We’ve been breeding and growing pigs for several years now. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the level where I’d be comfortable calling myself a true pig farmer, as I expect to still be learning things decades from now. However, we’re closer now than we were when we started, and that’s not nothing. 🙂
This week we took the best pork we’ve ever produced to the abattoir. The pigs were in the perfect condition and taken at exactly the right time. We took six pigs, five Berkshires and one Large Black, mostly for bulk orders but also for bacon for our market sales. We’ve had trouble in the past with the level of fat on the heritage breeds, particularly the Large Blacks, but these were spot-on. That made me proud for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I can hand-on-heart say that these people are buying the best quality meat from the happiest animals. I would be gob-smacked if the recipients have ever had better pork. Secondly, it shows that we’re one step closer to our pig farmer title. We got it exactly right with these pigs, and that adds to our experience and knowledge base.
Those pigs are part of what prompted me to include this husbandry area of my blog. My views of intensive farming practices, particularly of pigs, are well-known. I’ll not start banging on about them again here, mainly because I’ll never shut up. 🙂 Suffice it to say that one of the big differences between intensive and extensive farming practices is the level of husbandry. If you have an intensively farmed situation where you use hormones to regulate the cycle of your sows and then to induce labour, you use AI rather than natural matings, you use farrowing crates, and where your animals never see the sun or feel the rain or get the chance to dig in the dirt, then you can’t profess to use husbandry with your animals. On the flip-side, if you use extensive farming practices where the happiness of your animals is your focus, and both that happiness and the quality of the subsequent produce are dependent on how you interact with and raise those animals, then husbandry is where it starts and ends. Husbandry, in that case, is everything.
The other part that prompted me to include this husbandry area is that I think we all have a responsibility to maintain and contribute to the farming knowledge base. We’re first generation farmers, and I’m damned proud of that fact. There are fewer and fewer people choosing farming in any form as a career path, and that is both sad and dangerous. We have a lot of farming families that can trace their lineage back several generations, and often to our settlers. That’s amazing and those families are special. However, relying on them to maintain the farming knowledge in this country, a knowledge and lifestyle that is integral to the Australian identity, just isn’t logical or sustainable.
We had to work crazily hard to get the lending we needed for our bigger property. We had a deposit and serviceability that would’ve let us buy, quite literally, a million dollar property in the suburbs. However, getting lending on a property less than a third that value in the country took us half a year and endless headaches. That’s a huge barrier to people who want to break into this industry, even on a modest scale like us. What this means is that when larger scale properties come on the market the only people who can afford them are the other big guys or foreign investors.
Now, consider a scenario where a fifth generation farming family gets to generation six and none of the kids want to be farmers. That’s not at all a farfetched example, and actually happens quite often. If we, as a country, are lucky, their property will be picked up by another large farming family, but what happens to their farming knowledge? That family has decades and decades of experience and know-how that is simply lost. Nobody goes to them and records it for posterity. Nobody makes sure it’s available for other farmers. You can’t google what they know. It’s lost. That loss is tragic, and is the main reason I’m recording our husbandry practices in this part of the blog.
I won’t profess to know it all. Hell, I won’t profess to know more than the smallest fraction of what is to be known. However, what I know may help others, and particularly any other potential first generation farmers. Just recording the mistakes we’ve made may help others avoid them, and give them a small head start.
Husbandry is a many faceted beast, and includes everything from breeding, to nutrition, to fencing and housing, and any other number of things. I want to record what we’ve done, and probably even more importantly what we’ve learned not to do, here for others to learn from.
If there’s one thing that can be said for intensive farming practices it’s that it is hands-down the most efficient way to produce the most number of animals. Those animals will be miserable and the resultant product is sub-standard, but there’ll be lots of it. Extensive farming, on the other hand, is much, much harder and carries much, much more risk. It’s the right way to do it, but it’ll give you grey hairs. These blog entries may save you from a few of the grey hairs that the last several years have given me. 🙂