Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Mulefoot Hogs In Osage County

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

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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.

Hank Holding a Mulefoot Pig

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.

Four Mulefoot Pigs

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 .

mariann jones_1
3/13/2009 7:53:58 PM

I look at it like this...would you trade places with your animal,be it a pet or raised for food?I know I would,well fed,well loved a great day every day with the end being a minute of pain if that!hell..sign me up!!I know at my age theyre getting the better deal.I like quality instead of quantity ill take a year of bliss over a lifetime of misery any time.

sharon snyder_1
12/25/2008 6:44:34 AM

To vegetarians, How can you attack green farmers who at least take proper care of the animals? Have you ever been to a chicken, hog or cattle factory? to a slaughter yard? Try it sometime and see if it makes you as sick as I. It's like the people who threw blood on a fur coat. But, did they ever throw blood on a biker's coat? No and why not? Because they would be attacked and beat to smithereens. Why don't you attack where you could help, like the animal factory's that poison the animals and us? Afraid? I'm not a farmer just a humanitarian who believes in kindness.

12/24/2008 8:24:58 PM

pigwhisperer Maybe you don't understand the simple fact that everything that is alive has a spirit (a life force) be it animal or vegetable, they are all alive, they all have thoughts, feelings and can die (yes even your beloved veggies). Why do you think plants do so well when you talk to them? Yet you eat them anyway? Why because they do not make a sound that you can hear or understand, so that makes it okay to eat them? Now that is "backward" in my book. What is horrid is not the fact that people eat animals it is the way these animals are treated while they are alive (slaughter houses for one). Instead of bashing meat eaters why don't you go where it will do the animals the most good and bash the people who process these animals for mass market? That is where the misery is. I applaud anyone who truly cares for life (animal and vegetable) and shows love and respect for the all of the life in their care, whether it is for raising a pet or for sustenance. Everything we eat has to have a certain "life force" attached to it or else it isn't going to do any good for our bodies when we do eat it (part of the reason we do not eat rocks). After we eat it, it continues to live on in our cells, no matter what it was when it was "alive". Besides if you truly understood "life" you would well know that nothing ever really dies and you wouldn't insult yourself by trying to press your limited belief structures to everyone you come in contact with... :)

hank will_1
12/24/2008 6:47:19 PM

Hey Joy -- Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate them. Our pigs are still thriving ... it was fun to get home from work with several hours of daylight left today. I watched the pigs root in their wooded paddock ... they don't seem to mind the snow and ice at all. Of course, they got some boiled whole oats with maple syrup for breakfast along with their organic grain ration. Our Highland cattle are still on pasture and doing quite well. I dropped some all-natural cattle cubes in the snow to get them grazing ... that's all it took for them to figure out that there is plenty of good grass beneath the thin white coating. Have a great holiday. Hank

12/24/2008 5:10:30 PM

I am sorry to hear so many bashing the farming way of life. I applaud you for raising your animals humanely and trying to conserve a distinct breed that would not make it at a factory farm. Keep up the good work and enjoy that home grown pasture raised meat. To vegetarians- we understand your choice but quit bashing our choice to raise animals in a proper way to enjoy for our table. God gave us that right after the flood. Please focus your attention on mass factory farms that don't let the animals see the light of day, fed mass quantities of hormones and antibiotics to grow fast and not get sick from the muck they are being fed which flows down the levels along with the feces. Which in turn makes us sick. Also worry about the genetically modified seeds they are using to grow veggies that are making people sick just so they get more produce per acre. Plus the insecticide and other things the are doing to the land which is ruining it. So now you have plenty of things to worry about please quit bashing those of us that care enough to know where our food comes from and how it makes it to our table. We have to make the choice to end that animals life and we all respect the cost to all involved.

hank will_2
11/18/2008 9:45:53 AM

here's that last sentence. I don’t believe it’s a superior – nor an inferior – ethical choice when compared with vegetarianism or veganism.”

hank will_2
11/18/2008 9:44:10 AM

Hey Darlynn – Happy Holidays to you too. Thanks for commenting. I am aware of your point of view, and it is one that I respect. And I am always pleased to know someone with the strength of their convictions. Your pig rescue tale is a compelling one, and I applaud you for changing your life’s habits as you saw fit. I would like you to read something that a good friend of mine wrote. I couldn’t say it any better. “I am aware that one can live a healthy life without consuming animal products. And I believe it’s an admirable, visible form of compassion. However, I don’t believe this absolves us of nature’s most fundamental reality: When we consume food, other creatures die to create that food. Any plowed field is a relatively sterile environment in which few animals can exist. Every acre of soybeans, corn, wheat or any other food farmed in normal ways is an acre stolen from the creatures who would live there otherwise – and they either are killed by the process or are never born since their theoretical parents fail to thrive for lack of habitat. A natural pasture, on the other hand, can be a rich wildlife habitat. My cattle, sheep and goats displace other large grazing animals, surely, but they leave plenty of habitat for smaller animals that, on my pastures, amount to hundreds of species. I’m also aware that a human being can theoretically survive on fewer acres of total land if we consume only vegetable products. I would argue, however, that a natural pasture is an example of humankind living in harmony with nature. And if two-thirds of my calories are produced on natural pasture carefully managed as wildlife habitat, then is my total impact on the animal world more or less egregious than a vegan diet dependent wholly on plowed-field agriculture? I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m not sure the answer can be fully described. At any rate, it’s complicated. So I have chosen to convert my grass into meat, and my animals into food. I don’t believe

11/18/2008 8:11:21 AM

What sweet babies. Will you eat them while they're still babies? I just know you love those baby back ribs. And their names will be something like Bacon or Pork Chop, right? Allows for a better disconnect than killing and eating a piece of Kate or Hank. Even if Kate and Hank had what you like to think was a good life first. yum, yum. I'm sure both you and the folks at Maveric Heritage Ranch are lovely folks but you most certainly are NOT FORWARD THINKING in any way, shape, or form. None of you folks still clinging to the idea that eating other living, thinking, feeling beings is a necessary, good, or right thing to do is FORWARD thinking at all. What you are is intellectually and emotionally DISconnected, BACKWARD thinking, and very likely proud of it. You will raise your children to be ignorant, disconnected, and backward thinking as well. As you have no doubt noticed of late, most of the things this country has you believing are lies. The cultural indoctrination is obviously complete for you. But just out of curiosity, could you do anything else but perpetuate animal use and misery to earn a living or are you educationally and intellectually limited in that way? I don't think so because you actually write very well. And I know for a fact you are not opposed to hard work because taking proper care of large numbers of animals, for whatever end purpose, IS hard work. But you could be working growing soy, wheat, corn, beans, squash, or whatever else is appropriate to your area and doing less damage to humanity, the environment, and other life forms. If you are at all interested in expanding the limits of your mind, you might want to start by reading "The World Peace Diet" by Dr. Will Tuttle, PhD. You might say it all doesn't matter, but that's only true if the only thing you have the capacity to know or care about is you and your own kind (progressives call it speciesism). Believe me when I tell you that is not the case wit