May 18, 2017
Heritage Pigs Put North Carolina Beef Grazier In The Clear
by Will Winter, DVM
MORGANTON, North Carolina: About ten years ago, when grassfed cattle producer and entrepreneur, Pride Sasser, of the rural mountainous area of North Carolina first brought heirloom pigs to his state, everyone thought, “Man, that’s like hauling coal to Newcastle!”
The Carolinas, especially the hilly, wooded parts were already pig country. But back then, Pride didn’t even want pigs as an enterprise, he merely wanted a landscaping tool that could transform more of the acres he owned into grazing land for his herd of Japanese-born Wagyu cattle.
The area around Morganton, North Carolina, is basically suited for one crop, hardwood trees for making furniture. For over a century there was a lumber mill and kiln every half a mile, and all this beautiful wood went to town where skilled craftsmen turned it into some of the best furniture in the world.
When that local industry tanked, mostly due to cheap Asian furniture imports, the trees were still growing but were no longer managed and the woods fell into disrepair. Soon weed trees and shoulder-to-shoulder saplings took over.
Pride, who is also an artist and furniture designer, had experienced a life changing chapter of his life when he lived and studied furniture design in France. There the grazing cattle have three basic types of foraging options. These are: open meadows, hardwood savannas, where there are a few trees interspersed with grass, and then deep woods where they can find shade and shelter.
When Pride saw the beauty and utility of hundreds of years of French cattle-rearing history he thought, “ Hey! I can do this at home!” which years later he proceeded to do.
His Wagyu cattle were purchased during a brief window of time when Wagyu importation was legal. The Japanese Wagyu breeds actually came from European Brown Swiss, Shorthorn and Devons, which were crossed with basically four main older breeds of indigenous Japanese cattle. The Wagyu are famous for their extreme marbling when longfed in a feedlot but Sasser has been able to figure out how to make a good Wagyu product with 100 percent grass finishing. But, this is an article on his pigs, so back to the woodlands.
Pigs Can Turn Brush Into Pasture
Pride was able to find really good pork bloodlines of Large Blacks, Gloucester Old Spots and some Red Wattles. These English breed forest hogs were turned loose in the woods and were rarely seen. A high-quality mash and mineral mix was provided, which could be consumed whenever the pigs felt they needed it. A double strand hot wire fence at about 6 and 18 inches was generally all that was required to keep them in the near vertical pastures.
The only factor that remained as a potential problem was over-grazing, too much disruption of the soil and cover above it. After all, pigs have a plow on the end of their nose. Close observation and appropriate rotations are always essential with outdoor hog management. This is of particular concern when there is extreme topography. Otherwise, naked hillside dirt will soon be on its way down to the creek bottom then on the way to the sea.
Before long, hogs of all sizes, shapes (mostly round) and colors were swarming over the Sasser hills. Simultaneously, the horribly-overgrown woods transformed
themselves almost miraculously into excellent cattle pasture!
The pigs rooting had “awakened” the ancient grass seed bank that resides in almost all such overgrown ground.
Now the Wagyu graze less-pressured meadows, munch grass in the shady savannas and are free to hide in the deep woods to calve, get away from flies, or just relax. Oak trees abound in these woods, another bonus for the hogs!
Removal of the pesky pine saplings by the hogs allows the big oaks to produce more acorns. This farm has gone from being less than a third usable for beef production to virtually 100 percent of all acreage being in full production. How’s that for a pig story with a happy cattle ending?
You can check out what they are currently doing with the heritage hogs and grass-finished Wagyu cattle at rockhousefarm.info. ■
William Winter is a holistic herd health consultant and livestock nutritionist in Minnesota. You may reach him at grassfarmersupply.com or firstname.lastname@example.orgRead More Articles