Slow cooked pork roast

Yesterday morning we took the chickens to the butcher shop. Because we like to have some of the whole birds vacuum bagged, pick up is delayed until late afternoon. After a day of errand running, returning to a delicious meal, not chicken, is soothing.

I have slow cooked pork roast in the past; yesterday I followed Shannon Hayes' recommendations for a slow cook pork roast. I rubbed the thawed roast with a slurry of olive oil, half a head of garlic, salt and pepper. I placed the roast into the slow cooker , topped it with a sprig of rosemary and set the cooker on low. I did not add any liquid to the pot. During the cooking process, some of the fats melted and mixed with juices of the roast. At the table yesterday evening, I served the sliced roast with a small bowl of the strained liquid from the bottom of the crockpot. Without my usual tomato puree, wine or cider added as a braising liquid, the flavor of our pork was the star. Delicious.

Mid-August Pig Tractor update

The good news--  The moveable pig pen is effective, the pigs are ripping apart the briars. Everyday I move the pen forward 16' and leave behind tilled ground. Depending on the weather, I refill the water tote from our cistern and move it uphill from the pen. The feeder holds 350# of feed but at this point I only add 150#s at a time.

The not so good news--  The pen is on a slope so those pigs can take a running start and jump out of the pen. The pigs do not wander far and they come to me, especially when I shake the scoop with corn. Last night we set a swine panel over the top of the pen to prevent jumping.

The figuring it out news-- The rooting action of the pigs leaves craters in the field. I need to smooth out the rutted swath left by the pigs. Whatever method I come up with, I want it to follow closely behind the pigs so I can plant soon after the porcine disturbance; I need to manage it with my small skidsteer or Farmall Cub tractor; and I should not add considerably to the time spent managing the pigs and pasture.

Moveable pig pen, AKA the pig tractor

All the animals on the farm must do more than fill our freezer and grace our table. Beyond eggs,meat and broth,the chickens turn table scraps and pulled weeds in the compost pile, tend the next generation of poultry, and scratch and fertilize sparse pastures. The ewes and lambs repeated rotations through fields and orchard improve the quality of our pastures while filling freezers with delicious grass fed meat. Like the birds and sheep,the pigs must work for the farm. Last year's pigs lived behind two strands of electric fence in the woods that border the orchard. I increased the size of the paddock over the course of the summer and this spring sowed a pasture grass mix into the almost bare ground. Later this summer the sheep will graze in the improved woodland pasture thanks to those busy pigs' snouts.

In addition to providing meat and lard for the table,this year's pigs have a formidable task: to renovate the Hill Field,a worn briar patch of a pasture,across the road from a plug for a fence energizer and a yard hydrant for water. With profit margins close for small farm raised meat,the pigs management system must be efficient as well as effective.

Applying the knowledge we have gleaned from our moveable chicken pens,outfitting with built in feeders and improved water systems,a pig tractor seemed the sensible choice.

When planning our pig tractor,we knew the pen would have to be heavy to keep the pigs from lifting it,yet light enough for an old Subaru or small skidsteer to pull it across uneven ground;provide shelter;support our feeder (which holds 300lbs of feed) and  the gravity fed nipple waterers;and have a gate for easy access. Since we like pork and plan on raising pigs for years to come,the pen must be durable and house pigs of all sizes.

Our pig tractor is 8'x 16',set on 16' skids,with a metal roofed,rough-cut lumber sided shelter at one end. The short side, opposite the shelter, has two gates. Adding two heavy 4' x4' posts across the pen, supports the feeder we built last year and braces the frame to limit racking when we pull the pig tractor. Metal cables on each short side permits pulling from both directions

This is the gate end. The shelter end cables attach on the top of the cross piece.

The pigs are happy this first 48 hours of the pig tractor "experiment". We have successfully moved the pen three feet and will add the two nipple water founts on the weekend.

Pigs Training 2015

The three spotted piglets have finished their electric fence training in the barn.

They started their training with a stall and a small outside run, fenced with two strands of electric polywire, backed by pig panels. The panels kept shocked piglets from running forward when they encountered the electrified fence.

Once the sheep were out of the barn, the piglets had access to the rest of the barn where they rooted and turned the bedding.

