Abra told us more about Bare Kuckle Farm. In their second year, Abra and her business partner Jess branched out into livestock. I learned a lot about how raising animals can support a healthier farm ecosystem by disrupting insect populations that can damage crops instead of using pesticides.
Our neighbor was an organic fruit grower and there was a study being done by Michigan State University about whether or not we could integrate hogs into orchards to help mitigate some pest issues. There are two bugs, plum curculio and codling moth, that our organic fruit farms have a hard time with. Some of the most toxic stuff that fruit growers will spray on their fields is actually after a harvest to kill any larvae that’s in fruit that’s sitting on orchard floor. What are the other options?
They’ve done a lot of work with running turkeys and hogs through orchards. Turkeys don’t tear up the land as much as hogs do. Man, it was amazing. We raised them on pasture until June drop of apples, then we’d run them through the apple orchards to eat up all of the fallen apples, and then move them into cherry orchards after cherry harvest which happens mid to end of July. Then when apple, pear, and chestnut harvests were over, we moved them into the orchards afterwards.
Now our farm manager John Harvey opens up new pasture with them because they root so much that they really tear up the soil. I think traditionally pigs were used to open up new farmland. Then after a section of the garden is spent you can run them through. When you’re digging potatoes inevitably you miss about five percent, give or take, and the hogs will go through and find all of those.
We have sort of an inadvertent animal husbandry accident/success where the hogs kept getting biting flies because they can’t reach between their shoulder blades. So you would get these biting flies, they suck the blood and then they lay eggs, so it becomes like, a real irritant to the hogs. It doesn’t affect the meat or anything, but it’s just like a mosquito.
But we also had several years of chickens that we combined into the same pen. Normally you keep different years separate because certain diseases will live in a population and it doesn’t affect that population but if they mix with the new population then you spread disease or whatever. We combined them all and they all hated each other.
One little flock of birds really took to living with the hogs and you would see these hogs, lazy in the middle of the day, and the chickens would be on their backs and catch the biting flies or pull out the larvae. They were helping drop this pest for the pigs and the pigs liked it. We always had issues with foxes and skunk or weasels getting into the house killing the chickens. Those chickens were never bothered because no fox is going to go into a pig house. Pigs are like, 300 pounds and they smell so strongly. Other animals leave them alone.
Growing food is what Bare Knuckle Farm is all about, and the pigs they raised are no exception. This is where they ended up.
Rob [Levitt from Butcher and Larder] has been very generous and has always bought hogs from us, so he’s seen the variation from year to year. Last year they had a ton more chestnuts and acorns because Jess’ dad had all these acorns. He was collecting acorns by the five gallon bucket and bringing it up to these hogs, so their fat caps were really different than in other years.
Vie and Perennial both bought some, Lula has bought them in the past, a handful of other places around. We also mostly sold them to families. The place where we would have them slaughtered in Michigan is USDA certified so we could sell across state lines. They would cut and process for families that would buy it.