You Can’t See Me!The last two months have been lively here at Circle B Ranch! As everyone knows, we farrow all year round, but we see the most births during Springtime. Right now, we have piglets, piglets, and more piglets! The piglets are fun to watch as they grow. From newborn to toddler stages, they learn how to survive from their mama pigs. At first, they hide. One day during feeding time, I walked over to check on a group of piglets that had been born less than a week before. They weren’t where I expected them to be, and it took me a moment to find them. The babies had heard me coming and decided to camouflage themselves. I found the piglets with their heads burrowed beneath a tree fall, little piggy tails lined up perfectly in a row. I wish I had had a camera at that moment. The picture would have been priceless!
Circle B Ranch Heritage Berkshire PorkWhen Marina and I moved to Missouri, we knew our land was the perfect setting for our dream—humanely raising heritage pork. But, we had to ask ourselves, which breed would we choose to raise? We could take our pick from a short list. Duroc? Red Wattle? Berkshire? Large Blacks? Considering hardiness, temperament, ease of handling, and the flavor of the meat, it wasn’t a hard question to answer. Circle B Ranch breeds, farrows and raises Heritage Berkshire Hogs.
A Little Berkshire HistoryA rare type originated from Berkshire England, this pig is Britain’s oldest established breed. Historically, the Berkshire was the favorite of English royalty because of the meat’s distinctive flavor. First introduced to America in 1823, the Berkshire was originally favored by the Shaker religious community, but it has been said that the Berkshire became popular with Cromwell and his troops during the English Civil War. The Berkshire became so preferred that The American Berkshire Association was formed in 1875. The Association only registered pure English stock with traditional Berkshire coloring. Due to the ABA’s selective process, the Berkshire bloodline has remained extremely pure to this day.
Why We Chose BerkshireBerkshire Hogs are hardy animals that adapt well to pasture. They have a good temperament for ease of handling and perform well in outdoor operations. Friendly and curious animals, these pigs will follow you all around the pasture while you work. They are very sociable, and you will usually find them romping through the fields with their litter mates. The Berkshire’s coloring and build are also ideal for pasture raising. The hogs are black with six white points (one on each foot, one on the face, and one on the tail) and pink skin surrounding their nose. Their dark-colored skin reduces the chance of sunburn. They have a firm build, short neck and short blocky legs with strong feet that allow the animals to thrive in a natural environment. Medium to large animals, mature sows weigh in at about 500 pounds, with boars topping out at around 700-800 pounds.
Breeding and Farrowing the BerkshireHere at Circle B Ranch, we breed and farrow our Heritage Berkshire Hogs all year round. We can do so since Berkshire sows are good mothers that perform exceptionally well on pasture. Because we raise our sows on pasture, they are stress free. The lack of stress allows the sows to birth larger and healthier litters. We have had litters containing as many as 14 piglets! Farrowing and raising the Berkshire on pasture makes for easier weaning as well. When Berkshire piglets are raised on pasture, they quickly learn how to root for their food. Their diet becomes varied and healthier, and the piglets swiftly become independent.
The Berkshire FlavorThe meat from the Berkshire hog is dark and juicy and has a rich flavor that you can’t compare to any other. As you are eating the meat, you are thinking “So this is what pork should taste like…” Once you have tasted the deep rich flavor of Berkshire pork, you will never buy supermarket meat again. [ ... ]
Meet the Circle B Ranch Bacon Snack StickSince we started Circle B Ranch, John and I have always been focused on creating quality pork products for our customers. We aimed to produce healthy, yet affordable, alternatives for the chemically enhanced products found in meat sections of local grocery stores. Now that we have long since met our goal, we want to take this concept a little further and step out of the freezer. We want to bring you more products—pork inspired real-food that fights back against chemically saturated snacking. For those of you who haven’t heard, Circle B Ranch now produces the Circle B Ranch Bacon Snack Stick—a natural, healthy, meat-only snack stick produced without additives or fillers. Made from our own Nitrite-Free (NF) bacon and ground Berkshire pasture-fed pork, these meat sticks are the perfect alternative to popular snack sticks like the Slim Jim.
