Natasha Kryger is an Urban Agriculture student at Morinville Community High School. This article is part of a series written by students enrolled in the Urban Agriculture course.
Pigs, we all know what they are bred for: ham, bacon, ribs…Yum! We love to eat pigs but we seldom stop and ask, “Where was this animal raised?” “How was it treated?”
On October 20, the students in Morinville Community High School’s Urban Agriculture class visited Belle Valley Berkshires, owned by Ron and Karen Sobeys. Belle Valley Berkshires is a small pig farm operated five minutes west of Morinville. Ron and Karen raise Berkshire pigs, a heritage breed that is raised mainly for the quality of their ham.
The pigs are fed a complete feed from Champion Feeds. The feed consists of barley, wheat, and oats. A nutritionist also helps determine what supplements are needed within the pigs’ diet. The Sobeys also feed their pigs vegetable scraps, and because the pigs are raised outdoors, they are free to graze on whatever is in their pen. I was fascinated to learn that the pigs aren’t fed an all-wheat diet, as this would create too much fat in the pigs. You may think that the pigs would freeze during the winter, but the pigs are given straw to burrow in. The straw acts as an insulator and keeps the pigs warm in the frigid temperatures.
Ron and Karen have three sows and a boar. The sows usually produce two litters per year; this is a fair amount as a Berkshire’s gestation period is about 114 days. Each sow can produce about 10 litters in their lifetime and usually grow to a weight of about 400-450 pounds.
I learned that sometimes a piglet is born with a ridgeling. This is a birth defect in males where one teste remains inside the pig. The procedure to fix this is very expensive so these pigs are often destroyed. Piglets born with defects are ended with a process known as thumping. Thumping is when the piglet’s head is slammed with great force against a hard object. The pig doesn’t suffer because the farmer makes sure to do it right the first time.
Males born without defects are castrated at 2 days or no older than 6 weeks. They are castrated because when they mature, the testosterone would taint the meat and leave a strong odour. At 6-8 weeks, the pigs are weaned off their mothers and begin to eat the feed. I learned that the pigs were raised for about 180-190 days or about 6 months. At that time, the pigs generally weigh 260 pounds and produce a 90-95 kilogram carcass. The pigs were sent to Country Quality Meat Cutting, in Bon Accord for slaughter. I was astounded to learn that not all facilities slaughter pigs with the same process. Quality Meat Cutting uses a bolt that hits the brain of the animal whereas Sturgeon Valley Pork, another facility near Morinville, now out of business, used to use nitrogen to asphyxiate the pigs.
The students in Urban Agriculture bought three of these pigs, creating six half carcasses to butcher. Kyle of Darcy’s Meats, brought the carcasses to the school. On the trip to Belle Valley Berkshires, I learned the important process in going from piglet, to pig, to plate.
This blog post is written by Morinville Community High School teacher Neil Korotash. This article is the first in a series that his students will be sharing over the school year. Follow their urban agriculture adventures here!
Over the next several months, Urban
Agriculture students from Morinville Community High School will be posting various articles in this space. These students will be sharing with you some
of the field trips and activities that they are participating in around the
County as part of the new course. You’ll be able to see through the student’s
eyes what they are learning about gardening, agriculture, local businesses, and
the sustainability of our food system.
The course, new to MCHS and the region, is
designed to teach students in a hands-on way some of the homesteading skills
that seem to be less and less commonplace these days. Students are learning how to grow food
including everything from raised vegetable beds and cold frames to hydroponics
and everything in between. These skills
are then connected to Foods credits where students learn to pickle, butcher,
cure, and make homemade pastas and breads.
Some of this year’s activities will
Chicken – We’re very fortunate to have several students who raise chickens in the County and a visit to the Krupa farm will allow students the opportunity to kill and butcher their own animal. Students will also be visiting Tri-West Poultry and a local egg farm to fully understand how these birds go from farm to our table.
Pork – Similar to the chicken experience, students will buy pigs from Ron & Karen Sobey’s Belle Valley Berkshires and visit to learn about pig farming. Nestor at Country Quality Meats will then dress and split the pigs so that students can butcher them, and learn to make their own bacon, ham and sausage.
Small scale crop production – Students will continue to learn how to grow indoor greenhouse crops such as basil and mint and sell those at local farmers markets and retail outlets. Currently, MCHS grown fresh basil & mint are available at Morinville Sobeys!
These are but a few examples and others
activities will include pressing apple cider at Sprout Farms or picking pumpkins and
enjoying some farm fresh ingredients at PrairieGardens!
This will be the second year for the course
and we have had tremendous support from businesses and farms in and around
Sturgeon County and Morinville. Major
sponsors include Sturgeon Valley Fertilizers,
Champion Petfoods, and MorinvilleSobeys while the County and the Town have been very supportive as well.
We hope you will check back often to see
some of the great things that are happening in the County and how MCHS students
are learning all about it!
This course continues to evolve and we are
always looking for new and exiting ways to teach the students about their food,
healthy eating, and sustainable living so if you have any ideas or suggestions,
please let us know! I can be reached at MCHS by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone
Sturgeon County Bounty is a Sturgeon County Economic Development initiative, aimed at providing local producers, chefs and processors with an opportunity to promote and expand value-added agriculture in the region. more
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