The Joys of Raising Heritage Pigs
By Hank Will
One of the most compelling parts of my role as editor in chief is that I get to forge lasting relationships with folks like YOU. Some of you let me in on your recent successes, and some offer great advice or ask for help, while others are willing to share the trials and tribulations of building a life out past where the pavement ends. Sometimes I just get to be a spectator, while other times I get to feel like a proud grandpa. This is one of those times.
Thanks in part to the social networking tool called Twitter and to my incessant navigation of the Internet in search of interesting and authentic small-farm websites and blogs, I came to be friends with Eric and Wendy Slatt, who run Weksny Acres (www.WeksnyAcres.com), a small diversified food and livestock farm near Kershaw, South Carolina. Thanks in part to the economy and to their profound faith, these folks more or less joined hands and leapt off the cliff of conventionalism and set out to make their living as stewards of the land and husbands of the livestock they accepted responsibility for. Wow! I’m not talking trust-funded gentrification here. I’m talking gritty faith of the most powerful kind. Scary as it may sound, the payoff is joy – joy of a pure and visceral kind.
Eric and I bonded over heritage pigs. He and Wendy chose to raise the delightfully diminutive Guinea Hogs – a breed with roots set deep in the South Carolina woods that is prized as much for its homestead versatility as it is for the delicious hams, chops and bacon it provides. The Slatts chose the Guinea breed for many of the same reasons I chose the Mulefoot breed. The animals are hardy, they prefer to make their living outdoors, and they connect us to a time when animal husbandry was still in vogue, a time when an animal’s genetic potential meant so much more than just efficiently fitting their primal cuts into a factory shipping box. No matter how you slice the bacon, heritage hogs are genetically beautiful.
As every experienced animal husband knows, the first time through gestation and parturition with any breed of animal can be an anxious endeavor. And when gilts miss their first possible farrowing date, it’s easy to second-guess yourself, especially when you factor in the cash flow or food supply that the farrowing feeds. But when you have faith, that only adds to the anticipation, and when those young hogs finally pop, it is cause for more joy than any champagne cork flying through the air might elicit. And so it was recently when I got the text message from Wendy indicating that their first-ever pregnant gilt finally popped, without so much as a grunt of fanfare. In fact, she had eight healthy and evenly sized babies all on her own between afternoon chores and evening check. And though I really had no role in it, other than to encourage these brave young 21st-century pioneers, I felt joy – joy that the farrowing went off without a hitch, joy that these new hog husbands achieved success, and joy at the compelling wonders of this country life.
Whether you’re preparing for next year’s calving season or building that new chicken coop, we’d like to know what you’re up to this season. And if you’ve experienced any joy while working your place, I’d sure love to hear about it (email@example.com).
See you in January,
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+.
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