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We’ve got piglets!

This winter was a tough one for anyone raising hogs. A virus has been spreading around the country killing piglets on many large farms. That has left a shortage of piglets for farms like ours that don’t breed our own.  After this spring’s search for enough to fill our pork orders, I’m re-thinking my reluctance to farrow on farm.

Pastured hogs | Square Peg Food Farm

We picked up these two long haired beauts at a small farm East of Cavalier that also raised a miniature beef cattle breed (low land Angus, I think) horses and were looking into adding chickens to their mix. This boar (Camo) and gilt (Jackson) have been rooting from the beginning and are loving their new home. Yes, they came with names!

Pigs on Pasture | Square Peg Food Farm

We had to get our pigs from two different farms, since we couldn’t find the six we needed  from pasture based farms. These little guys came from a local CAFO. It was our last choice, but they seem to be loving the pastured life! They are learning to wallow and root in the soil like champs. They came with docked tails, a bummer because pigs use their long tails for swatting flies. Though, wallowing in mud helps with that. In confinement, hogs will chew each other’s tails because of stress/aggression. Docking tails makes them more sensitive, so the chew-ee won’t allow the chew-er to continue the behavior. On pasture, the animals have enough space to get away from each other and is a lower stress situation so that tail biting is generally not an issue.

Pastured hogs | Square Peg Food Farm

We were a bit worried about integrating hogs from different farms, especially because there is a bit of a size/age difference. So far, that fear is unfounded. It seems that the long hairs are teaching the pink boys to embrace their instinctual behaviors. The little pinks will, hopefully, get the others to embrace the nipple water-er that allows us to keep the hog’s drinking water clean.

Hogs on pasture | Square Peg Food Farm

Right now the pigs are in a mostly un-used area of the farm, tucked between our quonset, winter chicken coop and our grain bins. Soon they’ll move out into our wooded area, where they will help to clear old brush.

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Making Lard

If you would have asked me about lard, 10 years ago, I probably would have thought you were a little kooky. Now here I am, not only rendering lard from our own pasture raised hog, but shouting it to the world! Animal fats have gotten a bad rap in the recent past, but they are proving to be much healthier than the heavily processed products, like margarine, that we’ve been told to replace them with. Lard has no trans-fats and is full of the fat soluble vitamin Vitamin D (which is great for your immune system) and contains monounsaturated fat that helps to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Lard is surprisingly easy to make. Let me show you!

7 pounds of hog fat | Square Peg Food Farm

Ground hog fat | Square Peg Food Farm

This is how the fat came to us from the butcher, yes, they did spell our name wrong, who can blame ’em! It was ground, wrapped in plastic, then butcher paper and came frozen, like the rest of our meat. Having the fat ground makes the  heating process go much faster.

Making Lard | Square Peg Food Farm

I have seen recipes online that use a crock pot to render lard. I had 3 packages of fat, about 7 lbs each, and wanted to do it all in one go so I used our electric roaster. As you can see here, I just flopped the chunks of ground fat in and waited. To make the process go a bit faster, and so that you don’ t have to fiddle with the temperature as much as I did, cut your fat into a few pieces.

Making Lard | Square Peg Food Farm

Once the fat started melting and got to the point you see above, I had gotten the roaster to about 175 degrees. This was just right to melt the fat but avoid really cooking it, making for an odorless, colorless lard. Once the fat starts melting, you can start scooping out the clear liquid.

Making Lard | Square Peg Food Farm

Making Lard | Square Peg Food Farm

I poured this liquid into quart canning jars, straining through cheesecloth over my metal screen strainer. The lard will look a bit yellowish in it’s liquid form but will lighten up as it hardens.

Cracklins | Square Peg Food Farm

The solids that are left over after making lard are called ‘cracklins’ and are supposed to be great on salads or anything you’d use bacon bits for. I turned the heat up to about 250 in the roaster, once the liquid had been removed to brown up the cracklins. They taste like ground pork to me, but you could certainly season them if you want to fry them up and keep them. We kept about 1/4 of what was left. The rest went to the laying hens that enjoy and need a bit of good quality fat and protein this time of year.

