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Vermontville farmers raising woolly pigs and more

October 27, 2017
By GLYNIS HART - For the News (news@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

VERMONTVILLE - Once nearly extinct, a woolly pig that originated in Hungary is thriving on a small farm in the Adirondack Park.

The Mangalitsa pig, which stands out for its curly white hair, was developed in the mid-19th century for its hardiness and rapid growth, but with the rise of refrigeration in the mid-20th century, economies of scale in pig farming began to crowd out such specialty breeds. By 1991 there were only 200 of the pigs in Hungary.

However, a changing food culture that values small local farms has picked up the Mangalitsa and blessed it. A Spanish company bought the last of the breed and began promoting them, and then other countries took notice. Since the first Mangalitsas arrived in the United States in 2007, the hardy hobby-farm pig has become a favorite with chefs for its fat. Gourmets contend that it's the fat in meat that gives it flavor, and the well-marbled meat of the Mangalitsa is flavorful, indeed.

"I call them land seals," said Aaron Caiazza. With his wife Kelly Cerialo, Caiazza runs Kate Mountain Farm, where they raise Mangalitsas as well as other pigs, turkeys, ducks and chickens.

"They produce something like a six-inch layer of back fat," said Caiazza. Although he provides the pigs with shelters for the winter, on their own they rarely put themselves inside. The cold doesn't bother them, he said.

If you go shopping on the internet, a pound of Mangalitsa bacon runs around $16 a pound, with lesser cuts going for $8 a pound. Chefs prize the meat as "the Kobe beef of pork" because of its tenderness and flavor. Natural food enthusiasts laud its health benefits because, when the pigs are raised on a natural diet, Mangalitsa pigs produce monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

"This is a natural environment for pigs," said Caiazza. Caiazza leads a tour of the farm with a bucket of corn to toss to the 40 or so pigs. Groups of pigs, separated by age, root in different pastures. Mangalitsas and other breeds, mainly Berkshire, are mixed together.

"They don't see well. They don't sweat, so they need the shade of the trees," he said. "The trick is to treat them - to treat all animals - with respect. They're just bossy sometimes."

One far pasture has only four pigs in it, including Happy, a Berkshire boar kept for breeding. Happy lives up to his name, coming to Caiazza for a scratch and a pat.

Fortunately, Happy, who probably clocks in around 300 pounds, isn't aggressive. Caiazza and other pig farmers, who trade stock in order to maintain genetic diversity, keep an eye on the pigs' temperaments as well. If a sow or a hog is aggressive or difficult to handle, that one goes to bacon rather than breeding.

At Kate Mountain, the pigs are doing what pigs like to do best: rooting in the soil.

"We rotationally graze so we can densely control their impact," Caiazza explains. They'll set up an electric fence around new pasture and let the pigs at it, "ideally, for five days."

The pigs eat everything they can find, shoveling up the soft black soil with their busy snouts, and girdle the trees. Caiazza lets the trees dry standing for firewood. When the pigs are moved to the next spot, the one they were in begins to turn green. Because the pigs are fed whole grains, seeds survive the digestion process and begin growing grass and other plants once the pigs move on.

Although the main purpose of rotational grazing is parasite control, it has multiple benefits. The foraging pigs eat a natural diet of wild plants supplemented by feed. Chickens come in and clean up behind the pigs, eating bugs and seeds, so the chickens are foraging and healthy as well.

A side effect is that wildlife appreciate the cleared grassy areas, too. Although the farm has had "a little bit of a fox problem," the freely roaming poultry seem to be holding their own. Caiazza notes that a moose likes to wander through from a nearby pond: "It's in his pathway." White-tailed deer come in to graze the cleared areas.

"The goal is to make the property productive," said Caiazza. Kate Mountain Farm is entering its fifth year with 9 acres under cultivation and a new greenhouse for growing vegetables. With typical farmer caution, Caiazza anticipates an "official" opening next year, when they plan to put a sign out on State Route 3. For now, the only way to find the farm is to look for the greenhouse.

Most pork sold in the United States comes from pigs slaughtered around four months old. For commercial hog farmers, rapid growth is a moneymaker: more meat for less feed. Pigs raised by huge commercial growers like Smithfield grow rapidly due to a combination of genetics, corn and soy-based feed, plus a growth stimulator, ractopamine. Naturally raised pigs take more time to gain full weight, with the Mangalitsas being "finished" around 15-18 months. Although they don't require a lot of feed, the added time for growth means Mangalitsas eat up to 40 percent more.

Although the limited availability of certified organic feed means Kate Mountain can't certify its pork as "organic," the farm is currently applying for a humanely raised animals certification. They do some meat processing on the farm, but most goes to a certified slaughter facility in Ticonderoga.

Meanwhile, local chefs already know about the Kate Mountain Farm pork. Along with other locally sourced products, Mangalitsa pork can be found on the menu in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid at Fiddlehead Bistro, Bitters & Bones, Big Slide Brewery and Top of the Park.

 
 

 

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