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Raising Pigs in Pastures

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Emily Harold on her farm, Natural Oak Pork

Iowa produces about 50 million hogs per year, and at any one time, there are approximately 20 million pigs being raised in Iowa. Yet, driving across the state, it’s rare to see any pigs outside, as most of the state’s pigs are raised in hoop houses or concentrated animal feeding operations.

In this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe chats with two Iowa farmers who raise their pigs in the pasture.

“Initially it was a cost-driven factor because it was a lot more economical to put a-frames up than it was to put up a confinement building, but as I got further into it, I became more and more satisfied with the quality of care in life I was giving to the pigs,” says Niman Ranch farmer Ron Mardesen, owner and operator of A-Frame Acres in Elliott. “I really like the interaction of the pigs being pigs; I like to see the interaction of the little pigs and the mom. I really enjoy my job.”

Emily Harold is a high school senior at West Branch, raises show pigs, and she is the owner and operator of Natural Oak Pork. She started the business when she was 14-years-old.

“Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a cowgirl. I wanted to ride horses. Then my dad presented a check and said, ‘Here, this is what you’re going to buy your show pigs with,’” she says. “I got show pigs instead, and I am so, so thankful for that.”

Mardesen says that while raising pigs outside presents more of a challenge in the winter, and they go through feed and bedding quicker than major commercial operations, he wouldn’t do it another way.

“I’ve always said too, that it’s a whole lot more glamorous to haul feed and water than it is manure,” he says. “We need to continually work to come up with opportunities for people to market their pork, just like Emily’s doing with hers, and show them that you can indeed make this a viable farming operation.”

Raising Pigs in Pastures
Charity Nebbe's interview with Chef Terrie Kohl
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Later in the program, Chef Terrie Kohl joins to talk about her new cookbook, "Bringing Friends & Family Back Around the Table.”

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa