Once, all of our meat came from heritage breeds, who were raised naturally and had many fine nutritional, farming, and taste qualities. Some of these breeds still exist, yet are threatened with extinction. The agricultural farming industry is not interested in heritage breeds, as they do not care about nutrition, or taste, or raising animals naturally.
All Big Ag wants are animals who they can raise as cheaply and quickly as possible, to increase profits. They have developed breeds for the feedlot, who gain weight quickly, eat whatever is placed before them, and can survive CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) conditions long enough to reach a high weight before slaughter.
I have eaten meat from heritage breeds, and it is so far superior to the factory variety that I cannot begin to describe it. It feels nourishing, and it tastes so much better.
Heritage breeds are well worth preserving. Cathy and Jon Payne, who own a small farm in Georgia, are trying to save an old American breed, the Guinea Hog. They are trying to raise the money to do so with an Indiegogo campaign. This is a very worthy cause. I had a chance to ask Cathy some questions about her farm, the Guinea Hog, and her fund raising campaign.
1. Tell us a bit about your farm, and what your goals are.
Broad River Pastures is a sustainable, heritage, pasture-based, 11 acre family farm in Northeast Georgia. It was founded 3 years ago when I retired from teaching after 33 years. My husband, Jon, and I left suburban Atlanta with no prior farming experience and a general dream of a healthier lifestyle. We’ve had to learn each operation from scratch, and have in many ways determined what worked best for us and our animals by trial, error, research, and observation.
At Broad River Pastures, we strive to be a homestead model that benefits not only our family, but others who want to be more self-sufficient and sustainable. Many of the projects we do on the farm can be adopted on much smaller or much larger scale. We use permaculture design, promote heritage animal breeds, promote biodiversity, and apply eco-agricultural and biodynamic methods to grow nutrient-dense food.
Our goals include:
- Leave our land in better shape than we found it.
- Educate the wider community about the importance of real food, raised humanely and sustainably, for vibrant health.
- Train young people interested in sustainable agriculture.
- Promote and breed heritage livestock for their original purposes and provide high quality breeding stock for other farmers with similar goals.
- Grow nutrient-dense food for our family and the local community.
- Supplement our retirement income.
- Leave the farm as a legacy to someone interested in carrying on the work we started.
2. Please explain the difference between heritage pigs and modern pigs.
I’m going to start with the difference between heritage livestock in general and then move to heritage pigs. Heritage livestock breeds are those that were traditionally raised by farmers before the advent of massive-scale industrial agriculture. They were raised to thrive in particular regions of the country and for particular farming styles. Many of the heritage breeds were adapted for pasture-based models. Modern breeds are developed for a factory farm model.
For example, most of the chicken raised for meat in the United States is a Cornish Cross hybrid bird. It is developed to keep its face in the feed bowl and eat all day, rarely moving, in confinement. I know several farmers who attempted to raise these birds on pasture. The result was a high mortality percentage and birds who stayed in one place with their faces in the feed bowl. They had no desire to walk more than a few feet from the feed or forage for bugs. Heritage poultry, on the other hand, are well suited for a pasture-based free-range setting and will happily seek out insects and young plants from dawn till dusk over a wide area.
Now on to pigs. Heritage pigs have traditionally been raised in dirt pens, in woods, or on pasture ranges in an outdoor, natural setting. They were processed in the fall and eaten “Nose to tail.” Some pigs were raised particularly for their lard, which provided cooking oil to the family as well as a main component of soap for washing. Modern pigs, those that produce “the other white meat,” produces a pale, lean meat that grows quickly in confinement on feed containing a plethora of antibiotics to keep them growing faster and to protect them from injuries in close confinement. Their tails are docked to keep frustrated pigs from chewing on each other, and the eyeteeth of the males are cut to minimize biting.
Jo Robinson, in Pasture Perfect, reported that confinement hog production requires an investment of $5 million and creates 40 to 45 new jobs. However, each factory puts 126 independent hog farmers out of business. In addition, health conditions for workers and for neighbors of the hog farms are abysmal due to high levels of dust, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and other gases. She also reported that pork from pigs raised on pasture have more vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than pork from pigs in confinement. The taste is incomparable, with pasture raised pork having a much richer flavor and appealing mouth feel. Compared to dry, flavorless production pork, the pork from pastured heritage pigs tends to be more flavorful and juicy, like the pork chops and roasts of long ago. The meat of a heritage hog is red and richly marbled.
Like the poultry mentioned earlier, the “improved” commercial breeds are not suitable for free-range models and would not be as likely to thrive.
