Friday, June 5, 2009

Small Farm Story in New York Times

There's an article in the New York Times about some people running a farm on which they have some pigs.
They traded the fairway view for Nature’s Harmony Farm in Elberton, Ga., 76 acres of rolling fields and woods that had become overgrown with weeds. Once they started reading about how to restore the land without using the pesticides recommended by their county extension agent, they learned that they needed to create an entire ecosystem. Before they could get any horses, they’d have to employ cows, chickens, sheep and pigs. “Between the manure they deposit and what they graze, the land comes back to great health,” Tim explained.
The primary focus for these farmers is on how they produce things, not what they produce. Wooly Pigs exists to provide consumers (starting with me) with a unique and delicious food. To that end, the company imported the Mangalitsa and associated production methods. If it was possible to get the pork without the pigs, I'd be all for it.
The Youngs know that most people will choose to buy the cheapest meat at Wal-Mart, but they were determined to preserve rare breeds. As they walked the farm on a February afternoon, they were alternately surrounded by Ossabaw and Berkshire hogs rooting through the woods (the endangered Ossabaw descended from Iberian pigs abandoned by Spanish settlers on a Georgia island 400 years ago); noisy heritage-breed turkeys perched on a log; movable pens of sheep and docile Murray Grey cattle (one of two breeds recognized as Kobe beef in Japan);
Details: Berkshires aren't rare. Also, Murray Grey are often crossed with Wagyu - but they themselves aren't recognized as Wagyu - those are two separate breeds.

More importantly, small farmers can't do a lot to preserve breeds, because they have to focus their limited resources on producing and staying in business, not breed preservation. The small amount of demand they create for rare breeds isn't enough to keep those breeds going. This is unfortunate.

If a small operation wants to help breed preservation most efficiently, they should probably specialize on one breed, due to the high cost of keeping a genetically diverse herd. That's why breeders (private sector or otherwise) specialize: running one program with 6 boars is better than running two separate programs with 3 boars.
But nothing could prepare the Youngs for the realities of full-time farming — like finding 25 dead piglets that had been abandoned by their mothers... Their decision to raise animals without the use of antibiotics or medication means that some get sick and die. “You have to have values to get through those kinds of days and those kinds of conditions,” Tim said, “to say: ‘I’m sorry that that animal died, probably because we didn’t feed her any worming medication. But she shouldn’t be here.’ And that’s a really harsh thing to say. But you really set out of a love of the land, not a lack of love for the animals.”
If you run pigs outdoors, you have to count on losses - particularly in cold weather. Someone who farrows outdoors might wean 5 to 9 pigs, depending on the weather.

That's why many animal-centric producers like indoor farrowing; it prevents needless mortality. People focused on the animals will tend to make more and more environmental modifications, in an effort to optimize conditions for the animals.

No comments: