I fear that is a question seldom asked these days.
Here at Magdalen Farm it is a question we have dared to ask. I say dared because it is one that often seems to arouse controversy and always seems to amount to interesting looks from 'real' farmers.
What is our job as farmers? Somewhat counter-culturally, we have decided that our job isn't to simply accept the modern ways of raising animals and of growing a garden. Rather, we feel called to ask what an animal is and what a plant is and how we as stewards of creation are called to tend it.
As stewards of a pig, there is no more important question to ask than what is a pig. As Joel Salatin has it, what is a pig's pigitas or pigness? Were pigs created with a high-powered bulldozer of a nose so that they could sit in cages? Were they created with the instinct to run and play and socialize, so that we could be confined shoulder to shoulder and rump to rump?
We have honestly considered the question. It is certainly easier, cheaper and faster to raise pigs in a feedlot operation. Why do you think store-bought pork is relatively cheap? But does the feedlot do justice to the pigs lofty calling of living out its pigness? And, as farmers, does it do justice to our calling to be stewards of creation?
Our answers to these questions have led us to a revolutionary -- revolutionarily old -- method of animal raising: pasture-raised livestock. To watch a pig root around in the dirt, trot around and butt its powerful head into the sides of its peers, and find a shady spot to nap in the heat of the afternoon is to see a pig in full expression of its pigitas.
The system of pasturing our animals that we will be employing is something called rotational grazing (RG). The idea of rotational grazing is that you put larger animals on a paddock of pasture first to eat down the grass and disrupt the ecology and then you send in the chickens to eat down the bugs. All the while all of these animals are depositing a compost-able fertilizer that Monsanto could only dream of creating. Obviously, the danger is to overgraze your pasture, but with our small numbers of animals even our relatively small pasture will be plenty large for four pigs and 30 hens.
Right now the pigs are training on the electric fencing. Without electric fencing rotational grazing would still be known as nomadic swinehearding. We enjoy the stability of a fixed residence, so we went the electric fence route. Plus, the public grazing lands seem to be a bit limited in scope at the moment.
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