Preparing for The Big Freeze
As a livestock farmer, I am always amused that people worry and stress over the coming of winter, when for most of them it requires very little preparation and only minor changes to their daily routine. Most of us live in houses that are frost-proof, have vehicles that start in cold weather, warm clothing and equipment to handle snow. Life goes on. But if you are in charge of pigs, cattle and poultry who spend the warm weather out in fields eating grass, the looming reality of subzero temperatures and fields blanketed in white is a serious call to action. Anything to do with water must be emptied or moved indoors; hoses and pipes that delivered water to animals and gardens must be drained before they freeze and break. At Zettel Family Farms, finding safe shelter with facilities for feeding and watering for all the different groups of pigs is quite a challenge. We have nursing sows with their piglets, freshly weaned piglets (what were traditionally called “weaners”), larger half grown adolescents (chunks) and market hogs in the final stages of fattening. Then there are the dry sows who need access to the boar at some point, but need to be away from him later in a special pen appropriate for giving birth (farrowing). Pigs are very socially sensitive. Once a group is established it is not easy to integrate other individuals without trouble. So all these various groups require their own space, and we have to make sure they each have food, water, shelter from wind and precipitation, plus access to outdoors on days when weather is suitable. Not an easy task. One customer, driving an hour and a half to the farm asked; “Are there no farmers who raise pigs anymore? You never see them outside!” She was right. A few days after hearing that comment I had occasion to drive through 60 or 70 miles of beautiful southwestern Ontario farmland and noted that I saw only one farm with pigs outside.
Why are our modern farm animals, (in this case – pigs) raised in total confinement? Why does virtually no one do it like we do? Does it matter? These are questions on which there exists a wide spectrum of viewpoints. If you’re still reading at this point, I suppose you won’t mind hearing mine, which is the perspective of a serious farmer with a few decades of hands on experience trying to make a living on the farm. You can read the full article in an upcoming newsletter; perhaps we could have a dialogue on this over the winter.
A summary of my analysis:
Pigs were meant to be outside. They are outstanding grazers and diggers. Allowing them to behave according to their nature is better for the pigs, and translates, in ways we don’t fully understand (yet!) into better health for the people who eat the meat.
- The taste and texture of grass fed meat is superior.
- Labour intensive agriculture, like the kind that involves letting animals outside is a societal benefit. We need more farmers!
- We can afford it. Choosing to eat the best food does not significantly raise the very low percentage of our income spent of food in Canada. The savings in disease treatment costs far outweigh this increase.
So now, I better get back outside and prepare for winter!
“Pig is Big” Sale continues through November
We are continuing our special pricing on sides of pork; $3.00/lb. inclusive of cutting, wrapping and natural curing, for all orders taken to the end of the month. Also, 20lb. boxes of sausage for $100 – a savings of $40 off the regular price. We can include Garlic, Regular Farmers Sausage or smoked sausage in your custom packed box.
Watch our pigs running around where they belong… outside! Ted explains some of the benefits of raising pigs this way.
Speaking of boxes, is it too early to think about Christmas? Last year we had customers ordering $100 boxes of beef or pork, even some chickens and turkeys, as gifts for Christmas. What a great idea! Please order early so we can get the packages gift wrapped and in your freezer before the busy time is upon us.