Hogs, Home, Meet Your Meat

Lots of Mud, Lots of Piglets… all is good.

The main events these past three weeks have been piglets.  They are amazingly cute.  We’ve had three litters in the past three weeks, and I guess you win some, you lose some.  The most recent, yesterday’s, was six wee ones from the first of our seven new sows (yup, we’re about to have a LOT more pigs!).  Not a bad first go, but definitely smaller than the litter size we want.  Two days ago, one of our older sows had a litter of 10. That’s the sort of litter size we like!  And the first litter we had recently was Clementine’s: a measly litter of three, which is, quite simply, unacceptable from a breeding sow.  Unfortunately, Clementine is the coolest sow we have; she’s got a wild personality, definitely the matriarch of the herd.  She’s also our orange pig and is very pretty (as far as pigs go). But I guess this is why you don’t form relationships with farm animals.  She’ll be the first that we’ll be sad to “send to the farm,” so to speak.

And now new pig pictures and hog heaven pictures… they are SO excited about the mud!! Fun fact: did you know pigs don’t sweat and their only way to keep cool is by staying in the shade or coating themselves in mud?

Litter of 10 (you can actually see 9 in here. Can you find them?)
Litter of 10 (you can actually see 9 in here. Can you find them?)
Just an even cuter shot.
Just an even cuter shot.
Clem venturing out of the hut with her three.
Clem venturing out of the hut with her three.
Stay close to momma!
Stay close to momma!
Everyone's happy.
Everyone’s happy.

new pigs big hut

Last night's litter of 6. Brand new with long umbilical cords still.
Last night’s litter of 6. Brand new with long umbilical cords still.

And now for mud!

I watched this pig flop from one side...
I watched this pig flop from one side…
... to the other, to cover every square inch.
… to the other, to cover every square inch.
Want to play find the pig?
Want to play find the pig?

pig in mud pigs in mud

Our boar likes coating himself too.
Our boar likes coating himself too.

That’s it for updates right now. A Meet Your Meat series: Eggs edition is below, but first, a quick word on Smithfield (while it’s China buyout is still on your mind).


I met a man a couple weeks ago (by pure chance), who’s contracted to grow hogs for Smithfield, and we started talking numbers. Well, want to know why Smithfield pork is so inexpensive?  He makes 17 cents per pound on his animals.  Granted, he’s the first stop after pigs are weaned and raises “nursery” pigs from 12 to 50 lbs but still! (Most hog producers specialize in either breeding, nursery pigs or growing out hogs for market).

He makes a comfortable living: $85,000 for each of his three hog houses.  Thing is, he runs about 10,000 hogs through each, 2,000 at a time. That’s $8.50 per hog (assuming all those hogs survive and nothing goes wrong).  Just thought I’d share that little tidbit: 2,000 hogs in a barn is hard to wrap my head around. And $8.50 per hog is so shocking to me (even for wee ones)! That’s how they keep prices low at supermarkets.  Lots of volume, tight margins.


Meet Your Eggs!

Eggs have the most confusing labeling options possible, and it’s hard to know how birds are actually raised, when words like “free-range” are used for birds that spend most, and often, all of their lives indoors!  That’s why we make it clear that our birds are “pasture-raised.”  There are very few farmers that give their birds fresh grass at all times, so as with all other animal products, looking for the word “pastured” is the safest way to go if you’re looking for truly free-ranging animals (at least until that word becomes regulated too)! 

What’s pastured mean to us? Pictures are below, but the short of it is this: fresh grass and bugs all the time! We’ve got an eggmobile, which Graham built on a hay wagon, and which we move daily the length of itself (so the fertilizer that the chickens produce through the night while safely roosting inside gets spread across our fields).  We move the electric netting that’s around the eggmobile when it’s travelled from one end to the other, about every three or four days.  Anyone with backyard chickens knows that if hens are confined to one spot, the grass turns to a dirt lot within a week! By moving our hens daily, they don’t have the time to scratch grass down to its roots, so they’re able to keep snacking on it and the bugs that live in it.  The word “pastured” doesn’t say much about an animals diet (unless it’s a ruminant, like our sheep).  Our chickens eat 100 pounds of food a day; they can’t find that much every day on a few acres of grass!  The Word “pastured” has to do with animals being in as natural a setting as possible.  What’s pastured mean to our hens? Health. What’s that mean for their eggs? They’re healthy too! With hard shells, thick whites, and bright orange yolks… oh, and with lots of flavor!

