by Jo E. Prout
Pig production runs the gamut
Greene County farmer Bitta Albright is entering her fourth season in pig production, after starting with only two to raise for herself.
“They’re very addictive. You can’t just have one pig,” she said. “We enjoy it. Oh, my gosh! I started with two for meat for my freezer. We got one a boyfriend. She had 13 piglets.”
Albright’s husband, Bill, is retiring from dairy farming and now keeps beef cattle, who share pasture with Bitta Albright’s pigs.
“I’ve got six acres I pasture my pigs on,” she said. “They’re not too aggressive with the cows. They’re very mellow-natured. They pasture well together. The pigs will eat the weeds the cows won’t eat.” Her pigs eat poison oak, horse nettles, and poison ivy, she said.
“They rut the land – it aerates the land,” she said. “They will go out in the wild and make their own nests, and farrow out there. They have six to 14 piglets in a litter. The gestation is three months.”
Albright’s pigs also have access to fenced woodland, a spring-fed pond, and barn shelter.
“They’re friendly, and smarter than a dog. Good fencing is the key, and keeping them well fed, or they’ll be gone!” she said. “You fool them once. That’s it.”
Describing the pigs as self-regulating, Albright said her pigs farrowed outdoors last winter during the coldest February in years, choosing their own place rather than the cozy barn.
“They eat hay, pasture grass, and grain,” she said. “They have excellent night vision. They run out in the woods. The woods are fenced with electric to keep the pigs in, and predators out.”
“You have to set it up right,” she said. “We have set it up to work for us.”
“Water is the key to every animal. With fresh water, they will grow well,” Albright said. “A pig will drink five to 10 gallons of water in the summer.”
In six months, Albright’s pigs will be 250-pound animals. Her large-animal veterinarian visits twice a month, but Albright’s pigs rarely need restraint – she feeds some grain to the animal being treated, gives him a belly scratch until he is comfortable, then the vet is able to examine the pig, she said.
“We are small farmers. If you have only a few animals, they have to be friendly. We’re too old to chase them!” Albright said. “They must be friendly so you can handle them, and check their hooves and teeth.”
“If they’re not friendly, they’re going down the road,” she said of sending a pig to the butcher.
“There are no micro pigs,” she said. She raises Yorkshire and Hampshire crosses, and the heritage breeds, Red Wattle and Berkshire pigs.
“The Berkshire is known for dark meat and marbling,” she said. “The Yorkshire is the number-one breeder in the country for commercial for bacon – it’s longer. The Hampshire is known for ham.”
The Red Wattles are known for their meat’s fine texture and for their fast growth, she said.
“I like to cross breed them,” Albright said. “It gets you a little stronger animal, and gives you a healthy, strong piglet that grows in six months – you get more for your money.”
Types of production
Sows can have one or two litters per year, but Albright generally breeds hers once.
“Every sow is different,” she said.
Sales of her pig products are seasonal, she said. Piglets are popular in the spring, when small farmers buy them from her and take them home to raise for six to eight months, before putting them in their freezers. She sells a dozen or more piglets each year at market price, generally at $100 per piglet.
Customers also purchase fully grown pigs from Albright, and order custom butchering included in the price. A pig will take up four square feet in a freezer, she said.
“Not everyone wants to breed pigs,” she said. “For some, it’s easier to buy piglets and raise what you need.”
Her pigs will be between 100 and 175 pounds hanging weight after they are butchered, she said. She does not let them grow too large, or they would have too much fat on them, she said.
Her pigs are given no hormones, medications, or vaccines.
“Mine are pastured,” she said. “It makes for a very hardy animal.”
“I use a USDA-certified butcher I found on the USDA website,” Albright said. “Always get someone who is recommended. Ask fellow farmers.”
Albright drives her pigs to a butcher in Stanford, New York.
“It tastes different. It’s just awesome,” she said of her own products. The bacon is leaner than bacon bought in grocery stores, she said.
Customers can order jowl bacon, regular bacon, Irish country bacon, or Canadian bacon. She does not use nitrate-smoked processes.
“It has less salt, and they get a better flavor,” Albright said. “I eat it myself. It’s delicious.”
Grocery stores can add solutions to meat for better coloring and flavoring, she said.
“Read the label on pork chops. It’s not all pork,” she said. “There’s no pork chop that looks so pink and juicy that you buy in the store.” Cooking store-bought meat causes it to shrink down, she said.
“Our stuff doesn’t shrink. You get what you pay for,” Albright said. “People who bought my meat have come back.”
“Locally grown pigs – farm to table,” said her husband, Bill. He takes care of the beef side of their farm, while Bitta sells directly to customers both from their farm and at farmer’s markets. She frequents the closest to her, in Coxsackie, each Wednesday.
“If you’re looking to be a homesteader, this is the best thing to do. Pigs till the land, eat weeds, and forage the woods,” she said. “Once you’re in a routine, they’re very easy to take care of.”
She makes sure her pastured pigs are friendly, scratching them and talking to them as she gives them grain.
“It’s all how you treat your animals,” she said.
Jo E. Prout is an award-winning journalist who resides in Greene County, New York. For more information, find Albright’s Farm on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Albrights-Farm-321728647994894/