Tag Archives: hormone-free

The life and death of a small farm hog.

Early in the summer these young hogs were living the good life, one day change it all. From pen to pork

Pigs are dirty, smelly, rotten animal,s unworthy of a good life or a large space because they will foul up any piece of earth that you give them.  Although this description fits a majority of politicians, my experience with pigs has taught me they are not the unclean, bestial organisms that I’ve heard a lot of people write them off as.

In that last few months I’ve watched four hogs go from small critters to slaughter-sized meat producers.  We’ve taken two off to the butcher and two more are awaiting their end of days. At first it was almost sad sinking my teeth into the first pig we’ve ever raised for food but as the thoughts started drifting through my mind I took comfort in the fact that these were probably the happiest pigs I’ve ever digested.

I’ve only seen hog operations a few times throughout my life. The first operation I saw was an indoor cage, complete with spillways that allowed for the animal waste to wash into the center of the pen so it could be easily cleaned. The only other operations I have seen were online and the pigs didn’t seem to have very much space to move and breath, let alone stay clean.

The operation that Purring Dog Farm has running for hogs is a humane one. I have spent a little under an hour a day the last two months working side by side the hungry, misunderstood creatures.  Every morning feeding them their daily allotment of corn and whatever else may be on hand.  Throughout the weeks I have watched how the animals think and interact and laughed at the way they’ll  trip over each other like kids on cake, to get the prized commodities of eggs and watermelon.

The last meal for future food.

Rolling in the mud and getting dirty is the way they stay cool, similar to elephants and dogs.  The faint smell of their waste isn’t the first scent that hits when entering their 100 ft by 100 ft enclosure.  In fact the first month and a half that I was on the farm, I only smelled the foul odor of their digested corn once.  Pigs are similar to dogs in the sense that they prefer not to wallow around in shit and urine if they don’t have to. If given enough space they will gladly deposit waste in a far corner of their structure, the only spot left that is green from under use.

Between playing and sleeping all day our hogs still make time to attempt eating gloves and boots while they are still on the wearers feet and one has developed an affinity for using my aunt April as a scratching post. When the first roast was made up, April was having a hard imagining how she could eat it after spending the time watching, feeding, scratching and admiring the 200 lbs of fat and muscle. We all agreed that she made the right decision, in a pan with gar

lic and butter.

The day before we took the black-speckled pink walls of meat to the butcher, my uncle Bill and me made a practice run of getting them into the horse trailer, making sure the next day went smoothly.  Our plan was to herd them, by pinching them in with two doors forcing them forward. After 3 minutes of getting pushed around, we headed indoors defeated and feeling weak. After

The stalkyard and final hours.

tearing through farmers books and scouring the internet more thoroughly than any porn addict, we resigned to faith that the next morning would pan out, expecting the worse. It was a six-o-clock morning, early for us lazy farmers, the pigs had to be in by 9 a.m. or else the official “pig killer” would go home, a man paid by commission not by the hour and who didn’t like to wait.

After backing up the trailer, we went with honey instead of vinegar. By cutting watermelon in half and throwing them to the rear of the transport we found the pigs loved the food enough to jump on in. After two filed in we closed the doors. The day before had taught us not to be picky. We fed them a last meal of their favorite treat, eggs, and left for Morgan’s Meat Processors.

On arriving we had to remove the pigs, this time force was our only option. Getting them out of the trailer was less of a task than getting them in, if you did it right. Hogs do not respond to being pulled but they will eventually let pushing them make a difference. The last time we saw our hogs they were playing together and wallowing in the puddles of mud, in a stalk-yard like coral.  After filling out the cut-sheets before their eyes, we took off waiting for a call telling us the deed was done. Hanging above the entrance to the slaughterhouse a sign reading “absolutely no unauthorized personnel allowed.”

