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. 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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Brixton is my daughters Airedale Terrier. When Erin, my daughter, and her daughter moved from Northern Virginia to Seymour, Missouri, Brixton came with them. While in Virginia, he was primarily a house dog going on his daily walks and sitting on the porch watching the day go by. Now we can't get him in the house! He watches the hogs, protects the house and chases squirrels and rabbits that he will never catch but is determined to! There have been one or two times a gate has been left open or mistakenly unlatched and thank God for Brixton! He was right there to herd the hogs right back in. He is very gently and calm with them; nudging them gently or walking right beside them to herd them back where they need to go. Being in the terrier family, herding is not normally a trait of an Airedale but he sure makes it look easy! [ ... ]Read More
Go figure ! Having been a New Jersey resident all my life the last thing I thought I would be doing at 55 years of age was moving to rural Missouri. Our move from west central New Jersey to SW Missouri was a return to what NJ used to be many years ago.. The area from which we moved, was at one time, considered rural. In the 26 years we lived there it turned solid suburban, inhabited by urban transplants who cared little for the outdoors . We always maintained a 6 acre "hobby farm" with chickens, ducks horses etc. and learned basic lessons of good water supply, food and proper fencing for animals. The population changed from an appreciation of farming and outdoor sporting of all kinds, to one of little concern for what the area had to offer. Little if any interest was shown for the preservation, tradition or restoration of the New Jersey outdoors or agriculture.Read More
I think in all of our blogs I have mentioned how passionate we are about what we do on our farm. We truly believe that an animal, regardless of the breed or type, should be handled with a gentle hand, a tender heart, love and respect. We have had our Certified Humane Raised and Handled certificate since we have opened our doors about two years ago. Being certified humane is something very important to us not only because of how we treat our hogs but it is a third party verification supporting what we do. We are extremely proud to be able to say we hold a Humane Certification. 1. Certified Humane and HandledRead More
- They are an organization whose goal is to improve the welfare and lives of all farm animals. They do so by setting high standards, conducting thorough farm inspections on a yearly basis, therefore certifying the farms humane treatment.
- Being Certified Humane and Handled not only shows people the care and treatment that occurs on a farm, but it also reassures the consumer they are receiving a product with out any additional hormones or antibiotics. It gives the farmer a distinct advantage over his competitors, because
- Under this certification, all farm animal experience minimal to no stress at all stages of their lives. That means they are processed in a humane was as well. For more information on humane processing, place read Animal Welfare and Humane Slaughter. This is Temple Grandin's website, she helped pioneer the field of humanely handling livestock.
- While researching possible certification labels, there are multiple Organic ones. They differ from each region of the United States and each certification has different requirements; however, in the United States federal legislation outlines three levels of Organic foods. First being 100% Organic- "products made with 100% ingredients and methods". Products made with " at least 95% organic ingredients can be labeled 'organic". Both of those products can carry the USDA Organic Seal. Lastly products made with "a minimum of 70% organic ingredients can be labeled made with organic ingredients.
- When a hog is raised organically they also have to be humanely processed.
- I didn't know there were different categories of organic, I thought you were or weren't organic. Now you can see how "organic" can be used by a producer to make their product seem more Organic then they really are to the consumer.
- http://organicconsumers.org/btc/BuyingGuide.cfm this is a wonderful tool to use to find Organic products in your area.
- Cage free applies to hens and eggs. A cage free hen, is a chicken that is not raised in a cage but in an open floor plan type building. The type of building is usually a barn or warehouse and the chickens have soft flooring of cedar shavings or hay. They are also given perches and boxes used for nesting to lay their eggs. Along with laying their eggs in a nest, these hens are able to spread their wings and walk around. These types of hens are not raised in a cage, however they can be raised in congested quarters and are unable to go outside. How congested it gets all depends on the farm and the practices that farmer follows.
- Cage free doesn't necessarily mean "cruelty free". When we see a dozen eggs that states "cage free", we automatically think of happy chickens running around a green pasture enjoying everything that nature as to give. I thought that and I know I am not alone. Cage free and confinement hens can have their peaks burned off, go through a very long and stressful transportation to the processing plant and are extremely young when this occurs.
- "Cage free does not mean cruelty free"
- Pasture raised animals are raised in large paddocks or pastures. They are either on grass, wood lots (forest) or a mix of both. We have found that a mix of the two pastures raise the best hogs; they not rut up the grass and grubs but they also find nuts and berries. For us and many farmers, this is the best way to raise hogs. They are minimally supplemented and are able to flourish and enjoy what nature has to offer.