Pictures below: the blue hut is for our meat birds.  The metal things on the eggmobile are nest boxes.  That greenish bird is one of the sources of your blue and green eggs (she’s an americauna).  And the last picture is of the roosts inside the eggmobile where our girls spend the night.  That black and white bird is a cuckoo maran, which lays dark brown eggs.

That's the meat bird hut on the left, eggmobile to the right.
That’s the meat bird hut on the left, eggmobile to the right.

eggmobile close

The metal things are nest boxes. Plenty of room for each hen to have her own nest for private time.
The metal things are nest boxes. Plenty of room for each hen to have her own nest for private time.
Ladies roost at night inside
Ladies roost at night inside
And lay lots of eggs in the morning.
And lay lots of eggs in the morning.

nest box birds

This one's an Americauna. She's responsible for some of the blue and green eggs.
This one’s an Americauna. She’s responsible for some of the blue and green eggs.
Same bird, done laying her egg
Same bird, done laying her egg
Guess which one's an Americauna...
Guess which one’s an Americauna…
Straight Chillin' (this is actually how they chill... one leg out, wing out on occasion)
Straight Chillin’ (this is actually how they chill… one leg out, wing out on occasion)

So, what’s the deal with other labels?  Here’s the low-down:

Cage-free- Birds live indoors their whole lives, but they’re not in individual cages. They’re typically in large pens or walking around a very large barn (with several thousand other laying hens). Welfare conditions vary; some large barns have lots of space/chicken. Many don’t.

Free-range- The legal requirement is that the birds get some sort of access to the outdoors, and there are no size requirments for that.  In most cases, many chickens never actually find the door to go outside, and the outdoor space never changes to another spot, so it’s a dirt lot (or concrete, for that matter).

Organic – The birds get feed that is organic.  They also have to be cage-free and have access to outdoors (in the same way as free-range) and no routine antibiotics are used.  Why aren’t we organic?  Well, let us know when you want to pay $7/dozen, and maybe that’ll change.  Organic feed is very expensive and quite scarce! We don’t give any of our animals routine antibiotics though (or steroids or added hormones).

Vegetarian-fed – This one’s my pet peeve, because how is a vegetarian chicken a good thing? They’re supposed to eat bugs and worms! This labeling started because some large producers started feeding animal byproducts to their chickens (including chicken).  But it just means they’re indoor birds who don’t get to eat bugs or worms… and who also aren’t being forced into cannibalism (you’d think that’d be a safe assumption, wouldn’t you?).  No one feeds chicken byproducts to chickens anymore, regardless of whether a “vegetarian-fed” label is on there or not.

A last word on Pastured – Well, here’s the kicker, y’all: Pastured and pasture-raised have no legal requirements for labeling.  So, when you start seeing “pasture-raised” on big brands, read the fine print.  These descriptions are starting to go the way of “free-range.”

Interested in more? I found this interesting article, called “Pasture-Raised Risks Losing True Meaning” about large companies starting to use the “pasture-raised” term… and to Organic Valley, it means the same as the pasturing requirements for organic – that is, 120 days on grass per year plus 30% of the rest of the cows’ diet from hay or silage (which leaves 40% for grain feed)… that’s what Organic Valley requires to call their cows “pasture-raised” – interesting, ain’t it?

Hogs, Meet Your Meat

The Great Hog Migration

We’ve had a few other activities going on these past couple weeks, including another few dozen baby rabbit births, but no event has been so big as The Great Hog Migration.  It happened a good five weeks after we wanted it to, but the hogs have moved out to their brand new digs in our pastures again!