3. Why is it important to preserve heritage breeds?
Every year, there is less biodiversity in our food system, as large corporations seek to become more profitable. In fact, only 15 mammal and poultry species produce over 90% of livestock production. Monocultures in either livestock or produce are vulnerable to disease. This puts us in danger of situations where a single outbreak could shut down the country’s entire operation of beef, pork, or poultry production. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization, at least 1,500 of the world’s 6,000 livestock breeds are in imminent danger of extinction. We are losing an average of 1 to 6 livestock breeds each month. A full 50% of the breeds that existed in Europe in 1990 are already extinct. This lack of biodiversity can have dire consequences if we have an oil crisis that impacts commercial production. The good news is that in the United States, there has been a resurgence of pasture-based farms and a concentrated effort to conserve American breeds through the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (ALBC). Because the heritage breeds have been such an excellent fit on sustainable farms and because of conservation efforts, no American breed has gone extinct since 1985. That is very encouraging, but it does require that heritage farmers like me continue to register and improve and breed their stock. To do that, they must have customers to keep them in business. Your readers can support them by purchasing some of their food from small farmers and specifically seek out the heritage breeds.
4. Tell us a bit about Guinea Hogs, and why they are a good choice for a small farm.
Guinea Hogs are a small, black, hairy lard hog. Lard hogs are the ones you see in very old art work depicting English pigs. They are very round. The longer pigs are developed to have a lot of “belly” which is used to produce bacon. Other pigs in between, are produced more for hams and pork chops. Of course, every pig produces the same cuts, but we are talking about proportion here.
Thomas Jefferson owned Guinea Hogs, and they were very common on small Southern farms until the late 1800s. They are ideally suited for the South, where their dark pigment and hairy coat protects them from sunburn. They are extremely gentle and friendly hogs that were often tethered outside the family home to glean acorns and windfall fruit, small rodents, and snakes. Shelter needs are minimal, and they easily farrow (give birth) without assistance. They are able to produce meat and lard with very little grain inputs, making them more affordable to keep. We are currently raising heritage pigs without soy, but they do require a lot of grain in addition to pasture and windfall fruit to help them gain weight. With the Guinea Hogs, we hope to raise them with pasture, hay, root crops, and small amounts of barley and milo.
5. Please explain the goals of your fundraiser, and how you will use the funds you raise.
We’ve invested our savings and retirement income into the farm to install fencing, train and obtain working dogs, and develop infrastructure to allow us to do pastured production. Now we need some help to maintain our momentum. We have set a goal to raise $6,000 to provide needed items for our heritage breeds.
This includes about $2,100 toward travel, cost of livestock, fencing, and housing needed to start our Guinea Hog herd. In the event that we do not meet our goal, it is likely that all of our funds will go to the Guinea Hog project.
We need another $650 to install an automatic watering system for our heritage rabbits, to purchase replacement cages, and to improve drainage from rainwater to prevent anaerobic bacteria from growing in the barn.
We need $3,250 to modify our sheep housing, build additional sheep housing, and build a shed to keep our hay dry and free from mold and mildew that can harm livestock.
If we raise the full $6,000 goal, we can accomplish these tasks. However, if we exceed our goal we can do even more:
- $1,000 will provide a feed storage shed close to the rabbit barn.
- $2,000 will provide additional fencing and water lines to expand our pig production into a wooded area currently unfenced.
- $3,000 will build a permanent shade area for livestock during handling such as shearing or hoof inspections.
- $5,000 will purchase a used farm truck for hauling livestock, hay, manure, etc.
If contributors are very supportive and generous, we will be able to do so much more with the items listed here.
6. Please explain how this Indiegogo fundraiser works, and how people can contribute to your cause.
Indiegogo is easy to use! It is an International platform to raise money, and you can find it at www.indiegogo.com. My campaign is listed under the entrepreneurial: food category. You can find it at this link: Help Save Heritage Livestock Breeds with Broad River Pastures, or by typing in the city of Elberton or the title Help Save Heritage Livestock with Broad River Pastures. Anyone with a valid bank account can use Indiegogo to either raise money or contribute to other people’s passions. Since our farm is an LLC and not a non-profit, your contributions are not tax deductible. However, each level of contribution is rewarded with a perk, if desired, that gives you a nice remembrance of your participation.
The amount we actually have to use with our livestock will be reduced by costs of shipping, the costs of our perks, and the commission paid to Indiegogo. Since we are using the flexible campaign plan, we get to keep donations even if we do not meet our goal. However, the commission is 9% if we do not meet our goal and only 4% if we meet or exceed our goal. So it is very important to meet or exceed our goal to remain sustainable. We have some fantastic perks in our campaign, including organic cotton tote bags and t-shirts, Guinea Hog hat pins, and copies of Stanley Fishman’s Tender Grassfed Barbecue. We will be releasing new perks throughout the campaign so be sure to check back and see what might be new and different.
For anyone without a valid bank account or who cannot afford the minimum $5 contribution, you can still help us out by using social media to tell your friends anywhere in the world about what we are doing. Share this blog post, link to our Indiegogo site, shout us out to your friends on Twitter and Facebook, etc. We appreciate you getting the word out!
Thank you, Cathy, and I wish you complete success in this worthy venture.
If you wish to contribute to Jon and Cathy’s campaign to save the Guinea Hog, you can do so via this link:
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