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home : most recent : retail - food June 24, 2016


10/20/2013 11:53:00 AM
Cass County hog farmers selling to niche market in Kokomo
A 10-day-old market hog strolls around the pen while the rest of the litter naps. Staff photo by Tim Bath
+ click to enlarge
A 10-day-old market hog strolls around the pen while the rest of the litter naps. Staff photo by Tim Bath
Angie and Mark DaWalt stand in their farrowing house alongside one of their breeding sows. Staff photo by Tim Bath
+ click to enlarge
Angie and Mark DaWalt stand in their farrowing house alongside one of their breeding sows. Staff photo by Tim Bath

Scott Smith, Kokomo Tribune staff writer

The pigs up at Angie and Mark DaWalt’s A&M Farms are happy little critters, with clean straw and the freedom to forage.

The free-range pigs don’t grow quite as fast as pigs from confined feeding operations. But that’s OK with the DaWalts, who sold their pork at the Kokomo Farmer’s Market this past season.

The Royal Center couple are dedicated to raising heritage breed hogs from farrow to finish, meaning they bottle feed the piglets if necessary, and shelter and feed them until it’s time to head off to their final destination.

“It’s very important to us that all the animals are treated with respect and kindness, so we do all we can to keep them happy, healthy and in a stress-free environment,” Angie said.

They say you can taste the well-being of the pigs in the rich, hearty, well-marbled meat.

The hogs themselves are rare breeds, more closely related to European wild pigs as they were hundreds of years ago than to modern breeds. The breeds are rare mainly because they don’t do well in confinement; at the DaWalts, that’s not a problem because the hogs can browse for apples and pears in the family orchard. The DaWalts say the meat is steroid-free and free of antibiotics.

This is the fifth year for the farm’s hog operation, and the purveyors credit encouragement from family and friends for convincing them they were headed in the right direction.

“When the economy started heading downhill, Mark’s construction job slowed down, so we decided to start marketing our product and expand since we could devote more time to the farm,” Angie added.

Her parents pitch in at farrowing time, but otherwise, it’s a two-person operation.

“When raised naturally, like we do it, they take longer to gain weight because they aren’t confined with an endless supply of grain in front of them,” she said.

Sometimes the hogs take twice as long to reach market weight as a hog from a confined feeding operation, and the DaWalts must continually work to balance tree plantings, food plots and mowing to accommodate the pigs.

Heritage breed hogs, she explained, are social, enjoy being outside, and like nothing better than to wallow in a mud hole or lounge in the shade of the trees. Some heritage breeds, the DaWalts say, are in danger of being lost forever.

Small farmers providing meat for niche markets are using heritage breeds to supply a group the DaWalts call “choosy consumers who want to eat healthy, great-tasting meat that was humanely raised.”

“We have two breeds of heritage hogs on our farm,” Angie said. “The Tamworth, also known as the ‘bacon pig’ which was introduced into North America from England around 1870 and is now considered threatened in the United States, and the Large Black Hog known for its tasty, well-marbled meat, originated from Chinese breeds then brought to England around 1800.”

They’re both pleased by the reception for their meats at the Kokomo Farmer’s Market this past year, which was their first as market vendors. Next season, they say they hope to do even better.

“It’s fresh, quality meat you won’t find at any supermarket,” Angie said.

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