Apple-finished pork, only available in the fall!

If you’re a neighbor, you may have seen our gigantic apple trees. These trees have been here for decades, feeding farmers, then cows, bears, deer, and birds. There are three different varieties: Gloria Mundi (big green), King of Tompkins County (the two on the corner of Phillips and Shambrook), and Wealthy (little red/yellow striped). We harvest as many apples as we can for pressing (juice available at our farmstand, Saturday 9-11), and the rest we feed to our pigs until they’re all gone.

Spring apple flowers

Our pork is not the same as you’d find in the grocery store – there’s more marbling, and a thicker rind of vitamin D-rich fat on the edge. Heritage breeds, a varied diet, fresh pasture, and the Sooke sun&rain work their magic on our pork; our butcher completes it through careful cutting, smoking, and brining. Our pork chops are thick-cut, for juiciness, and our hams usually have a bone inside, so you can finish enjoying your ham by adding the smokey flavoured bone to beans or soup.

But apple-finished pork.. there’s a reason that’s a thing.

Want to try some? We have no sides available right now, but you can order packages for the next few weeks. If we sell out, we’ll close up our farmstand for the winter, but we may have enough to keep going for a little while.

House of Piggo

I have noticed that, often, people will show the beginning of the process of installing a new system, but not the whole thing. I’m hoping to give you a couple of mid-process snapshots, and then eventually a retrospective, talking about how it’s working and how it changed from our initial plan.

You may remember from a previous post that we are working on a solid pig rotation system. (Here! https://castironfarm.ca/2023/03/21/pig-pasture-version-5ish/). We are aiming for something is a little less haphazard than we have been doing. We keep our pigs on grass, and previously the pasture location has been more determined by where we want to get blackberries removed, or where is easy to move pigs next, instead of in a solid system that is easily repeatable. Now that there are no more blackberries in our closer fields, we decided to put the pigs in a nice holding pattern, so that when we have work for them, we can move them out, but they’re also ok to stay put.

In our initial design, we planned to have our pastures done partly with permanent fence, and partly with electrics, but we decided instead to do the whole back in electric fence and to transition to permanent fence if it became necessary. Let’s hope that was a good idea! So far, it means that the sheep can access the pig field because they aren’t at all bothered by electric fencing.

We are mid-construction with the house, and the pigs are quite cozy in a truck canopy until they get access to their new digs. Their old house, is literally “digs” – they dig themselves a nest under the canopy, we give them hay for bedding, and when I go out into the field when it’s dark, I can hear them softly snoring in their earth-sheltered home.

“The Tail End of Breakfast”

These pigs have been delighted to welcome our ram in to eat with them. Initially I was concerned, because the pigs seemed to be trying to taste poor Miguel, but they quickly sorted out who had which armaments, and now they eat together. Pigs get bored, if things are always the same, and the ram gives them something new to think about. He is kicking our white tape electric fencing, though, on his way through, so we may have to fence him out if the pigs decide he’s giving them a good escape route.

We are overseeding and watering our old pig pastures, with the idea that each set of pigs will go through each pasture once or twice, with a couple of months of recovery time in between visits. We aim for not much bare soil, but the pigs have different goals, and love sticking their noses in the ground and seeing what they find there.

We are seeding our pastures with a mix of grasses, including sheep pasture mix, winter rye, buckwheat, clover, field peas, and vetch. As the seed grows, we are also finding volunteer tomatoes and squash, planted by the pigs!

Closer to finished! Open for ventilation on top, and oriented so that pigs get the morning sun but are sheltered from the south and west sun. Buy some pork, help us buy metal for the roof? We love scavenging material, and are really pleased to say that we have recycled, refurbished, or found everything that was used for this shelter except for the fasteners (probably even some of them!), but we have not yet succeeded in finding a way to do that with roofing metal.

So! So far, we have learned (again) that projects often take a little longer than we planned them to. We learned that overseeding pig pasture works great, except that buckwheat looks a little like bindweed (and caused me a tiny panic). We have learned that mill offcuts are great for animal shelter walls, if we rip the edges so they’re more straight. We learned that pigs and rams don’t mind eating together (the pigs get a lot of veggies, and that’s what the ram is after) but that the ewes and lambs are (understandably) too nervous to share a dish with pigs.