While commercially produced snack sticks are convenient, they are not healthy.Commercially produced snack sticks include ingredients that are essentially damaging to your health. First, on the snack stick ingredients list: beef. Snack stick beef is usually raised in a feedlot that pumps the animals full of GMO feed, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Next, comes pork. The pork comes from confinement raised hogs that are treated inhumanely and given GMO feed as well as hormones and antibiotics. The third ingredient, mechanically separated chicken, comes from chickens raised on large scale farms that are fed GMO diets and antibiotics. Essentially, these meats are flooded with unnecessary hormones and antibiotics. But this is only the beginning. The list of unhealthy snack stick ingredients continues:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Added nitrites/nitrates
- Artificial Colors
- Wheat Proteins
- GMO corn and soy fillers
Compared to commercially produced snack sticks, the Circle B Ranch Bacon Snack Stick has a list of all-natural ingredients.Comparison shows several differences that make Circle B Ranch’s Bacon Snack Sticks a healthier option. First, the snack sticks contain only humanely raised, pasture-fed pork. Because of the way we raise our hogs, on pasture and without GMO feed, Circle B Ranch pork is healthier and entirely free of hormones or antibiotics. But, perhaps it’s what you don’t see in our ingredients that makes an even bigger difference:
- NO grain fillers
- NO artificial preservatives
- NO gluten
- NO artificial flavors
- NO High Fructose Corn Syrup
- NO Red Dye
- NO Sodium Benzoate
- Only 90 calories in each ONE OUNCE stick
- 5 grams of protein
- High flavor
- Low sodium (170 mg sodium)
- NO carbs
- Paleo friendly
- Keto friendly
- Whole 30 friendly
When I first thought about raising hogs, my mind immediately pulled up a picture of pigs mucking about and dripping in a puddle of mud. Why is that? I think this is an image we have all seen growing up, whether we were familiar with the farming life or not. And I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard the old saying, “As happy as a pig in mud.” The image seems to be a constant and common representation for the hog lifestyle. It’s something we have come to expect because it’s just what pigs do.Read More
In the wee hours of the morning, before the sun has peeked over the horizon or the rooster has shaken the sleep from his feathers, the farmer is up and getting ready for market. As the farmer steps up into his truck—or car, whichever it may be—he stops to think about the many long hours that have led up to this moment. Labeling requirements, the packaging of the product, the filling of the freezers, and relentlessly driving to and from the market. The farmer knows how his day begins but has no idea how it will turn out in the end. He knows he will be at the market waiting. He doesn’t know if the day will be profitable or if the weather will be favorable. Hot or cold, rain or shine, the farmer will be there waiting for that first customer and the many that follow. Here everything begins—with the farmer. The farmer should be devoted to living the life of a conscientious supplier, to creating a superior product, to providing for the customer and for his own future. Not all farmers get it, though. Not all care enough to keep plugging away at the quality of their wares or keep their product in stock. Not all farmers know how. Or perhaps these farmers don’t see the needs of their customers. After all, it’s the consumer’s needs that drive the farmer. Ultimately, it comes down to the customer. The consumer must walk into the Farmer’s Market and take that leap of faith to buy a farmer’s product. When a consumer shops at a farmer’s market, he or she may be taking a leap of faith, but he or she also has expectations about the products sold there. He or she might think that these goods are healthier or more wholesome, or the customer may feel the foodstuffs taste better as they are not produced in a factory. He or she does not always consider the process of creating the product. But there are many factors leading to the development of the fare. As both a consumer and a conscientious farmer, I decided to sit down and evaluate—what I consider to be—the most important aspects of buying from a farmer’s market. Initially, the consumer must understand the differences between farmer’s markets. There are two different types of farmer's markets out there, the first being 100% farmer/producer based with no supplementation of any kind. The second is a farmer's market that allows supplementation—meaning they allow people to sell products that aren't their own or that were not grown or produced by themselves. These sellers can also claim the product is their own but are not required to back up the claim with any proof. With all that being said, I don’t play favorites or prefer one over the other. My husband and I have shopped and sold at both kinds of markets, but we have always been 100% transparent about our practices. Next, a consumer must ask questions about the products. Here at Circle B Ranch we are open to questions, and we love it when our customers want to know about what they are eating. If you like to be more informed about your food, rather than buying blindly, here are a few key questions to ask when you shop at a Farmer's Market. Question #1: Can I visit your farm? This first question is extremely important; a true grit farmer is not only proud of his land but also in what he has produced from it. He or she should be open to sharing the process with you. Don’t forget to include location, directions, and a time to visit for a farm tour. Question # 2: Did you grow/produce your products? This goes along with how proud a farmer is. With a large grin they should say "I did". If the