Posted by: Kate | November 19, 2009

lessons learned in the first year

When we set out on this pork adventure, we had some serious goals in mind. We wanted to offer good quality meat that was different from anything they could buy in a local supermarket. We had a vague idea of what that meant when we started, and as we got deeper into it, we kept adding onto the list.

We discovered that many commercial hog farmers cut the long, “needle” teeth out of the piglets soon after birth. They cut their tails off too! We did our research and did not find a compelling enough argument advocating this. Most of the literature says that cutting teeth is easier on the sow for nursing. The tails are cut because in a small, confined space, pigs will get agitated and bite their neighbor’s tail, leading to infection. This is dangerous for pigs with low immune systems dependent on antibiotics from birth to stay healthy.

Every pig farmer we spoke with told us that we had to create a small, confined space for the sow to farrow (give birth) in. The space must be small and narrow so that she cannot turn around and crush her babies. There must be a small opening on the bottom for the piglets to crawl through to escape their mother. If we did not do this, they said, we would lose the majority of the litter.


All this intervention did not make sense to us. We asked ourselves, what if we just left the pigs alone? It seemed reasonable to us that if given adequate space and food and water and shelter, our pigs would do what felt natural to them.

It turned out that we were right. We put the sows in a large pasture fitted with two large huts filled with straw. They could go in and out as they pleased, cool off in the muddy wallow we made for them, and root up tubers and bulbs in the rest of the field. They were happy and content throughout their pregnancies, and each delivered large litters without help from anyone. Guess what? None of those babies were crushed. Each mama took painstaking care to sniff around and make sure none of her babies was under her when she laid down. If she heard a squeal, she was up in a second. They wouldn’t allow us to come anywhere near their babies, and showed fierce aggression when we tried to get close. The babies did not cut their mamas with their teeth, although by the time they were ready to wean, the sows looked exhausted from being chased by their large pack of piglets around the pasture. I think they were relieved when we moved the young pigs to their own pasture!

This was an important lesson for us in leaving nature alone to do its thing.





  1. I just posted to my facebook page about buying a “piece” of one of your pigs, and in searching for links found your blog – it’s wonderful!!!
    If you want to see what a customer/neighbor at the south end of town is up do, I blog at

  2. Hi Janet! Glad you like the blog. I’ll check out yours! -Kate

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