Why the change?  The way we set them up last year, they had to walk up and down and hill to get from shelter to pasture.  Their shelter was a barn that was already here, so we were trying to find a use for it, but the fact is that hogs going up and down hills is bad news.  They create trails of dirt which rain promptly washes downhill.  So, when we went out to set them up for this year and noticed how big of an erosion problem we had, we decided to go to our “ideal” hog raising strategy, which we would have used had that barn not been there in the first place.  Now, they’re on flat land, with metal huts in which to snuggle at night and which provide shade during the day.  And as sows get close to having litters, they get their very own hut for the six weeks they’re with their piglets, and they simply move to the next field when they’re piglets get weaned, so the babies stay back in the field where they’re most comfortable.  And we’re hoping this system could actually work through the winter as well, since eventually we’ll likely use our big riding arena barn (where the pigs spent their last couple months) as a lambing barn.

A few pictures of the move (click on any picture to start a slideshow with captions):

Lessons learned: When we moved the pigs to their deep-bedded barn, we loaded them all on the trailer.  We later realized it would’ve been easier and less stressful for everyone to walk them over instead. This time, we decided to walk them over and we learned that…

1. Sows and boars, who are used to being herded and are familiar with the field to which they’re moving, are much easier to herd than to load on a trailer.  It was a leisurely 15 minute walk.

2. A group of twenty growing pigs, who don’t remember that field where they were born and have never been herded, should be loaded on a trailer.  They’re a complete disaster to herd; one will inevitably try to go back to where he came from, convincing all the others to run back in the wrong direction as well.  Everyone, human or pig, gets hot and tired and frustrated. It took us about an hour and a half to get them the same distance as their parents!  An outsider might have found it a pretty funny spectacle.  In the moment, pigs outsmarting us was not funny.

And now, we’ll continue with the Meet Your Meat Series

Meet Your Meat: Hereford Hogs

Our animals’ welfare is our number one concern at Dry Ridge Farm.  We’ve chosen to raise animals because we enjoy having them around and taking care of them, so we make sure they’re as happy as possible while in our care.  That’s why our hogs spend their lives out in our pastures, rooting for grubs and nuts and soaking in wallows with their buddies.  That’s also why for a couple months this winter, we moved them into one of our huge open air, dirt-floored barns.  The record rainfall this winter was threatening to wash away our fields and more importantly, the wet and cold was threatening our piglets… and making them miserably cold.  Now, everyone’s back on pasture, and we think we’ve found a shelter system that might make them comfortable enough to spend the winter out there as well! Want to know more about it? Check out our latest website post at dryridgefarm.org .

We’re different from most pasture-raised pork farms in this area in two main ways:  we have a purebred herd of heritage Hereford hogs, and we breed and raise our own pigs.  We chose Hereford, not only because they’re beautiful pigs, but because they’re on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy conservation priority list.  They’re a heritage hog, developed in the U.S. in the early 1900s, and there are only about 2,000 of them in the country!  They do well on pasture, grow quickly, have just the right mix of fat to lean, and are excellent mothers, a trait that many other breeds lack.  Breeding them on our farm allows us to know exactly how our animals are treated starting at birth.  Our piglets are certainly happy to be on grass with their moms and our sows get to make their own nests in their farrowing huts, to which they come and go as they please.  Plus, it’s just fun having itty-bitty piglets running around and watching momma care for them!

Our sows and boar are the only animals on our farm with names. We started with three sows and a boar last February, and this year, in February, we added seven more gilts who will hopefully have litters, therefore becoming sows, in the next couple months.  If you ever want to visit the farm to see what’s going on here for yourselves, you’ll get to meet Gertrude, Celeste, Clementine (who’s more orange than red), Valentina, and Jack… and get to brainstorm name ideas for the five girls we have yet to name.

Hogs, Home, Lambs, Meet Your Meat, Monthly Updates

New Boar, Surprise Lambs, Stolen Truck… you know, the usual.

The Truck

“Man, that’s a LOT of scrap metal!”

trailer with hog huts

That’s what I imagine the guy said when he saw our trailer, loaded down with our brand new hog huts, and at the time, connected to our truck, parked in the lot this guy happened to pass through.  And I imagine that was the only thing on his mind (and $$ signs in his eyes) when, in broad daylight, he smashed the window, pulled out the ignition column, revved it up and drove the whole rig out of the lot.

