Picking pigs

Heritage breeds may help small farmers succeed

Inch is a runt Berkshire shoat (piglet) from GirlFarm now being raised at Urban Roots.

Inch is a runt Berkshire shoat (piglet) from GirlFarm now being raised at Urban Roots.

Photo/Sage Leehey

To find out more about Nevada farmers, visit nevadagrown.com.

Heritage livestock breeds are animal breeds that were raised by farmers more frequently prior to big, industrial agriculture. Many of these breeds have gone extinct, and in sustainable agriculture, there’s now a movement to preserve those that remain.

Wendy Baroli of GirlFarm/Grow For Me Sustainable Farm believes that heritage breeds present a great opportunity for small scale Northern Nevada farmers.

“Hopefully, everyone will pick a breed and help bring it back,” Baroli said. “It would be wonderful to say that Northern Nevada farmers have cornered the market in unique, heritage meats and things like that because that’s what we can do here.”

Nevada has some challenges with agriculture, but it also has one asset that could help make local farmers succeed with heritage animals.

“One thing we do have is land,” Baroli said. “Even if we don’t always have a lot of water, we have land. And that gives us the opportunity to do animal husbandry a little bit better. … We have challenges with produce because of our shorting growing season, but there’s some things that we can do with heritage animals that could really tie us to this local food and heritage breed preservation. It could put us on the map in terms of food if we stop trying to compete with big ag and make our own niche.”

Baroli preaches this to local farmers whenever she can. On her own farm, she raises all heritage breeds—pigs, turkeys, laying hens, cattle, sheep. And several local farmers are doing similar things. Sunny Day Organic Farms in Stagecoach raises heritage pigs and Nevada Green Barn Farm in Dayton raises heritage turkeys, for example.

Heritage breeds are not compatible with big, commercial agriculture, which is why they’ve been going extinct over the years, but there are a lot of advantages to using these breeds in smaller operations.

Baroli raises Berkshire boars on her farm. One of these heritage pigs—a runt named Inch—is currently being raised by Urban Roots Garden Classrooms for a friend of the farm. Berkshire boars are especially great for Nevada because they need to graze—and Nevada grows a lot of alfalfa and hay—and they’re black and don’t sunburn like the pink pigs of big ag do. Pink pigs often need more antibiotics as well, which is a growing concern in our meats.

“And we’re assuming that it’s just randomly happening, and no one’s really paying attention, but the reason that they use antibiotics in a lot of these animal feeds is because pink pigs sunburn, and they get diarrhea,” Baroli said. “When they get diarrhea, it’s called scours. When they get scours, they die. So to prevent that, it would really be smart to bring back these heritage breeds that are adaptable to certain climates or certain regions. …

“There’s an amazing opportunity, and you don’t have to raise 500 of them to do well if you pick your market. So for small farmers, it’s a great way to make a name for themselves. Restaurateurs understand it. Consumers who actually care about flavor are starting to understand it. And it’s something that can differentiate us in the big market where they compete on pennies, we can actually compete in dollars.”