Tag Archives: farmer

The simple and sacred beauty of raising pigs naturally

I’ve just walked back in from tending to our pastured pigs. Rotating them to new pasture is quite a process and usually takes about 30 minutes.

But that work time allowed me to watch purple martins dip and roll through the sky. I listened to red-winged blackbirds and western meadowlarks sing, and I heard woodpeckers tap, tap, tapping their way through the woods.

Singing Prairie Farm is brimming with life these days. We hear wild turkeys and coyotes daily, and consider each one a blessing — yes, even the howling wild canines. A hundred kinds of birds fill the air with their song.

The Prairie here, quite literally, sings.

Our family farm is in the northeast corner of Missouri. The land here is an ocean of small rolling hills and creeks interspersed equally with cattle pasture and timber. There is not a truly flat spot of ground within walking distance of my kitchen table.

Our pigs run over about 50 acres of ground. Each year we raise about 250 pigs on pasture in a way that is careful of existing wildlife, sequesters carbon, enriches our grassland ecosystem, and offers a level of respect and caring to the pigs that we would want if we were them.  

We raise our pigs in groups of 35 to 50; currently, a single strand of electrified poly-wire, hung about 18 inches off the ground is enough to keep them in the correct paddock. We rotate them when they have eaten all the grass and fertilized the run sufficiently for the year. That grazing process typically takes about a week. In the cool of spring and fall, we keep them moving about the prairie. When the heat of summer descends upon us, they move into the woods where the breezes are cool, and there is plenty of shade.

singing prairie farms naturally raised pigs

Moving them isn’t a very cumbersome process. I simply move the pigs’ feeders, waterer, and rain shelters into the new fenced run. Then, I lift up one of the tread-in fence posts that hold the electric wire so they can easily run beneath. The moment the wire goes up, they usually hesitate briefly, remembering that just a second ago there had been an electric wire in place. Then the “alpha” animal usually leads the “run,” as they wander over to the feeders which are full of about 8 pounds of 100% non-GMO grain. Quite often there are trees in the run for them to scratch their backs on. There are always acorns, worms, grubs, grass, roots, and clover to eat during the short transition.

Raising pigs this way allows the pigs to live happily, while also letting them get plenty of exercise. It allows pigs to experience life naturally and happily in a mostly stress-free environment. They spend their ample free-time mostly eating grass. This consumption of grass is what is so good for us, the humans.

One day we will harvest these special, sacred animals and consume them. In the roundabout mechanics of our digestion, we will replace the old, worn out cells of our bodies with the new fresh cells of their bodies. The realization that one day their flesh will be my flesh and that their blood in some small way will become my blood creates a unique bond. One that can never be dismissed or taken for granted.

At times like this, I think of the Lakota Sioux people. As Native Americans of the Northern Plains, their lives revolved around the buffalo. Its hide, its bones, and its meat were their mainstays. Their culture would not have thrived in that arid and cold habitat if not for their relationship to the buffalo. The fact that they required the buffalo to survive made them approach the species with sacred reverence.  

Today, it’s important to pause to recognize the sacredness of all the food we depend upon to build and fuel our bodies. Let’s all take responsibility to care for both plants and animals in a tender and respectful way.

There is a simple beauty each day in raising pigs naturally here on Singing Prairie Farms.



Inspirational farming in America: Polyface Farms

Working with ButcherBox has enabled our farm, Singing Prairie Farm, to provide sausage from pigs we raise to more people than we could have imagined.

As ButcherBox has exploded with popularity, the demand for our products has created an opportunity for us to source meat from other family farms that share our strict standards. We are excited to announce that the East Coast sausage, which will be part of December’s ButcherBox, will be sourced from Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

For me, the opportunity to collaborate with Polyface Farms has been like meeting your favorite rock star from childhood.

When I started farming on my own, someone gave me a book called Pastured Poultry Profits, by Joel Salatin. At the time, I was working on an organic vegetable farm but wanted to diversify our offerings by adding pasture-raised meats. I read the book many times until I understood the principles and then began a slow and steady push away from raising veggies and towards livestock production. As the years passed, my family’s farm moved away from pasture-raised poultry to pasture-raised pork, which is our specialty today.

Joel — and his son Daniel — remain some of the most inspirational and creative farmers I know. Polyface Farms first gained acclaim in Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Joel’s enthusiasm for radically transparent poultry processing — as well as innovative farming philosophies — helped to create a renaissance for the sustainable family farm.

Here’s an excerpt from the Polyface Farms’ story to give some insight into how Joel and his family healed the land they remain stewards of to this day:

In 1961, William and Lucille Salatin moved their young family to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, purchasing the most worn-out, eroded, abused farm in the area near Staunton. Using nature as a pattern, they and their children began the healing and innovation that now supports three generations.

Disregarding conventional wisdom, the Salatins planted trees, built huge compost piles, dug ponds, moved cows daily with portable electric fencing, and invented portable sheltering systems to produce all their animals on perennial prairie polycultures.

Today the farm arguably represents America’s premier non-industrial food production oasis.

Now, years after reading Joel’s book, the story comes full circle for me. We get to work directly with Joel and Daniel to provide ButcherBox customers with some of the most radically sustainable pork in America. We hope you find the pasture-raised revolution as delicious as we do.

John Arbuckle is a guest contributor to Roam. He is the co-founder of Singing Prairie Farms.

Image via  White Oak Pastures' blog.

White Oak Pastures, getting sustainable farming right

White Oak Pastures is a farm outside Bluffton, Georgia where some of the pork sausage that ButcherBox distributes is sourced.

When it comes to farming multiple species, White Oak Pastures has it figured out.

Recently, I caught up with the farm’s marketing director Jenni Harris, the 5th generation of the Harris family to farm at White Oak Pastures, and she explained a bit of what makes her farm tick.

“My family has been farming here since 1866,” Harris said. “Back then, we farmed only beef cattle which we sold in Bluffton, a town about a mile north of here.”

“Over the years, we evolved to be the farm that we are today. We raise ten animal species —five red meat animals and five poultry,” she explained.

How does that even work? I’ll let Jenni explain. “It’s our belief that having all those animals following each other around the farm creates the same sort of synergies that you find in nature. In other words, they help each other grow and be comfortable.”

The pigs at White Oak Pastures are also a special breed that lives in the forest. “Here in Georgia,” Jenni said, “pigs don’t want to be out in the sun…They get too hot! So our pigs live out in the woods. They dig around and eat brush and roots as well as our unsalable eggs (raised by pastured chickens), local peanuts, and 100% non-GMO grain.”

But for Jenni Harris, the White Oaks Pastures’ mission is bigger than creating great, naturally- and humanely-sourced meat.

“When people ask me what my favorite thing about our family’s farm is, I like to tell them that we want to fill the countryside with farmers!” she said. “Imagine a whole world of middle-class farmers? We are trying to make it happen right here.”

“We started out as a farm full of cowboys,” Jenni said explaining the evolution of her family’s farm. “As we grew, we turned into a farm full of both cowboys and farmers. Then we grew some more and turned into a farm full of cowboys, farmers, accountants, graphic designers, chefs, and educators.”

That’s a pretty great family business right there.

“That’s our vision for the American countryside,” Jenni added, “with agriculture leading the way.”

John Arbuckle is a guest contributor for Roam. He and his wife run Singing Prairie Farm in Missouri, which supplies ButcherBox with the farm’s signature Roam Sticks as well as pasture-raised pork. John was featured earlier this year in Roam.