Making Lard | Square Peg Food Farm

21 pounds of hog fat ended up making just over 8 quarts of snow white lard! In the photo above, you can see the difference in color as the lard cools. The jars on the left are almost completely solid and the last jar on the right was still hot. Now, to find a great biscuit recipe!

Italian Herb Crusted Pork Chops

We have already enjoyed a few of the pork chops from our pastured hog. Cooked up, plain-Jane, they are pretty tasty. Last night I decided to try something a little different. I took a recipe for breaded pork chops and tweaked it a bit. These beauties ended up tender and juicy! I served them up with some seasoned couscous with bell peppers, frozen from the garden, and a green salad.

Italian Herb Crusted Pork Chop served with couscous and a green salad | Square Peg Food Farm

 

Ingredients:

4 pork chops (ours are bone-in, 1 inch thick)

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (we use Panko)

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of water

1 Tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (approximate)

1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon

Olive oil, for pan

Oven proof skillet

If you are using fresh herbs, you can use less than this recipe calls for, maybe about half the amount. I use my trusty 12″cast iron skillet for this (and almost all) recipes. The chops fit in just right.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

After thawing in the refrigerator, allow pork chops to come to room temperature before cooking. This allows them to cook a little quicker and more evenly. Warm skillet to medium. This preheat is mostly necessary if using cast iron, so that the heat will be even once the  chops are added. Add about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, or enough to coat the bottom, and then some.

Combine the breadcrumbs, herbs and spices and toss lightly to mix. Dip each chop in the beaten egg mixture, then into the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly to give a good coat of crumbs. Place the chops into the heated skillet and brown, about 4-5 minutes per side.

Place the skillet with chops into your preheated oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes (depending on thickness of chops) until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.

Italian Herb Crusted Chops | Square Peg Food Farm

 

For the couscous:

2 cups of uncooked couscous

1 cup of chopped bell pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped green onion

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon tarragon

freshly ground black pepper to taste

boiling water

Add all herbs and spices, pepper and onion to a medium bowl. Put the uncooked couscous on top of these ingredients. Pour boiling water over the couscous until it is covered by about 3/4 to 1 inch of water. Let stand for 10 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff, and mix together with a fork. Serve hot, topping with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Pastured Pork

I would venture to say that our first attempt at raising pastured hogs was a success over-all. Like any of our new projects, there were some definite learning moments and we have plenty of ideas to implement in the coming season. Regardless, we picked up 4 piglets in April and brought 4 hogs to slaughter before the end of the year and the contents of the packages that came back from the butcher are delicious. So, yes, I’d call it a win!

We’ve had a lot of interest in pork, so we thought it would be informative and helpful to get information on the blog to give an idea of what you can expect when ordering pork from the farm.

Piglets on pasture. On their way to the woods to live for the summer.

Piglets on pasture. On their way to the woods to live for the summer.

First, a quick note on how our pork was raised. Like all the animals on the farm, our hogs are moved periodically to fresh ground. This summer, they moved about once every week and a half. The schedule is determined by the effect they have on a specific piece of ground and the weather. Pigs are omnivores, so in addition to rooting for treats at ground level, eating brush and grasses, they are also fed a prepared ration and grain, free choice. A multi-strand electric fence keeps the pigs safe from predators and allows us to coordinate their behavior to the benefit of the farm. The hogs helped to clear brush ahead of Dave, so that he could get into these areas to clean deadfall and debris left by previous owners of the property. This will allow us to open up the wooded area  to create a savannah-like environment with ample shade, but enough sun to get a good pasture established so that we can bring other animals through the area to graze.

We accidentally had the opportunity to try two different slaughterhouses in the area. While we were preparing for our first appointment in Langdon, two of the four pigs refused to load into the trailer. We ended up having to wait until the day before Thanksgiving to take the remaining hogs to slaughter in Aneta. This was actually a good experience as each establishment has their own way of doing things, including different recipes for curing cuts like ham, bacon and sausage. This also gave us some insight into pricing for processing and what you get for those prices.

Cuts going to the customer from 1/2 a 291 pound hog

Cuts going to the customer from 1/2 a 291 pound hog

These hogs were sold to the customer based on liveweight, either as a 1/2 hog or a whole hog at $2.10/pound. At slaughter, they ranged from 270 to 320 pounds, with the later slaughtered hogs coming in over the 300# mark. An average to plan for would be between 250 to 300 pounds.

