we have tried to get projects done on the farm.  Of course this rainy weather has slowed us down as we wait out storms and fight through the mud.  We are slowly getting our garden planted as the weather permits.  Our 90 day growing season makes it challenging to grow anything, but we keep trying.  When our finances permit we would like to build a greenhouse.  Despite the rain and cooler weather, Spring is a wonderful time of year.  It seems that there are baby animals everywhere!  There is something about the rejuvenation that Spring brings to nature that brings a smile to my face and just makes me feel good.  I love to see the green grass growing, trees budding, birds chirping, new calves playing about, and baby chicks scratching about and chasing the occasional unlucky bug.

This past month we have had a couple restaurant owners/chefs visit our farm.  We are excited to be building relationships with these talented individuals.   During one of these recent visits, we showed a restaurant owner around our farm.  We watched the pigs graze while we talked business.  I believe he was caught up in the zeal and energy of Spring when told me that our farm was a "happy farm" and that visiting our farm offered similar feelings "as going to Disneyland as a kid".  I kind of laughed as I though about what he had said.  We enjoy quiet yet beautiful surroundings.  The animals are certainly therapeutic to watch as they roam about.  They do seem happy which we attribute to lots of space, gentle handling, and a healthy diet.  We also feel a good conscience knowing that our food and the food we sell is raised sustainably, humanely, and without all of the added junk, chemicals, antibiotics, and extra processes.  The chef I was with determined that from now on he was going to call us, "The Happy Farm".  I must admit that it felt good and was somewhat flattering to realize that other people see and feel what we are blessed to call home.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Utah's Finest Pork

Executive Chef Jim Light at the grill.

This past Saturday we hosted the wonderful folks from Viking Cooking School and Slow Food Utah. The event was headed up by Jim Light who is the executive chef at Viking Cooking School. They chartered a bus from SLC and came for a tour and lunch at our farm. We gave a quick summary of our farm and explained the three factors that contribute to the quality and yummy taste of our pigs. I have posted about these qualities before but they are:

Diet (Feed)

Checking out the pigs.
Berkshire pork or Kurobuta pork as it is often referred to, is genetically superior on a few accounts. The genetics are responsible for the darker red color of the pork and the deeper, richer flavor. Berkshire pork has excellent marbling and a lower pH level than other breeds of pigs. This leads to more tender meat, higher water retention (without the need to brine), and greater moisture throughout the meat. This means it is also more forgiving if you tend to overcook your meat dishes. Also as we have mentioned before, these traits are primarily recessive which is why cross bred Berkshires really don't improve meat quality in commercial breeds. It is also the reason we raise 100% purebred Berkshires.

The pigs' diet consists of small cereal grains (all grown in Utah) like wheat, barley, triticale, and oats. During the warm weather, the pigs have access to grass pastures. During the cold weather, we mix grass/alfalfa hay into their feed to give them the beneficial nutrients that the greens offer the pigs. The small cereal grains produce a fat that is harder and whiter in color compared to the fat of corn fed pigs. Experienced cooks and chefs notice an immediate difference in the way the fat cooks. We also feel that the grain mix offers the pigs a wider variety of nutrients leading to better health. Our pigs get water from nipple drinkers which ensures clean fresh water at all times. Water quality is as equally important to the pigs health as the feed quality.
Berkshires enjoying some spring grasses.

Unlike large pig CAFOs (factories) we do not use antibiotics in the pigs feed to boost growth rates. Not only is this a dangerous practice (think super bugs) but it has been proven to be unhealthy to humans by means of reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics in sick patients. (I plan to post on this topic in greater detail soon.) Additionally, we never feed the pigs any animal by-products, old bread, slop, or anything of the like. We could certainly reduce our feed costs by using these things, but we would also lower the meat quality. Animal welfare and meat quality are two things we refuse to compromise on.

Environment. Our pigs free range on grass, are allowed to root around, and behave as pigs. In the summer time they make mud holes that they wallow in to stay cool. When it gets cold, we provide our pigs with deep straw bedding that they burrow in to stay warm. Visitors to the farm are surprised to see how fast pigs can run. Of course you need lots of space to allow a herd of pigs to run which our pigs have. There is actually a benefit to allowing the pigs lots of room to move about. It increases their muscle tone which produces a perfectly firm yet tender texture in the pork. When we need to sort or work with the animals, we gently herd them to keep stress levels to a minimum. We don't dock tails, clip teeth, or push our sows to produce more piglets than is healthy for them. We take pride in raising happy pigs that enjoy a humane life. In return, we get pork that is absolutely delicious!

Our farm visitors last Saturday were able to go out and see all of these techniques put to practice. After spending some time observing the pigs grazing, holding piglets, and dodging landmines, we went back inside to enjoy some grilled chops. Our crowd of 35+ people quickly grew silent as they enjoyed the food. Then we began to hear the compliments on the quality of the pork. Many times we heard it proclaimed that this was the best pork anybody had tasted and certainly the finest pork in Utah. We figured if anybody would know, it would be this group of chefs and foodies. We are honored to be considered the producers of Utah's finest pork. Of course, we can't take all the credit, we have had lots of good advice and help along the way. We continue to rely on our neighbors and good friends, Rich and Amanda Holden with Sheeprock Feed Company who do a fantastic job of producing our feed. They search high and low for high quality grains grown in Utah to feed our pigs with.
Me (Christian) showing off a two week old piglet.

We had a wonderful time with our visitors and hope they will visit again soon. We look forward to this weekend on May 7 from noon to 4pm when we will be hosting our Farm Day. The weather forecast looks perfect. We hope you will be able to come and see for yourselves what makes our pork taste so yummy.