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Book of the Week: My Farmer, My Customer

December 08, 2020

Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature offering you a glimpse between the pages of an Acres U.S.A. published title.

This week’s Book of the Week feature is My Farmer, My Customerby Marty Travis.

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From Chapter 12: Livestock on Your Farm

Over the last fifteen years, we have had the two Jacob’s sheep, upwards of fifty American Guinea hogs, Narragansett turkeys, Black Cayuga ducks, numerous breeds of chicken and quail, Dexter cows, one Jersey calf, and two Black Angus steers. Except for the starter feed for the young poultry, we have produced all the feed for all our animals here on the farm. All our animals are pastured on our pastures. We feed the hogs, sheep, and cows our own hay in the wintertime, and they receive essentially no grain. Going this route has saved us a lot of money in feed cost and veterinary bills. Because our livestock has been on pasture and eating a diverse diet of grass and legumes, they have been extremely healthy.

Several years ago, we had a call from a farmer in Indiana that had a couple of American Guinea hogs. They were unable to continue to care for them, and they couldn’t afford the feed. So a farmer friend who was looking for a couple hogs and I ended up purchasing a pregnant sow and another pair of young hogs. All had been fed GMO grain and were really agitated. We transported them home, and the next morning the sow had a litter of eleven piglets. She continued to be pretty hyper for some time, trying to jump out of her pen and running around like a racehorse! As quickly as we could, we began feeding her our alfalfa hay and reducing the grain. She began to settle down, and within a month or so she had calmed down considerably. This experience played out another time as well when we brought a new hog onto the farm. Once we took the grain out of their diet, the temperament changed a lot! We were convinced the grass-based diet was what we wanted for our livestock.

In the winter the hogs get our hay, and by April we are moving all of them out onto pasture. We move the hogs in their moveable pens twice a day. With that routine, they don’t destroy the pasture unless it is exceedingly wet. Everyone stays on pasture until about the first of December, depending on the weather. Then we move all the pens up to the barnyard, arrange them side by side, bed them with straw, and surround the pens with straw bales to buffer the winter winds. Unless we get a massive blizzard, all the hogs are outside in their pens all winter. They can get shelter under their tarp covering and burrow down into the warm straw. Twice a day they get hay and fresh water.

We started with a young boar named Sam and a young gilt, or unbred female, named Swee. At about a year and a half we were able to put them together and Swee had her first litter three months, three weeks, and three days later, which is the gestation period for pigs. We also learned something interesting as things progressed. It seemed that we had better litters if we put our sows in with the boar about three to four days ahead of the full moon. We started to experiment with the biodynamic calendar that I talked about in a previous chapter. We wanted to try to raise several litters per year and sell some of the young piglets to other folks. The American Guinea hog’s population in the mid-2000s had dropped to less than two hundred registered hogs left in the world. I don’t remember every pig that we had, but by about 2014 we had nearly fifty to sixty hogs. We helped several other farmers throughout the Midwest get started raising them. 

Our pastured pig infrastructure is simple, inexpensive, and mobile.

The sows farrow in their pens on pasture. We have had a small number of individual piglets lost from a mother laying on them, but very few. Many of our sows have been so docile that we could get in and make sure everyone was doing okay as she was having the piglets. Remember that saying about only wanting to work with nice folks? Same goes for your livestock. Don’t keep the meanies. Having mean or really unpredictable livestock is not a good situation. Pay attention to all your animals. They are not pets, and you should respect that fact. Sometimes things happen and people can get hurt due to no real fault of the animal. We need to treat them with respect and have an awareness that things can sometimes go awry.

The American Guinea hog does not do well with a diet of all grain. They become exceedingly fat and end up with health issues. We wanted to have the hogs on grass for another reason too. We wanted to have the flavor of our farm come through in the flavor of the meat. And it does! Especially with pork, what you feed that animal in the last six weeks before slaughter gives the meat that specific undertone of flavor. We also realize that a grass-based diet gives those animals the good kind of omega fats, omega-3s. The omega-3 fatty acid is reportedly better for us than grain-based omega-6. In the fall, we also give the hogs pumpkins, apples, tomatoes, and any other field vegetables that are not getting sold or eaten by us. They love it too. 

Learn More about My Farmer, My Customer here.

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About the Author:

Marty Travis is the proud owner of Spence Farm, which he runs with his wife, Kris and son, Will. Their farm supplies organic vegetables and heritage meats to some of the top kitchens in the City of Chicago. In 2019, Spence Farm was highlighted in the documentary, SustainableMarty was also a speaker at the 2019 Eco-Ag Conference and Trade Show.

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