Later, when we picked up the freshly processed pork, 127 lbs of the tastiest, best kept meat was waiting for us. Ethically speaking the practice was sustainable but on a level of understanding that everyone can agree with, I can say, home-grown pork beats anything you’ll ever find on a shelf. The twinge of guilt I felt while watching the pigs play out their last few minutes of life was only a reminder that every meal involves a life and suffering. I don’t doubt for a minute though that if the roles were reversed, those hogs would have been more than happy to call me a meal. And life goes on …

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To market, to market to process a pig …

We took the pigs into market today. We woke up at 6 a.m. expecting another morning of being pushed around by muddy creatures twice our weight.  Yesterday we tried corralling the pigs with flimsy doors, a bad idea.  When trying to pinch in on the pigs they lost their usual, calm demeanor and started lashing out like 400 lb seven-year-old’s throwing a temper-tantrum.  Today we took a different approach.  Instead of trying to make the pigs do anything, patience was the word of the day.  Backing up the horse trailer just past the inside of their enclosure, we seeded the “hog cart” with watermelon, their favorite, and played the waiting game.  Eventually two of the surprisingly powerful and glutinous animals found a way into the food only to find the gates locking behind them.  I wanted to be able to capture this process from beginning to end on video but we had no camera man on hand and herding pigs did not prove to be an easy task.

We figured, however, that pigs deserve at least the most simple of human respects and gave them their favorite food for a last meal, eggs.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market: An almost interview with the manager.

Ginger, far right, speaks with a constomer about the market outside the managers booth. My uncle has now been selling at the Dixie Lee farmers market for the last 3 years.

I had an interview recorded on my cell phone with one of our market managers, Virginia.  We were talking about the advantages of shopping at Farmers markets and why she initially wanted to get involved.   But somehow between the end of the conversation and the time the cell phone/recorder was getting slipped in the pocket the audio was lost.  Unfortunately I lost the glitz and glamour of having her quotes and I’m stuck having to paraphrase what she said.
Ginger with her husband Jess created the Dixie Lee farmers market just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.  What I found out about there experiences wasn’t a punch in the face type of surprise but something a little more subtle and uplifting.

Jeff and Ginger have somehow conned a master gardener into coming to the market every few weeks. This board that she brought describes different aspects of raised bed gardening. The market isn't just a selling place, the idea is to create stronger and more self reliant community.

She started off with a story.
A few years back Ginger asked a girl where lettuce came from and the girls flat, innocent and honest response was, Ingles( a local grocery store).  This was a sad statement for Virginia, or Ginger what people call her when they aren’t acting professional.  Building from that she said that one of the biggest benefits that people gain from shopping at farmers markets is an understanding of where food comes from and meeting the people who get their hands in the ground to make it.
She went on to discuss the debate between which is better, organic or local and commented that what people are coming to find out is that local food seems to be winning the debate.  Organic is nice in concept but just because it’s earned the label doesn’t necessarily mean much.  The food that isn’t organic isn’t necessarily worse, many farmers work with a policy on food that isn’t organic in the government certified version of the word but the process’ that these farmers use can actually be more beneficial to the health conscious consumer.  She went on to explain how some organic produce is sprayed with “safe” pesticides and explained that even if food is organic it can still come from anywhere.
Organic cows from Nebraska being shipped to Tennessee may make for healthier meat, but odds are the farms that produce them are corporate owned and the cattle don’t necessarily get a better life, just better feed.  Another point of concern to the truly sustainably minded consumer is the fuel used.  Buying from local farmers will save on the price hike for gas as well as the environmental consequences brought on by shipping mass amounts of Organic corn fed cows.
What I brought away from my conversation with Ginger was a sense of understanding food.

Just as a disclaimer I can’t remember if she actually asked the girl where lettuce came from, it could be any vegetable but my mind has a hard time retaining the subtler details.

After a short hiatus due to traveling and exhaustion, I am now returning to the weekly step.  This weeks step is I will be planting a garden.  I’ve been picking brains and planting seeds all week so tomorrow I’ll starting plotting my progress.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market

On the Road: Arrival.