All learning, all good. We’ll have sides available in 6ish weeks, so we’re taking orders for large and/or special things now. We’ll have all the usual things available in a couple of weeks. Got any questions? Send us an email: <castironfarmsooke@gmail.com>.

Life of a pig at Cast Iron Farm

Our pigs live happy, outside lives from the moment they come to us. Our aim is to have pigs able to express their whole piggy nature: they have earth to dig, friends to play with, sunshine to bask in, and a warm place to sleep.

We get our piglets primarily from a small breeder in Cedar, who has her pigs on a large green pasture with access to a pond. Babies are born in a barn, to keep them warm and safe, and are kept with their mother until we pick them up at about 7 or 8 weeks old. The mother is free to move around as she pleases within the barn, unlike in big commercial operations. The piglets are a Berkshire Hereford cross, which we find make lovely pork – not too fat, not too lean. When these piglets are not available, we have a list of small breeders that we check with to make sure that we have our piglet needs taken care of: all these breeders have strong, healthy pigs that live outside.

When we bring our piglets home, we find that the best housing for them is the canopy of a pickup truck stuffed with a couple of bales of hay. The piglets love nesting in the hay when they’re sleepy, and when they want to play they run in through the side window of the canopy, and out the front, around and around. So cute! We give them primarily kibble when they’re younger, and as they get bigger we transition them to grocery store seconds: bruised fruit, with bread soaked in milk or yoghurt are favourites! We feed them apples from our trees in the fall, and they eat some of our hay in the winter and spring.

Our piglets grow to market size in about 3-4 months. As they get too big for their baby house, we move their sleeping spot into our barn, where they have nice clean hay to nestle into. We transition them to new pasture once or twice while they’re with us, and they are always so happy to have something new to explore. We flatten and mulch over areas that the pigs have left as soon as we can manage, so that soil is left bare for the least amount of time possible (given the limits of a 24 hour day filled with competing priorities!). We are currently working on planting chestnut and pecan trees around some areas that will be in permanent rotation as pig pastures. These trees will provide shade, nuts for people and pigs, and help to hydrate the air during hot summers by bringing water up through their roots and out their leaves. Plus, carbon sequestration! Trees are magic.

When it’s time for the pigs to leave us, we work to keep things as easy as possible. We transport them in a trailer that they have gotten used to sleeping in, so everything is familiar. We close them in the night before, so there is no concern about stressing a pig trying to figure out how to load him when he doesn’t want to go. In the morning, when the pigs would usually still be sleeping, we drive them for less than half an hour to a small, friendly abattoir in Metchosin, where they are met with a calm barn, and the sounds of some other pigs quietly socializing. Pigs are curious, and usually leave the trailer quickly to see what is going on. The staff assure me that everything is quick, calm, and professional, and that the pigs have just one surprising moment at the end.

Running a small farm is a labour of love, and we started pasturing pigs because we learned too much about grocery store pork to feel comfortable feeding it to our families. I am very happy with the evolution of our pig systems, and feel that the world is a better place due to the work we’re doing.

I hope that you can taste the sky, earth, and sun of Sooke when you try our pork, because it’s all in there.

Pigs Headed Out!

Our latest batch of pigs have just headed out, and they are looking great!  These two sows are a Duroc/Hampshire+Landrace/Yorkshire cross, and they came to us from a large pig breeder in Alberta.   The pigs are a mix of quick-growing commercial breeds, and Danish Landrace are well known for their length and excellent bacon.  These pigs are long and lean(ish), and should make excellent pork.

Usually, we like to buy local piglets, but there were none available to us this spring.  One strange thing that happened due to these piglets coming from a large breeder: their tails are docked.  This is common for large pig operations, because pigs that are kept together in higher concentrations tend to get a bit neurotic.  Sometimes, a pig will chew on the tail of the pig in front, resulting in infections and injury (which no one wants), so the solution that the large pig producers use is to dock all tails, which causes the end of each docked tail to be exquisitely sensitive.  If a docked tail is chewed, the affected pig will immediately remove their tail from the zone of chewing.  Our pigs still wave their tail-stubs around when they are especially happy, it just looks a little odd.

These pigs have especially enjoyed: fried chicken, and having the hose turned on so they can decide to run through the spray.

We will be accepting orders for sides from these pigs until August 12th, and thereafter will be accepting orders for freezer packs.  Any pork that is left will be sold in individual pieces at the Sooke Country Market on Saturdays.