answer is no, then they aren't true farmers, they don't have full control over what occurs in the growing process. There is no control over genetics, feed or how the animal is treated. The products could have been handled in a way that is not humane, natural, organic or healthy. I don’t know about you, but this is an important one for me. Question #3: What does pasture raised mean? If a farmer says their animals are pasture-raised, then they should be able to give a full explanation into what it means. How large are the pastures? Are the animals solely grass fed? Are they supplemented? What do you supplement with? Is it a true pasture or a dry lot without any sign of vegetation? These questions give more insight into the quality of the farmer’s meat products and help prove that a farmer has indeed produced the product himself. Question # 4: What does 'natural' raising mean? The answer to this will differ from everyone you talk to and has a very broad definition. Unless you have a certification that supports natural, such as Animal Welfare Approved, Humanely Raised and Handled, or USDA Certified Organic, "naturally raised" can mean something different to everyone. A farmer’s definition of ‘natural’ may not agree with your own. Question #5: How are your animals processed? This I find to be a very important question. How the animal is handled prior to processing effects not only the animal, but the taste as well. Yes, I understand how this sounds; I eat meat, always have and always will, but I want what I eat to be treated well. When the animal is handled poorly, it releases stress hormones that will be present when you purchase the meat at the market. If those hormones are released, and you then eat the meat, you and your loved ones can be effected by it. Along with this central question, you can ask more to decide whether or not your food has been treated humanely: Does the processor have a Humane or Organic Certification? How do they handle the animals prior to processing? What does the holding area look like? Question #6: How do you recommend I prepare this? This is one of my favorites. You may not realize it but farmers are closet foodies! They love to talk about their products and the delicious meals you can make. There is nothing more gratifying than recommending a recipe and the customer coming back to say it was the best thing they ever ate! It's definitely a passion held amongst all of the farmers we know! After the questions, a consumer must then process the information they have gained and put their own principles into practice. Is the product actually produced by the farmer, organically raised, humanely treated? In my opinion, I would rather have a naturally raised chicken that is pasture raised than an organic chicken that is confinement raised. Yes, that is possible. You can have an "organic" chicken that is raised on a concrete slab in a warehouse, given organic feed and sunshine an hour a day. Because the growers give the chicken organic feed, they automatically become "organic chickens". But how were they raised? How were they handled? How were they processed? Is the farmer proud enough of the product to show me his process and give me a recipe for its use? Buy from farmers who are proud of what they have accomplished. They work long hard hours in all weather, every day of the week to bring you a wonderful product. Am I comfortable with the product and the way it was produced? If not, don’t buy it. It’s that simple. What it all boils down to, in the end, is your wants and needs. If you want healthy, organically grown, un-supplemented products, that is what you should have. The next time you go to the market, keep these questions in mind. They may open your eyes to what you are really buying. [ ... ]Read More
John and I believe in using every possible piece of the pig when processing. From the trim we produce Circle B Ranch’s ground pork, Marina’s Italian Style Meatballs, Big John's Nitrite Free Hot Dogs and Circle B Ranch’s line of sausages. These products make some of the best recipes even tastier, and they are so versatile they can be used in almost any dish. For example, I used our Circle B Ranch ground pork and Marina’s Homemade Ketchup in an Ina Garten meatloaf recipe, and it turned out to be absolutely delicious! What’s even better is the prep time for this recipe is only 20 minutes! I also like to use our ground pork in a superb Bolognese Sauce recipe from Lidia Bastianich. I love Bolognese Sauce; it is one of the best comfort foods. Filled with veggies, meat, and tomato sauce and red wine, this dish will soothe your hunger as well as your soul. When I prepared this recipe, I incorporated our Circle B Ranch ground pork and Marina’s Italian Style Tomato Sauce—and it turned out absolutely scrumptious! My Marina’s Italian Style Meatballs are some of my favorite products. Why? First of all, I make them in two sizes—regular and mini. Also, they are fully cooked and ready to go. Just heat them up and serve. Because of this, it’s simple to include them in any recipe. For example, what can be easier than Saucy Asian Meatballs made with Marina’s Mini Meatballs? Simply defrost and heat up the meatballs, prepare the sauce, and throw them together. Here’s the recipe: Saucy Asian Meatballs Ingredients: • 1 pound of Marina’s Mini Meatballs • 2/3 cup hoisin sauce • ¼ cup rice vinegar • 2 garlic cloves, minced • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce • 1 tsp. sesame oil • 1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated Instructions:Read More
- Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients until blended. Warm meatballs in a 350° oven. You can dip each meatball individually (using a toothpick) in the sauce mixture. Or pour sauce over the meatballs and stir gently until covered.
- Serve warm, and add additional garnish if desired.