Lucky for us, a) scrap yards tend to be closed on Sundays, and b) most opportunistic thieves often aren’t thinking crystal clearly.  And so, after meeting with the police, Graham and his buddy drove around the neighborhood and spotted the “hidden” truck (without trailer) in a lot ten blocks from where it was stolen. When the cops arrived, they found the trailer unhitched behind some tractor-trailers, hog huts and all.  And we consider ourselves crazy lucky.

A few lessons learned here: 1) drive home as quickly as possible when hauling a load of metal (though it was really just in the wrong place at the wrong time), 2) comprehensive insurance is probably worth adding to car/truck policies…

The Lambs

A couple weeks ago, Wendy came down from doing chores and told Graham… “so… #207’s bagged up.”  #207 is one of last Spring’s lambs. She was supposed to be in the midst of her first breeding… not a first lambing (bagged up means her udder was full).  It seems the ram get to the wrong field at just the right time, in November, and so last weekend, during evening chores, here’s what we saw:

Surprise Lambs1 Lamb Surprise2 Lamb Surprise 3

Photo quality isn’t great: Sorry; it was pouring down rain. That’s why they look a little glum.  They’re also brand spanking new in these pictures… not even totally cleaned off yet.  Lambs certainly aren’t that bad a surprise! She’s a young mom, but not crazily so, and we’re lucky that she’s a good one: attentive and able to keep track of them in all the tall grass we’ve got! Babies and momma are doing well after their first week.

The Boar

Goodbye Marvin, Hello Jack! We got ourselves a new boar. He’s a bit prehistoric looking, but he’s a good-looking registered Hereford who’s proven.  Why did we get him, you ask?  Because Marvin wasn’t doing the one job he’s assigned to do (is it really so much to ask?).  We had several gilts and sows come back into heat for two, even three, months in a row.  Boars really aren’t supposed to “miss.”  That, and he had arthritic back legs, even though he was only two years old.

MARVIN- really pretty, low testosterone
JACK – Not so pretty; high testosterone!

We’re happy to report that Jack seems to be getting his job done without complaint!  The ladies were a bit intimidated by him at first, but they’ve been going through phases of being head over heals in love… for three days at a time. He’s way more impressive and intimidating than Marvin was: good traits for a boar to have.

And now, we’re starting a new section of our farm updates, the Meet Your Meat Series.  It seems appropriate for Part 1 to be about the product with which we started, and one that we just processed our first batch of the season last week!

Meet Your Meat: Red Broiler Chickens


We raise all of our animals on pasture because we want them to be able to exhibit their natural behaviors so they’re happier and healthier animals.  Our Red Broilers spend their first three weeks in our brooder before moving out to our pastures, spending their days in the sunshine, foraging for insects and worms and taking dust baths.  We move them to fresh grass daily, which not only allows them to forage in brand new grass, but gives them the chance to eat the parasitic worms that could harm our sheep, while leaving behind just enough fertilizer to help our pastures thrive!  Unlike conventional birds, which are typically fed medicated feed from day 1, we never give our chickens any meds.  We know that a bird that’s well fed and watered and living in a clean environment, shouldn’t get sick. In fact, we’ve only had one sick chicken in the two years we’ve raised them!  We’ve lost some to predators and smothering when it’s cold, but only one to illness!  So, you can rest assured that you’re eating an all-natural, healthy product: a bird that had a happy life, while improving our pastures’ health by doing what it does best, being a chicken.

Why Red Broilers, over other breeds of meat birds?  Primarily, because they have the best flavor and texture, but there are reasons for that! Red Broilers were developed in the 1960’s as ideal chickens for pasturing.  The most popular meat bird, the Cornish-Plymouth Rock Cross, was developed for its very rapid growth rate; conventionally raised Cornish Crosses can reach a market weight of 4-5 pounds in as little as five weeks, which, while good for mass production, leads to skeletal problems, lameness, and low muscular development, which we think accounts for the decreased flavor in their meat.  Our Red Broilers, on the other hand, grow more slowly, reaching market weight after 9 to 11 weeks, which is less taxing on their bodies, and allows them to be more active.

Animal welfare is our #1 objective at Dry Ridge Farm; we’re proud of the way our animals live out their lives here, and we think you’ll notice how a healthy, active life improves the flavor and texture of all of our products!