Embracing change

OK so confession. I like change. Thank goodness, because there are several big ones this year so far: pig breed, butcher and butcher date, estimated weight, and a small price increase.

Change of breed

As I mentioned in the last post, instead of Berkshires this year I'm raising purebred Idaho Pasture Pigs (IPPs). I myself have never eaten IPP pork, but it's reputed to be very red in color with excellent fat marbling and currently popular with consumers who buy local pork directly from farms.

So far, the Berkshires and the IPPs seem to share a fascination with playful destruction.

Change of butcher and butcher date

I have bad news for my customers who've loved Butcher Dave's pork  the past couple years. Butcher Dave has decided to retire. We thank you for your service and will miss your pork cuts and cures (especially your country sausage).

For those of you who've followed the farm journey since 2018, you know that the worst part about raising farm-to-table pork has been the butcher shortage. We reached a point a couple years ago when it was taking about 18 months to secure a butcher date--well before the pigs were ever born. On the other side, one older third-generation butcher told me he was on the verge of going bankrupt a few years ago. Younger folks wanting to get into the market found the startup and regulatory costs prohibitive.

But in the past couple years, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) has given out some grants to improve meat processing facilities, ODA is now allowed to inspect at some facilities instead of the USDA, and some younger folks have taken over processing facilities from older retiring folks.

Almost every year I have gone to the ODA website to get a list of licensed custom meat processors, and this year I saw some new names and so new possibilities.

Besides length of wait to get a butcher date, there are two other important factors in my selection of a butcher: their responsiveness to me and my customers (because they should want to talk to you, the buyer, to make sure they understand your order and answer any questions you might have) and the quality of their work, especially their cures.

For this year I've decided on Holy Cow Meats, based in Holley (near Sweet Home). This custom meat processor is associated with both an iconic former meat processor called Chuckie's in Holley-Wood and the Sweet Home Meat Market and Smokehouse, which just opened last year. I don't know all the details of who owns what and how they interact (though there's a detailed article in the Lebanon Local), but Chuckie now handles the mobile slaughter, Holy Cow processes the meat, and the meat market is a retail seller of meat processed for them by Holy Cow.

I've spoken with all of the parties involved and tried a sample of Holy Cow's bacon-infused pork and all passed muster with flying colors! I'm looking forward to working with them this year and hope my customers will enjoy the interaction with Holy Cow Meats as well. Butcher Isaac says he wants to talk to each customer before he processes their order.

So we have a slaughter date set for the first week in December, and usually processing takes 2-3 weeks, so count on delivery shortly before Christmas. Like last year, I'm happy to provide free delivery of orders from Eugene up to Portland, or you can pick up yourself at the plant in Holley if you prefer. More butcher information as we get closer to the date.

Change of estimated weight

The IPPs have tripled in size in the last couple months. Unlike other grazers, pigs require supplemental nutrition with grain, and the IPPs race to the feed bowl like any other breed:

pig icon

Segue: If you'd like to see competitive pig racing, have a look at the League of Pigs Youtube channel. Warning: May lead to binge watching!

Back to size. Based on reports of hanging weight for the breed, I'm estimating the hanging weight at 100 lb. for a half share, which is the weight the butcher takes after slaughtering and dressing the pig. It's the weight that determines the farmer share payment and partially determines butcher pricing. A hanging weight of 100 lbs. for half a pig would estimate to around 80 lbs. of take-home packaged meat. See the how-to-buy FAQs for information about how much space that would take in your freezer.

Probable price increase

The price of feed has already gone up this year, and there's no prediction as to whether it will go up again. My piglet purchase cost also went up, and these two factors are at least 90% of the share price I set. The past two years I've been able to hold the price stable, but there will be a modest increase, most likely to $6.50/lb possibly a bit higher. I'll have a better idea by the end of summer when I start taking reservations and deposits.

I reduced the number of pigs I was planning to raise this year because of the uncertainty about the economy and the fact that my customers last year got more pork than they'd planned on (that glut of apples, pears, and acorns!) so they probably wouldn't need any this year.

However, I've had three past customers who've already made verbal commitments for a half share, so if you think you want pork this year, please contact me sooner. That doesn't obligate you to buy; it obligates me to contact you before the general reservation/deposit announcement goes out so you can get first dibs.

Dotty, Lightning, Creamsicle, Sunshine think any bucket must have food.

Quotes and Trivia

“Exercise is what makes muscle tissue juicy. So, you know, if you think about for example on a chicken, the breast meat is tender but dry, the loin, the drumstick is tender but moist. A cow, you know, or a pig, the tenderloin’s a little bit dry but it’s real tender, but the moisture is in the shoulder, you know the Boston butt, the cow it’s in the chuck roast, that’s what moist. And so succulence requires exercise that’s what moistens the muscle. In fact, my father-in-law used to raise pigs like everybody around here back many many years ago, and all the old-timers built their piggeries with a 24-inch-high threshold, making the pigs have to jump up in there, and that jumping up in there to get food exercised their hams and made their hams more moist, and that made them more succulent. So a lot of the difference in quality here is not just being able to eat grass, and not inhaling fecal particulate all the time, it’s also actually getting the exercise that creates more succulence in the meat, and that also makes it more dense. We’ve done displacement tests with our meat compared to what comes out of the factory farms, and our meat is heavier per square inch, which indicates muscle tone, density, as opposed to flab. You know when industry said ‘Pork the other white meat’ they should have said ‘pork, the other white cardboard tasteless flabby junk meat.’ So our pork is actually rose colored because of the green material and the carotenes in what they’re eating.”

— Joel Salatin, 2020 Youtube video

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