There's so many reasons why our pork is different than conventional / industrial pork (and even most other "pastured pork") that when we started to write out a bullet-point list for our website, it quickly turned into several paragraphs! So, here is our very first blog post to explain some of our labour of love that is regenerative farming with heritage pigs:
Our pigs are born and raised by our whole family right here on our farmstead. They are never kept indoors or confined to crates, even when farrowing (giving birth). Instead, we give them access to lots of trees for shade, as well as shelters and plenty of straw in the winter. Over the spring to fall months, we move them with portable electric wire fencing to a new piece of land every 3-7 days; this is known as "rotational grazing." Not only does this method provide fresh foraging for the pigs and prevents illness by reducing exposure to parasites, it also ensure that our grasses aren't overgrazed. Moving the animals in this way gives the land time to rest, but also infuses it with fresh fertilizer and provides stimulation to actually encourage even more growth - which is why we refer to our management principles as regenerative, not just sustainable.
Leaning heavily on the values and experience of our mentors, we do our best to respect the "pigness of the pig," encouraging traits like their amazing natural instinct to care for their young, as well as their ability to effectively wild forage through our wooded areas (called "silvopasture" as it's mix of trees and grasses). We have also secured genetic lines of heritage pigs that have been bred to encourage this foraging tendency, and reduce their reliance on grain inputs. Working only with special breeds like Kunekune and Berkshire that are far removed from the stereotypical pink industrial pigs, we are also experimenting with our own cross-breeding program to produce hybrids that thrive in our environment & climate, while still being easy to manage for new farmers and homesteaders.
Most of our "disease management" here on the farm is preventative, as animals that have access to clean water, quality food, fresh air, social interaction, fresh grass & dirt under their feet are generally healthy; we focus on creating those conditions to encourage their natural state of health - which are not much different than what we require as humans! Because of this, we don't give our animals shots, hormones, or chemical dewormers, and antibiotics are only reserved for rare cases where an injury requires treatment - at which point they are removed from our meat program.
Since we are working within the constraints of an area that experiences many months of winter conditions, we do still have to supplement the pigs with additional feed. However, we have a very high standard for this feed, which is all locally grown and organic (meaning it has not been sprayed with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides / glyphosate). It consists of a mix of wheat screens, peas, barley, oats, lentils, a custom mineral and organic hay. We never mix in any soy or corn, which is very common in most pig feed, as we have found that so many people react to these crops - even when fed to the animals they are consuming.
Similarly, we avoid feeding our pigs excess product from grocery stores through their programs that partner with farmers, as - while we admire the intention to cut down on food wastage - we go to great lengths to ensure that our animals are not exposed to processed products and sprayed crops that can trigger inflammation for our health-conscious customers who are looking for the purest, most nutrient-dense meat possible. Unfortunately, most of the items coming from the grocery store chains we wouldn't feed our own families, and we greatly believe in the saying that you are what you eat, so why would we feed this to our animals that will one day be on our plates? Instead, we believe in educating consumers to make healthier food choices (connecting directly to their sources when possible, eating seasonally & locally) and reduce the demand for disease-causing items to be in the stores in the first place. That said, we do give the pigs scraps from any organic foods from our garden or local market, as well as skimmed raw milk from our jersey cows when we have excess available.
As the commitment to rotating our animals adds more input costs to us in labour, so does the commitment to feeding only organic. You will see this added cost reflected in the price of our products, which is why we advocate for families or friends to go in together to buy a whole animal at once, which reduces the price per pound to make it more accessible than buying individual cuts at the store. But beyond cost consideration, the nutrient quality of our products cannot compare to what you get from industrially raised meat. When you buy from us we appreciate that you are making a financial commitment, but you are also making the health of your family & our environment a top priority, while creating anti-fragile relationships and supporting a decentralized food system that actually cares about you and your community.
The people who visit our farm (even former industrial pig farmers) all remark how happy our animals are here. We take great pride in providing them with the best life possible, and so feel it is also our responsibility to ensure the ending of that life is stress-free and painless. Because of this, we are committed to harvesting on-farm for all our animals that are sold direct to consumer (current regulations prohibit this for any product that is sold in stores or markets). We have been working hard to secure relationships with local butchers who can accommodate our requests, as we do offer organs, fat & bones to our customers, as well as custom cutting, and gluten free options for all our speciality products.
Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding: we consistently receive feedback that our pork is the best they've ever had - even from discerning customers that have tried a variety of pastured and / or organic meat. So while we're confident you will enjoy the taste, we receive the most satisfaction knowing we've ethically & regeneratively raised top quality, nutrient-dense products that will nourish the bellies and brains of your entire family.
I'm Rebel, a purebred Maremma Livestock Guardian dog. I'm the mascot for Rebel Acres Farmstead because I was the first animal my owners bought here when they moved from city life in 2019. Follow along here as my humans share with you all about what they've learned while becoming regenerative farmers of heritage livestock in Central Alberta.