Pulling up to C & D Family Farms in Knox, Indiana, the last thing I expected to find was a lush, expansive forest filled with pigs. Forest pigs. The porcine paradise of shaded swine was awaiting us (us being my sister, Kim, brother-in-law, Bob, and their kiddos, Simon and Louie), after driving two hours southeast of Chicago to attend CSA member appreciation day held at the farm. Yes, there are meat CSAs.
The pigs roamed, rooted, nursed and grunted to the sweet smell of grilled pork, bratwurst, pulled pork, pork burgers, bacon burgers and more, all made from their siblings. Under the trees and amid the mud, 200+ pigs are fenced in with wire fencing, but generally have run of the woods–which they took advantage of as soon as the on-site band started playing “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. More than 40 large pigs sprinted from one end of the lot to the other trying, unsuccessfully, for a prison break.
The farm, which is owned by Crystal and Dan Nells, is a true labor of love. The couple moved to their house in the woods years ago, and decided that they wanted to find a way to earn a living off of their land. After much research, they decided to breed, raise and sell hogs. “You gotta like their shit,” says Dan, pointing to his pants, which are, indeed, covered in pig shit. Dan went on to say that he yells at people all day during his day-job, but the pigs? “You don’t have to yell at them,” he said. You speak quietly and they listen.
The pigs ranged in size from tiny squealing piglet to intimidating 800-pound boar. Allow me to indulge you in some fun facts:
* Light skinned pigs get sunburned, and forest pigs are protected from the sun.
* Pigs can live for about nine years.
* They breed continuously from the time they’re sexually mature.
* With all the pressure and expectations mounted on them, boars often experience ED so artificial insemination is common.
* The pigs go to “market” at about 5 and a half months.
* The runts and the babies who get injured are actually the lucky ones. The Nells take them into their home to nurse them back to health. They often strike up a liking for the critters, so those are the ones who are destined for breeding–rather than bacon.
* If a piglet is rough while nursing, it’s mother will stop feeding it. It’s then separated into a different pen and fed goat milk (see, humans aren’t the only species who drink the milk of another species.)
It was refreshing to see pigs living such a nice (albeit short) life, and it was great meeting the Nells–salt of the earth folks with a penchant for pork. This is how they describe their farm on their website: “Our philosophy is simple, we are all on this earth to live. While they are going to become food we want them to live the best and most comfortable life they can while they are here. Just as we are trying to do. You can taste the difference love makes.” Can’t beat that, can you? Love tastes like bacon.