I built a second run with electric fence , not closely backed by panels, but surrounded by fence and the winter coop.

I backed the trailer, with modified livestock pen sides to the barnyard. With a filled grain bowl and eventually a fresh bale of straw, the three pigs walked up the ramp, into the trailer. It was time to move the trio to the prepared garden pigyard.

The garden pigyard is at the edge of the yard, close enough to the house to monitor the pigs' antics. To prepare the garden for the pigs' arrival, I left last year's turnips, weeds and volunteer rye to stand and I topped scoops of corn with wheel barrow sized piles of barn bedding.  The pighouse was dragged into place and filled with fresh straw.

The pigs got right to work, rooting and digging.

With two strands of polywire and a strong fence energizer,the pigs are working for the farm.  After they finish working the soil of the garden pigyard, we will move the spotted trio to the Hill Field, where they will tackle weeds and work in leftover winter bedding and a lambing season's load of barn waste.

With two strands of polywire and a strong fence energizer,the pigs are working for the farm.

After they finish working the soil of the garden pigyard, we will move the spotted trio to the Hill Field, where they will tackle weeds and work in leftover winter bedding and a lambing season's load of barn waste.

Non-GMO pig feed again this year

Last Friday I made my final “before-the-pigs-arrive” decision.

That we were going to raise pigs this year was a given. We love the meat and the land needs the rejuvenating work that pigs provide.

Because this region is full of enterprises that support large and small agriculture, I have feed sources beyond the more mainstream offerings at our local ag store.

We were very satisfied with last year supplier, Grove’s Mill, 20 miles away in Lewisburg. Our pigs grew well and with little notice, they could bag my feed in 50lb bags instead of the standard, 100’s.

There is a feed mill only 8 miles from Lilac Hill, and in an effort to “shop local” I asked about their feed. They were able to offer me almost everything I wanted, a custom mix with our preferred Fertrell’s minerals and local grains.

The major difference in the feed is that Grove’s uses locally grown, non-GMO corn.

Do GMO’s negatively influence the health of my pigs, of the people that eat our pork or of the environment? Discovering the answers to those questions would put me in front of a computer, sifting through research and diatribes, not moving fences, watching sheep and growing food.

In my mind, choosing non-GMO, removes uncertainty and I can focus on caring for the animals on the farm.


Pork Chop Cook Off

Last weekend I had the opportunity to man the pork chop station at Owens Farm  pork tasting event. After a walking tour of their dynamic farm, Caroline and Dave  served pulled pork, ham, bacon and baked goods produced with farm rendered lard. The pork chop tasting offered visitors an opportunity to compare grocery store chops and farm raised Tamworth chops.

As a disclaimer, I am a home cook, my favorite meals tend to employ simple, rather old fashioned cooking techniques which highlight whatever is fresh or in abundance from our own or nearby farms. Even though this was not an America's Test Kitchen trial,  I tried to treat both meats evenly. Armed with two non-stick skillets, I trimmed a bit of fat from each chop and rendered a bit of liquid fat to fry up the chops. 

The Owens farm chop sizzled and developed a lovely caramelized crust, surrounding the moist meat.  Even without a resting period, the cut up samples were moist and full of flavor.

The grocery store chop was frustrating to cook, I just could not get that rich caramel color. Initially the grocery chop did sizzle but I believe that was the " added broth" listed on the label, cooking away. Once the broth cooked off, I could not not develop a rich crust and risked cooking all the moisture out of the chop. The store chop had little flavor.  I wonder how much of the flavor and weight of the store chop came from the added broth?

Beyond its intense, beautiful flavor, farm raised pork requires more effort and resources. Arranging for a pork share, managing the freezer so there is enough bacon for summer BLT's, flipping to the back of the recipe box for a picnic roast recipe, and paying for the yearly delivery is an investment.

As a farmer, of course I believe it is worth the effort. I love what I do and I love the food we grow. I believe that small farms, like Owens Farm and Lilac Hill Farm are good not only for our tables but benefit our land and support our communities. But honestly I am conflicted; how do families with increasing demands on their time and wallets make room for my products?  For that I do not have an answer, I am just working towards making a place for our farm raised foods at the table.