- In the paddocks, the hogs have range huts and trees for protection against the sun and climate. Even though we believe this is the best way to raise hogs, it is very time consuming. In order to maintain hogs that are pasture raised, you need to rotate your pastures to let the field rest; to essentially let nature regrown. If you don't do this, your lush pasture will turn into a dry lot. Dry lots are dirt paddocks that do not offer a hog any natural nutrition and they occur when a farmer does not have the space for his operation or doesn't rotate their animals.
- When our sows are due to farrow (deliver their piglets) they instinctually want to make a nest out of what they find in nature. This is not to say that they do not use the farrowing huts that are available to them, it all depends upon the sow. For example, one of our sows made her nest out of a pricker bush, another made hers out of an old tree and leaves and the third used the farrowing hut. All three offer a safe, secure and warm location for her piglets. I am comfortable going into a paddock to feed the hogs and my favorite ones are the sows with their piglets, they dart and weave around you and the sows come up get their back rubbed. However, I would not get between a sow and her piglets within the first week to ten days after she farrows!
When a consumer shops at a farmer’s market, he or she often 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
We have always felt that you should "know where you food comes from". Since, that has become the unofficial mantra of Circle B Ranch we wanted to share with you our feeding practices. We pasture raise our hogs, they eat grubs, nuts and insects. They are finished with a corn/soybean feed, goat whey from Terrill Creek Farms, and fruits and vegetables that are given to the farm from local producers from Greater Springfield Farmers Market.Below is John feeding some of the hogs fruit given to us from Kings Food Pantry and Greater Springfield Farmers Market. Kings Pantry is a wonderful organization that we donate Circle B Ranch pork to that helps support families and individuals in need. When they can, they even donate to our hogs![ ... ]Read More
Here at Circle B Ranch we believe in naturally and humanely feeding and handling our Heritage Berkshire hogs. Not too long along, while doing research on how to naturally finish our Berkshire hogs, we came across a few articles on the internet that encouraged feeding whey products to our Circle B Ranch Heritage Berkshire Hogs. We began feeding them goat whey this past September from Terrell Creek Farm which like us, feeds their goats an all natural diet and are a Animal Welfare raised and handled farm. Feeding hogs whey not only adds lean protein to their diets, increases the sustainability of the local famer and closes the ecological loop. When our Circle B Ranch Heritage Berkshire hogs receive whey it increases their "good" fat content which gives them the amazing taste that only pasture raised hogs can have!Read More
When John and I decided to pasture raise Berkshire Hogs we had know idea that we would be going back to the "way it used to be." If I have heard it once, I have heard it a hundred times...."That is how my grandparents used to do it." Why should everyone be surprised that Circle B Ranch Berkshire Hogs are raised the old-fashioned way? Why should everyone be surprised that Circle B Ranch Berkshire Hogs freely roam on pasture? We breed, farrow and raise all of our Berkshire Hogs. Circle B Ranch raises our Berkshire Hogs without unnecessary antibiotics, without additional growth hormones and without animal by-products in their feed. Circle B Ranch has gone back to the days that Berkshire hogs roam on pasture and are not raised in confinement. Being raised on pasture they are healthier, which means that antibiotics are rarely needed. Circle B Ranch does care for a sick pig, but that pig will be pulled from the herd and isolated for 30 days. Circle B Ranch even has a pig infirmary!! Since confinement hogs are all jammed into a building they are given significant amount of antibiotics to control disease. Confinement hogs will never feel rain on their skin or feel the suns rays. They will never know how it feels to wallow in mud. They will never know how to root for bugs or nuts. They will never know how it feels to be a pig! Can you possibly imagine being a piglet born in confinement? Your poor mother hog never leaves her crate and is bred three times per year. The piglet is weaned from the mother at 2-3 weeks of age. Circle B Ranch weans our piglets at 8-10 weeks of age...or when the piglet group is outside of our back patio. The piglets are never far from their food source...the sow. Going back the old-fashioned way of raising pigs provides the animals with exposure to fresh air and the opportunity to run and exercise, which helps making our hogs stress free. Stress free hogs means a better tasting product. The taste of pasture raised pork is more intense than meat from confined hogs with a great fat cap. The Berkshire breed has more marbling since the fat content of the meat is higher and the meat is firmer. Yes the hogs do exercise!! [ ... ]Read More