Los Ojos, 15 April 2018
One of the first thing that people typically ask me when they find out what we’re doing is “why pigs?” It is a logical question – as many of you know, I grew up in a sheep & cattle family, and other than a few short stints working in the Midwest I don’t have much background in swine. Pigs also have a certain reputation: they’re stubborn, ornery, too smart for their own good, destructive, and dangerous. Oh, and they (reputedly) smell. (Alexis says that it’s now obvious why I wanted to raise pigs: I’m a perfect fit with these animals!) Put it all together, and in the hierarchy of agricultural prestige (remember I’m talking about New Mexico, now, not Iowa) pigs fall somewhere between rabbits and turkeys. They’re above llamas and emus, but not even in the same league as beef cattle or sheep – everybody has one or two around, but nobody actually raises them for a living. The very term ‘pig farmer’ brings an amused grin to the face of every big-time cattleman with one or two worn out old cows and a swaybacked old sheep-camp reject for a saddle-horse.
So, why pigs? Well, as with all things, there’s a simple answer, and a more complex one. The simple answer is that I see a market space and I believe in the product –pork is a culturally accepted, versatile meat that a large percentage of the population knows and likes (the market), and pork from pastured pigs that get plenty of exercise is succulent, deep red meat with incredible flavor (the product). I’m a late convert to eating pork; never thought I liked it until I had good pastured pork from a couple of producers in Virginia (if you happen to be in the Tidewater area, please find them on our Community page), but once I had, I couldn’t get enough. Such a versatile animal, the pig. And the opportunities the pig provides to convert humble cuts of meat into delicacies! Salt, smoke, spices, and time are all it takes to elevate the pig, most democratic of animals, to a food fit for the tables of kings. Bacon is the most obvious example, but barely the beginning of the list: lardo, guanciale, head cheese, pork barbecue, country ham, pork liver pate, smoked trotters, wind-dried sausage… The list goes on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I believe in the product.
For the complex answer, it has several parts: relatively low initial investment (pigs are not very expensive, especially compared to cows), high reproductive potential (sows have a lot of babies), high potential production per acre (takes less space to pasture pigs than cows), relatively forgiving product (you don’t have to be an expert to produce great pork). Pigs also thrive on marginal land with minimal permanent facilities, and properly managed they are unmatched as agents of change to help renovate and rebuild an abused or depleted landscape.
More importantly, though, asking “why pigs?” in some ways misses the point of the enterprise. We’re raising pigs, but we are not a pig ranch (farm?); we’re staying away from the single-crop production model in favor of a multi-crop system in an effort to build in flexibility and resiliency. Pigs are our centerpiece, but they’re not the whole story.
Why pigs? Because they just make sense.