It was a long and wicked journey, awesome and anxiety ridden but for now it's back to the simple life. Exhale. Relax.

It has been over a week since my last post about the journey across country and I was hoping to be able to update a lot more often then I have.  However, a minor altercation with authorities in Sioux Falls, South Dakota put me behind schedule on getting to the farm and taking pictures and sight seeing took a back seat to 14 hour drives and too little time spent with too many relatives.  At long last I have step foot on Tennessee soil.  It’s not anything near being the first man to touch the north pole, or even equal with climbing Everest but right now I kind of feel like I have.

Farming is not easy work.  Today was my first day out in the fields and it was a brutal start.  93 degrees with scattered thunderstorms made for a sweat drenched workday.  My legs are sore.  My head is telling me to just give up on consciousness. My second set of clothes are sticky with sweat and humidity.  I couldn’t feel any better.

Just a bit of background on the farm.

My uncle Bill purchased 55 acres and named it Purring Dog Farm after his dog Lucky who has a strange affinity for purring when you scratch his back.  His philosophy for agriculture is that the less crap you add the better.  As a result we don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers.  The chickens we have are free-range. The animals on the farm are all harmone free.  It’d be nice to say that the farm was organic but that would be a lie.   Becoming “certified organic” would actually cost more than what the farm makes in profit, in a year, so instead the produce is marketed as “farmed with sustainable practices.

Harmone free, steroid free and soon to be delicious

For right now this is the post, I’m exhausted and want some free-time today so I’m cutting this short.

Pics from the farm

The midnight drive to find “fourth-meal”

Last night hunger drove me into an Albertson’s searching for burrito makings.  The crave isn’t odd for me, usually it’s satiated by a simple trip to Taco Bell, but not that night.  I’ve been trying to avoid fast food for a multitude of reasons lately only one of which being the fact that most chains don’t work to support their local community. Instead, I signed up to make the burritos by hand.  As an experiment I decided to buy all “organic” ingredient to see what the cost difference would be.

I haven't found any good local sources for avocados, boullion cubes or rice.

Beans: At first I couldn’t find any beans that were certified organic, until I found one white can of organic pinto beans.  After finding that first can, I realized for nearly every type of canned bean they carried, there was at least one organic option. My favorite part about buying 12 0z’s of organic pinto’s was the simplicity of its ingredients list, organic pinto beans, water and salt.

Price: $1.49

Non-organic alternaltive: $ .89 Extra ingredients: Calcium chloride(preservative) and calcium disodium EDTA(for color).

These are both chemicals that have been connected with stomach problems.  Here are a few reputable Web sites that show what these chemicals are used for and what their effects are

MSDS for calcium chloride

Calcium disodium EDTA

Beef

After beans I searched for meat.  The item nearest to organic beef that Albertson’s offers is a harmone free, grass fed beef.  Although technically not organic, which could be for any number of reasons, the option was still better than buying beef with packaging that can’t even promise its contents doesn’t consist of a cannibals.

Price of harmone-free, grass fed beef: $5.49 a pound.  Equal fat alternative:$4.49.

The movie “Food Inc.” does a good job explaining where our meat comes from and why buying local isn’t a bad idea.

Tortillas

Albertson’s had no organic alternative for tortillas.

The rest of the ingredients were already at my house: a two-year-old bag of rice, 2 WINCO avocados(not organic), boulion cubes( add to boiling water before adding rice to add a lot of flavor to the plain grain) and lettuce from the Milwaukie Farmers Market.

The final product, topped with roma tomatos and Tapatio!

I’m not going to say because I used a better beef and organic beans that the burrito tasted better, but it was pretty damned good and the fresher, cleaner ingredients didn’t change the flavor at all.  However, the knowledge that I didn’t partake two chemicals that are known to cause stomach problems is relieving to me (I have IBS and stomach problems I love to avoid).

This weeks pledge:

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.