When we bring the animals to the butcher, the customer owns the whole animal. You pay the butcher based on the hanging weight of your animal. This is the weight after slaughter, minus the blood and innards. You get the best value for your dollar by asking for and planning to use, every part of the animal available. Some of the cuts that most of us would not be used to using are the hocks, heart, liver, fat and bones. Other oddments may be available, but we didn’t think to ask. There are a multitude of ways to use these parts of the animal like making lard for cooking, stews and soups. Sugar Mountain Farm has some useful information on cuts of pork.

The customer calls into the butcher to let them know what they want from their portion and what kind of curing should be done with hams, bacon and sausage. There are many either-or choices and both of the shops we worked with gave a choice and can quote current prices on the curing. We did find that per-pound, Langdon was a bit cheaper for processing costs. It seemed that Aneta gave a few more choices on the either-or cuts like shoulder steaks vs. roasts. I did like the way Aneta packaged the cured items: hams and bacon were vacuum sealed and the sausage was unstuffed. All the cuts from Langdon were in butcher paper, save the sausage which was stuffed in casings then vaccum sealed. Aneta uses less salt when curing hams, which we prefer. We also enjoyed the seasoning in their sausage recipe, though we haven’t tried the sausage from Langdon yet. We did trade a customer for a pound of bacon from Langdon, but we haven’t done a side by side comparison on that yet.

Pork shoulder steak

Pork shoulder steak

Here are some examples of what you can expect to get from a pastured hog.  Note: this has been edited to reflect the prices paid by our customers to give a clearer picture of how it breaks down. The weights of cut and wrapped packages is approximate. The butcher facilities didn’t mark the packages, so we weighed them on our home scale which is not certified.

Half a 291# hog (101 # hanging weight)

7.25 # of bacon

14.8  # cured sausage

18.4# cured ham

14.1 # chops

3# spare ribs

15.8# roasts

Price paid to the farm: $274.05

Processing fee in Langdon: $98.15

Other half (103# hanging)

6.4# bacon

11.8# ground pork (no curing)

18.9 # cured ham

15.3# chops

3.7# spare ribs

17.7# roasts

3.63# smoked hocks

14 # fat

4.3# liver

Price to Square Peg: $337.05

Processing Langdon: $88.05

270# hog (196# hanging)

15# bacon

23.8# sausage

16.6# cured ham

16.7# fresh ham

26.7# chops

5.4# spare ribs

29.6# roasts

Square Peg Price: $567.00

Langdon processing: $172.45

310# hog  (260# hanging)

23# bacon

23.3# sausage

45.5# cured ham

31.1# chops

9# spare ribs

7# country style ribs

20.6# roasts

8.5# shoulder steaks

Square Peg price: $651.00

Aneta processing: $325.25

320# hog (250# hanging)

12.9# bacon

11.4# side pork (uncured pork belly)

17.8# ground pork

24.1# cured ham

27.3# chops

8.1# spare ribs

5# country style ribs

37.56# roasts (includes fresh hams)

9# shoulder steaks

7.5# smoked hocks

23.6# fat

8.6# liver

Farm price: $672.00

Aneta processing:$303.65

Please note that the last two pigs, over 300 #, are larger than we intended, due to our inexperience in loading such large, smart and stubborn animals. We don’t expect to have such large animals at slaughter in the future.

Using two separate shops was unintentional this year, we have not decided yet if we will give an option of slaughterhouses or choose just one. It may depend on the number of hogs we have orders for. Feel free to contact us with questions if you’d like more detail on the breakdown of prices, though they may change from year to year.

We will be sending out order forms to plan for how many hogs and other livestock we’ll have on the farm this summer. Please contact us if you’d like to be on the mailing list.

Fall clean-up and fancy flowers

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‘Tis the season for some clean up in the yard and garden before we get surprised with snow on the ground. My flower/herb garden has been out of control for some time now. So, this past weekend I dug out any perennials and took cuttings of any herbs that I wanted to save and Dave mowed it down. Yes, it was so bad that the mower was needed, and it will be tilled so that I can have a do-over. My eyes were a little bigger than my ambition and free time with a new baby to consider.  Next year it will be neat and tidy, I swear. Ha!