As you know, Circle B Ranch strives to produce the best quality pork available on today’s market—even during Missouri’s winters. We picked SW Missouri to raise our hogs because the weather tends not to be as harsh as in other parts of the country. The winter does test the farmer’s skill and work capacity, bringing frozen livestock waterers, hard starting trucks and tractors, and, of course, the dreaded breakdowns! The smoothness of Summer fades into the time-consuming tasks of Winter. Everything seems as if it takes twice as long to accomplish, almost as if mother nature is making up for the grace period she has already given us earlier in the year. But farmers aren’t the only ones affected. Even the hogs feel the change, behaving differently as the weeks (yes it is only weeks) move into the coldest stretch of the year. Some pigs pile into the range huts we provide—completely protected from driving winds, chilling snow, and frigid rain. Others gather up grasses and straw to build comfy little nests they burrow in for a warm place to sleep. Unbelievably, some hogs even prefer the weather, heaping up together with their herd-mates under the cedar trees in our open pastures. It never ceases to amaze me when I trek outside on a cold Winter morning and find a mountain of pigs snuggling like puppies. One might wonder how these hogs survive, braving the elements like they do. The answer is simple. It is because the farmer defies the elements for them. He or she gives love, time, skill, dedication, and patience. Dedication and patience are a must. During the winter, pork production takes a dive. Why? A hog’s metabolism is so high that it utilizes feed to keep warm instead of gaining any lean mass. The fat outweighs the meat. During this time feed cost goes up and meat production goes down. The pigs require the extra fodder to build up “fat back”—a thick covering of fat that blankets their backs and vital organs. Due to this thick layer of fat, a hog is able to flop belly-down in straw or grass, regardless of the snow. I've often found them laying in their nest with a 2" layer of snow on their backs! And here is where skill comes in. The farmer must keep close tabs on the hogs and know how to best promote their well-being during the winter. For example, he or she has to keep an eye on the weaklings and the runts during the weaning process. Since these piglets rely on the rest of the piglet herd to keep warm, they can easily be excluded from the heat they need to survive the cold temperatures. One must recognize when they are struggling and offer extra feed and bedding to ensure survival. This holds true for all of the hogs. In general, during the winter, all of the hogs and pigs struggle a bit and require more feed and shelter. This fact requires efforts that take up much of a farmer’s time. Here at Circle B Ranch, we provide round bales and straw when needed for warmth and shelter. We step up the amount of feed to help the stock build up fat and body heat. The waterers are constantly checked and kept open, making sure the animals have adequate water to maintain hydration and avoid hypothermia. When it’s freezing outside, this is an all-day process. A farmer’s work is never done. So where does love come in? The love comes from the desire to create a superior product; it comes from the dedication of stepping outside in bitter temperatures to care for your animals; it comes from acquiring the necessary skill to carry out the maintenance. The love comes from the patience that is vital to the farming life. Perhaps it is love that is most important for the success of Circle B Ranch: love for the product, love for our animals, and love for you—the customer. Without love, time, skill, dedication, and patience we couldn’t provide you with the quality pork products we produce—regardless of the season. [ ... ]Read More
Since the beginning, our mission here at Circle B Ranch has been to raise our hogs in the most natural way possible; our hogs are what they are meant to be. They do as nature intended. Because of our natural practices, we farrow all year round here, even in the coldest of winter months. While we allow the sows to choose where they birth—whether in an outside nest or inside an insulated farrowing hut—we keep a close eye on the mama and the piglets. It is our goal to make sure that both the sow and the newborns remain in good health. If the mama has given birth outside, we remove the piglets from the nest when she leaves to feed. We then place the babies inside a farrowing hut to allow us to easily monitor them and to ensure they stay warm.Read More
During the winter months, we wean our piglets later than we typically would during the summertime. By waiting for 10 weeks rather than the usual 8 weeks, we improve the ease with which the piglets switch from sow’s milk to feed. During the suckling and weaning period, the piglets eat feed along with the sow—a high protein diet necessary for piglet growth and sow weight maintenance. In this way, any shock caused by weaning is lessened. While the 10-week period may be a little harder on the sow, she is fully equipped to recover. A good mother gives everything she has to her piglets, and may be “skin and bones” by weaning time, but we watch over her and give her a month and longer to recover before breeding her again. During the weaning period, we keep a sharp eye on the piglets—especially the ones that may be labeled the “runts” or the “weaklings.” Once they are weaned, the members of the piglet herd rely on each other to stay warm; the smallest and the weakest are often affected by the extreme cold. Because we prefer the natural process, we do not cull the small or the weak from our stock. Some farmers may choose to do so, to save on cost and time related to their care, but we believe in giving all of our stock a fair, fighting chance. We provide extra feed and straw to provide warmth and shelter where needed. We enhance the chance of survival for each and every piglet on our farm—without compromising the all-natural standards we strive to provide and that you have come to expect from Circle B Ranch. [ ... ]
