15 March 2010

A visit to TLC: a real ranch, with real pigs, and real pig sex

Today Carolina and I took a trip out to Aromas to visit TLC Ranch (Tastes Like Chicken), where I get eggs at the farmers market every Wednesday.  It was an unbelievably perfect day (a common California phenomenon) and the ranch was overrun by hundreds of new piglets.  And here's the best part: the piglets were running, playing and suckling, like real piglets.

A running piglet looks a lot like a puppy, with wildly flopping ears and a clumsy stop, sometimes tumbling into piles of other piglets.  Unlike most pigs in the country, who are raised exclusively inside and whose tails are cropped so that other pigs don't chew them off after they go insane (true story), these pigs looked like, well, pigs.  It warmed my heart.  And the chickens?  They looked like chickens!

The piglet in the picture above looked like a calico cat to me, so I asked TLC co-owner Rebecca about it.  She told us that at TLC they have just begun to breed their own pigs, and they've decided to mix a lean "bacon" breed with a fatter "lard" breed to get the perfect mix.  Both breeds are rare and shipped from out of state.  The bacon breed is classic pink with a grumpy temperament, and the lard breed is spotted like a dalmatian and a little more considerate.  For example this latter breed will lay down slowly, getting on its knees before flopping over sideways, thus avoiding crushing its own piglets.  The combination of coloration made for a rainbow of piglets, like the one suckling in the photo.

Last year, TLC farms was raising 5000 chickens.  But this year, the US (guided by the lobbies of Big Chicken no doubt) decided that outdoor chickens got salmonella from wild birds and required that any farm over 3000 birds keep their chickens inside all the time.  So TLC has cut down their flock to 2999.  Appalling.  Like farms that actually keep their chickens outside are the ones with sick chickens.  Give me a break.

After we toured the farm and hiked to the top of the property to visit the bovine lawnmowers, the owners invited us to have a beer in the barn.  They were laid back and friendly, and very cool people.  We all bitched to each other about Big Farming and unsustainable eating for an hour and Carolina and I each bought some pork chops.  And then we went home.  I'm pretty sure I want to drop everything and become a farmer.  It was so beautiful, and so peaceful.  Sitting among wandering chickens and the squeals of piglets enjoying a Tecate, I was as contented as the boars below, relaxing in the shade after a hard days work.  By the way, their work is to have sex with the sows. Like, real sex.  Something you would never find on an industrial farm, where artificial insemination is the norm.


Jacquelyn said...

Aside from the castrating and culling, being a pastured pork farmer is pretty great. Glad you got a chance to experience what really lights the fire in a farmgirl...

Karina Buck said...

I think you might be happier as a science communicator who frequently visits farms for bitch and beer sessions.

zbuck said...

I don't think that's true. Most small farms have outreach programs, newsletters, and community classes. A small farm is a perfect place for science education, especially informal: think class field trips and short internship programs.