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Most everything is out of the big garden, save a few carrots that need to be dug and some weed barrier and other infrastructure that will come down soon. Dave has been busy taking down pea fences and metal posts ahead of our tillers that we just let loose in the garden last week.

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These pigs are doing a great job cleaning up the garden and get treats to boot! They’ve been dining on corn and corn stalks, beans, left over tomatoes and peppers, pea and squash vines and any other goodies they can dig up as they move around the garden. We will still have to run the mower, then the tiller through to break up and work in any additional debris when they are finished, but some areas look ready to go!

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As I cleaned out the flower/herb garden, I made sure to cut everything I thought I could preserve to use this winter. Many of the herbs got chopped and frozen in ice cube containers. Thyme, oregano, parsley and sage are in oil. Some mint is in lime juice for instant mojitos (just add gin) the rest is in water to use for tea or mint flavored water. Once the cubes were frozen I popped them out and dropped them into freezer bags and they are ready to throw into any recipe.

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I also had some pansies and borage which are edible. These were frozen in larger containers for fancy iced water at the next event I host. The borage are the blue star shaped flowers. The flowers don’t have much taste but the borage leaves taste like cucumber so they were added in for something a bit refreshing!

And on that farm we had some pigs…

Nothing like a rainy day! SInce there isn’t much that can be done outside today, it seems like a good time to catch everyone up on what’s going on this summer on the farm. This is our first attempt at raising pastured hogs. We picked up 4 freshly weaned piglets in late April and have been learning much and having a great time watching them grow!

For all the farm types that are reading, I’ll be using the term ‘pig’ even though what we have are 3 gilts and a barrow. You’d be surprised how many terms there are for swine: gilt, hog, weaner, piglet, sow, boar, baconer, porker, barrow, shoat. Each term tells you something specific about the hog in question: age, ability to be bred, gender, or size.

This batch is already spoken for, we took names and deposits for whole or half hogs before we picked them up. This fall the animals will be driven to Langdon to be butchered. Each family will be able to choose what kinds of cuts they are getting from their pig, like how much bacon, chops, ham, etc. If this works well, we’ll do it again next summer.

First night on pasture!

Pig shelter in electric fence.

When the weather got warm enough we moved the pigs from the winter coop for the chickens, into their own portable shelter and started the process of moving them towards the wooded area on our property. Pigs are really good at clearing land. So, Dave is moving them through the woods in their pen made of 3 strands of electric fence. He has some areas of the property where the brush is too thick to get into with our portable chicken shelter, so that is where the pigs will go to clear brush to make it easier for Dave to clear deadfall and nearly falling trees.

This is a fully tilled area of our woods, ready for clover and alfalfa seed.

This pig is drinking from a nipple water fed by gravity from a 5 gallon bucket just outside the shot. The water barrel in the background was filled from our rain gutters and supplies water for the pigs’ wallow.

Pigs get a bad wrap for being dirty animals. Not that these photos do much good for that reputation, but truly they are the cleanest animals we have on the farm right now! They love rolling in the mud for sure, but there is a good reason for that: pigs don’t sweat! They roll around in the mud to help cool themselves, and I think it probably helps with mosquitoes and biting flies. It’s actually a joy to watch them in a wallow filled with water! “Happy as a pig in mud” is as true as it gets!

When I say pigs are clean, I mean they are clean when they are given the chance to be. Unlike the chickens and turkeys who poo just anywhere they happen to be, the pigs choose an area to use as a toilet and stick to it. This area doesn’t get tilled up with those amazing noses like the rest of the pen. Most animals will drop their droppings just anywhere, pigs…they do a little advanced planning. Of course that isn’t the case in a confinement operation just because the poor animals don’t have any choice, there just isn’t enough space.

Speaking of those noses, we’ve had several people come out to the farm comment on how we rototilled areas of our woods. We did some tilling, but the porcine kind. These animals do a better job than any tiller I’ve seen, and they appreciate in value rather than depreciate like a tractor!

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