Well, it’s official. It looks like we’re about to become pig ranchers. Kate and I just returned from a fun trip to Southeastern South Dakota to visit friends and pick up some weanling Mulefoot hogs.
As a dedicated cattle person, I can’t really explain how it happened, but I think I can blame it on Carol Ekarius and her Illustrated Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle and Pigs, which is the book that first introduced me to Mulefoot hogs. How could I resist when the history of these interesting and tasty animals is rooted smack in the center of this country? How could Kate and I resist, when we learned that much of the breed’s history centers on Louisiana, Missouri and includes a North Dakota connection as well. Kate’s ancestors came to Missouri four or five generations ago, and settled in Louisiana, Missouri. My ancestors settled in the northern half of Dakota Territory. It seems like Mulefoot hogs were meant for us.
The Mulefoot breed is on the ALBC’s critical list, which means that only a very few are registered each year. Thanks to some very dedicated folks, this medium-sized pig no longer stares in the eye of extinction, but it isn’t out of the woods yet. The Mulefoot is one of only a few recognized breeds that has a syndactyl hoof … that’s right, these pigs have fused toes and a hoof reminiscent of a mule’s foot. There’s quite a bit of lore and legend about how they came to be; all accounts point to their hardy adaptability, relative good nature and performance on pasture … or dirt anyway.
We obtained our pigs from Maveric Heritage Ranch near Trent, South Dakota. These folks are responsible for much of the preservation work that has gone into the Mulefoot breed. They are also incredibly forward thinking, gracious and just plain delightful to visit with. As hog people to the end they have put into motion big plans to save the American Guinea, Wessex Saddleback and other historically and genetically important swine. Maveric is also committed to introducing consumers to real pork, produced by real pigs that get to root around on pasture and live full porcine lives. And no folks this pork is most definitely not the “other white meat.”
When we unloaded our little pigs, they gave us a brief once over and went to rooting in their little pasture pen.
I used to think that the most calming thing in the world was to listen to the cows tearing mouthfuls of lush grass when turned into a new paddock. More recently, it was the contented vocalizations of chickens devouring grasshoppers in the garden. Today, I am antsy to get home before dark to catch another glimpse of weanlings up to their eyeballs in the soil … snorting with delight.
Thanks to Kate for snapping these shots. I suspect she will let you know what the pigs' names are in the not too distant future.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.