As discussed in our previous article, Circle B Ranch weans our piglets between 6-10 weeks of age, depending upon the season. After the piglets are weaned, we rotate them through a series of pens until they are sent off for processing. The sorting and rotation procedure occurs about once a month. Why do we go through this procedure? We pasture-raise our pigs from the beginning, meaning that they are allowed to roam free within their large, open pens and feed off of the land. By raising them this way, we raise them as naturally as possible. They are not cooped up like CAFO pigs. They are not fed unnecessary supplements such as antibiotics or hormones. Circle B Ranch is Certified Humane Raised and Handled and Animal Welfare Approved, so we operate by their rigorous standards. Animal Welfare Approved Standards decree that animals should be treated and be able to behave as naturally as possible. This helps maintain an animal's physical and mental health, improves the nutritional quality of the food that is produced, and does not harm the environment. In other words, we rotate the pigs as they mature to help preserve the environment and improve the health and over-all well being of our pigs. We start with the juvenile pen, where the piglets will stay as they begin to grow and put on weight. After 1-2 months, we then rotate the pigs to another pen. This middle pen gives them even more room to roam and fresh grassland from which to forage. We continue to alternate the pigs through various middle pastures as they mature. Eventually, the pigs arrive at the last pen, which we call the “finishing” pen, where they remain until they reach processing weight. The pigs reach processing weight, 250 pounds, at about 8-10 months of age. They are then sorted and gathered up once a week to be taken to the processor. If a pig weighs more than 250 pounds, it is still taken to be processed. When the processor receives our pigs, they are processed according to our specifications and USDA approved standards. We later return to pick up the cuts—the Circle B Ranch products we proudly offer to our customers. [ ... ]Read More
The winter months are a true test of a farmers skill and work capacity. The winter brings frozen waterers', hard starting trucks and tractors and breakdowns. Everything runs easy in warm weather and it seems like it takes twice as long to accomplish anything in winter! Even the hogs behave differently, and in ways we would never expect them to. Some of the hogs prefer the range huts completely protected from driving wind, snow or rain. Others gather up grasses and straw and build nests to sleep in or simply "pile up" under a cedar tree or right out in the open pasture. They survive this by relying on each others body heat and a very thick covering of fat over their backs and vital organs what we know as "fat back". Due to the thick layer of fat, you will always find a hog belly down in straw or grass. The past couple of months I've even found them laying belly down in their nest with a 2" layer of unmelted snow on their backs! As a result of the high quality of insulation their fat gives them, during the winter months the hogs "lay on" more fat than the other seasons. Starting in the fall months, you will begin to notice a thicker layer of fat when butchering due to the fallen nuts, rich grass and brisk nights. Confinement Animal Farming Operations (CAFO) have a "nice" uniform layer of fat during all seasons because these types of hogs are never exposed to the seasonal elements that nature intended. They are in a man made building, on concrete or wooden slats in a temperature controlled environment. In the winter months we tend to wean young piglets from the sow later in order to ease their transition off of sow milk and onto strictly feed. We don't use a creep feed since most come from "various sources of milk production". During the time the piglets are suckling and weeks before they are weaned they eat feed right next to the sow; this is a high protein feed necessary for piglet growth and to maintain sow weight. When the piglets are weaned at eight weeks they are ready to eat and grow on feed only. In the winter, to lessen any shock from weaning, we prolong the weaning until ten weeks. Its a little harder on the sow but they are better equipped to recover. A good sow gives her all to her piglets and is sometimes "skin and bones" at weaning. We give them a month to recover before they are bred again. In confinement raising, a piglet is weaned in 2 weeks and put on creep feed. Creep feed is a milk supplement feed that helps the premature weaned piglet rapidly gain weight and assist in sow production. Putting out hay bales on Circle B Ranch During the weaning period, the winter months are especially hard on the runts and weaklings. A sharp eye has to be kept on them because during this extreme cold since once they are weaned they rely on the rest of the piglet herd to keep warm. Some farmers especially CAFOs merely cull the runts since feeding or doctoring them is not in their cost calculation. In general, in the winter, all of the hogs and pigs struggle a bit and require more feed and shelter. As a result we provide round bales and straw where needed for warmth and shelter and additional feed for more body heat. Waterers have to be kept open to provide hydration and avoid hypothermia. Pork production also takes a hit since the hogs metabolism is so high they utilize their feed to keep warm instead of laying on/gaining lean mass. During this time feed cost goes up and meat production down. Are you beginning to see why pasture raising may be the best for the hogs health and well being is concerned? The quality of pork is beyond excellent but to achieve this level of excellence takes love, time, skill, dedication and patience.Read More
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