Thursday, February 21, 2013

Our Own Pigs


This year we decided to try raising our own winter pigs.  My brother did this last year, and we were inspired by his example, so when he was buying piglets from a friend, we bought two as well.

We're not vegetarians, you know.  Nothing against being vegetarian - my husband's parents are both vegetarian and he grew up on a vegetarian diet, and I was a vegetarian for one year in college.  But now he has no interest in being a vegetarian, and I have discovered that with my elliptocytic anemia (a rare genetic blood disorder which involves making blood cells that are the wrong shape and are inefficient oxygen carriers) my physiology makes vegetarianism feel bad.

Lots of people are not vegetarians, and they apparently have no trouble going to the grocery store and buying cuts of meat that they bring home and cook.  Even knowing what so many of us know about factory farming models, people continue to buy meat that comes from animals raised that way.

So it is confusing to me that people who can be comfortable doing that are uncomfortable with the notion of eating an animal that you raised yourself.  Our pigs have lived a good life, with lots of room to run around, sunshine, belly scratches, good healthy food, etc.

Yes, we're all a bit sad that on Saturday the butcher is coming.  We've opted for a home visit, so they don't have to travel, get stressed out, or really know what's coming.  They'll go quick and painless.  Then we will have well-stocked freezers, which we hope will keep us supplied for almost two years (we only eat meat once or twice a week).  We do not plan to raise pigs again next year, but will instead do turkeys.  It's possible that in the future it will be every other year alternating pigs and turkeys.

And we'll get more than just the meat - the area they've been enclosed in is now completely fertilized and rooted up.  We'll plant it with a cover crop (which our chickens will then get to free-range over and will enjoy immensely) then next year when it's not so "hot" we plan to plant a blueberry patch there.

If you are going to eat meat, it came from animals.  I think it's important that my children see that.  I think it's important that we all see that.  Maybe it's the fact that everyone wants this to be "out of sight out of mind" that lets us ignore conditions that we should never be willing to see any creature live in.

I hope I'm not upsetting anyone, but this is reality.  For the last six months I've felt more than a bit judged, even a bit ashamed.  In front of many people, we can't talk about having the pigs.  Right now, as we are all thinking about the end, this doesn't feel right to me.  No one I know feels like they can't talk about getting the occasional hamburger.  OK - I do know a lot of vegetarians and for them they wouldn't talk about getting a hamburger.  But I've felt like even the meat-eaters are saying that raising our own is a step too far.  It's not a step too far - it's the step that needs to be inseparable from eating meat at all.  (Not that everyone has to raise it - just that everyone has to realize where it came from and care about the life of the animals).


  1. i’m sorry you’re getting flack. it’s extremely common in farm country and you wouldn’t be judged at all, just envied. :)

    people are a very odd mix. they anthropomorphize animals and then shut their eyes and wince away from knowing how they’re treated at factory farms. it makes it hard to have these kinds of conversations, and it makes it hard to engender change, too, i think.

    but kudos to you — it looks like you’re doing it right. :)

  2. I am sorry that you've had to feel bad about raising your own meat! We've raised both pigs and meat chickens, cooperatively with one of my brothers, many times...and we'll have the pigs on our property again this spring. Our family is not vegetarian either, although I do have extended family members who are. I believe that if we're going to eat meat, I DO NOT want to buy the stuff that's in the store! So, good for you!

  3. We are vegetarians, but if we did eat meat, I'd really want to raise our own, if we could. I think what you're doing is fantastic - and what a learning experience for your children.

    Enjoy that bacon - it's the one thing I really miss as a vegetarian :)

  4. I've been lacto-vegetarian for 25 years and my husband is 95% vegetarian/flexitarian, so we discuss the "meat" issue frequently. . .especially since he grew up hunting and fishing.

    Unlike a lot of vegetarians, I've come to respect hunters and fishers more than most meat-eaters, because they let their meat mature in the wild and take full responsibility for the fact that in order for an omnivore to eat meat, an animal must be killed.

    My husband and I like to watch a PBS cooking show where one of the chefs raises (and presumably eats) his own swine. We admit that this would be hard for us to do, but if we both wanted to be full-time omnivores and had the land, we could imagine ourselves making a deal with a neighboring farm: each farm would raise the same number of pigs/cattle/buffalo, feed them the same diet, and provide a similar barn/barnyard setup. When the time came to butcher, we'd eat our neighbor's animals instead of our own, and vice versa!

    Some of my relatives were farmers who raised animals in the pre-"factory farm" era, and I suspect if they were still living, they'd be appalled at contemporary feedlot practices.

    I don't eat eggs, which have always been high on my list of "yuck" foods for aesthetic reasons. However, during the past few months my husband has taken to eating eggs weekly instead of occasionally. We buy organic eggs at our food co-op. They cost more than supermarket eggs, but they're not only relatively free of animal cruelty, he says they actually taste better!

    I admit: sometimes I miss fish. . .

  5. My husband and I are both deer hunters, and I've also raised and eaten various animals, mostly chickens. It certainly gives you a whole different appreciation for your dinner, when you knew the individual it came from -- even if you only met her at the moment of her death, in the case of the deer. I always feel sad at the death of an animal, but I'm also grateful that they had a good life.
    We have also taken a lot of flack about it, often from hamburger-munching friends, or young relatives raised on Disney movies. We regard that as an opportunity for education, and I've found that a friendly but blunt approach works best. As for vegetarianism, I could never consider that because I also have anemia, but in any case, there's no way to raise vegetables without killing animals. (We used that as a topic for a small group discussion at church -- it was great!)
    By the way, be careful about putting chickens on land used by pigs. I've read scary stuff about how viruses can mutate between pigs, humans and chickens. I've never raised pigs, so I haven't looked into it, but maybe you could get information from your vet, or the CDC, on whether viruses can stay viable in pig manure, or if they can only be spread from one live animal to another.