One of the big events of the year took place the other day, when we brought our new piglets home. The seemingly predictable event took a sudden turn though when the 6 week old little jokers bolted through the electric fence and disappeared in to the woods. For about a week our neighbors kept us up to date on their whereabouts, either after seeing them galloping across their lawn or following the excitement on Facebook (posted by other neighbors and reported to us via phone). We kept a feed trough at the edge of our yard and eventually reigned them in close enough to catch them. The adventurous pigs were named Louise and Clark.
But even with this unexpected start, the end is clear; we will eat them. I’ve already told them that we’ll love them dearly and that we’ll do all we can to keep them happy and comfortable; scratch their ears and their flanks, feed them, water them and play with them. But I’ve also told them that one day towards thanksgiving we’ll kill, butcher, smoke and eat them over the long year ahead.
Sometimes we get rather strong reactions when people understand the purpose for us having these animals around. That we’d not only eat something as cute and loved as a dog, but that we have the heart to kill it ourselves too. Well trust me on this one – I’ve had pets since I was old enough to babble out their names, I’ve trained horses and dogs and I’ve been a vegan, a vegetarian and everything in between and this is kind of animal husbandry makes perfect sense.
There is nothing revolutionary about raising animals for meat, people have done that for thousands of years. There is nothing new about killing the animals yourself either, rather, the idea of meat production – to raise animals in factory like environments, transport them hundreds of miles, process them on a conveyor belt and sell them from a freezer in a store, that’s what’s new.
Raising animals on grain is also a very modern notion that swiftly turned into the “normal” way. There’s nothing sustainable about grain fed pigs; they depend on fossil fuel and industrialized agriculture. Pigs are scavengers, evolved to forage for food and to be hungry from time to time. We use a mobile pen set up with electric wire and stakes that we can easily move around our yard, utilizing the pigs to break up new ground. A few years ago our then pigs helped me greatly preparing new garden space and this year we let them run where we’ll establish an orchard next year. A few weeks of two hungry pigs rooting through the ground will save me hours of back breaking pick axing.
Once fall is here, we’ll take all the electric wire we have and string it out in the woods to let Louise and Clark fend for themselves by digging up roots and rocks, finding squirrel hide aways’ with acorn and spruce cones, eating moss and dirt and brambles. Last year, we cut the grain by about a third doing this and not only did we save money, but we also moved away from yet another fossil fuel based product, one that at the end, we’ll eat. And perhaps the best part of this practice was the simple joy in going out there every day and calling for them, seeing them come galloping through the forest like wild ponies begging for some beet greens or a good belly scratch.
I fully understand it sounds odd, to care for and even love an animal when you know you’ll soon eat it. But I believe that by giving them names, attention and affection I make life better for them and as hard as the end might be, my pigs should be the happiest pigs around, as long as they are around.
At the end we spend a smaller ocean of time making sure that every piece of these lovely pigs are being used one way or the other. Cured and smoked meat, lard, soup stock, head cheese. We turn the innards to compost and at the very end, we burn and crush the bones to use as fertilizer for our garden. We raise our pigs from our land, and we’ll return them to the land.
Anneli Carter – Sundqvist lives with her husband Dennis on an island off the coast of Maine on a highly self sufficient, off the grid homestead. In the summer, they run the Deer Isle Hostel on the very same farm, providing budget accommodation, positive-impact living education and a unique experience for 100’s of travelers.