By Helen Brody (April 7, 2013)
“I like living in the woods” says Donna Abair. “No one bothers me,” And, besides, my son has given me a calling here.” Son Raymond, when he was age seven, found the size of the horses that were Donna’s childhood interest big and intimidating. Pigs became his animal of choice to show at the Merrimack County 4H competitions, and he did well; he has a myriad of blue ribbons posted above his farmhouse desk.
As college age approached, being a full-time farmer had lost its appeal, so Raymond decided he wanted to be a firefighter, and 235 miles off the farm he went to attend the University of New Haven to study public safety.
But then, what to do with 30 sows and a thriving piglet business while Raymond was away at school? His mother, Donna, had always been in the wings to help when she was available, but driving a school bus between Grantham and Lebanon took time as her “off the farm job” and she enjoyed having the fried egg sandwich each morning at Grantham’s Rum Brook Market before taking off. Her son’s pork business, however, was doing well, so she decided if she cut back on the number of sows, she could continue to work and manage the farm.
Raymond had been raising three different breeds, the Berkshire (black), which is the most popular in New Hampshire, the Landrace (white) and the American Spotted. After a test taste, only one person could tell which breed was best“so why not choose the easiest and the most fun to raise,” she said. So American Spot it was.
Originally from Gloucestershire, Old Spots, as they were originally known in England, were nicknamed the “orchard pig” as they could most often be found in orchards scooping up windfall apples. Their clearly defined black spots give them their name, and the spots’ size and clarity are major factors in competitions at the Deerfield Fair where Donna shows each year.
An added benefit to “being fun to raise” is that they are “good producers.” Half her business is in the sale of piglets, but she cautions (to the pigs), that to remain on the farm, they must produce–ten saleable piglets twice a year. And she is a tough task master. “To stay here they gotta behave.”
In addition to raising piglets, she keeps four replacement gilts (pigs that have never been pregnant), five sows for breeding, and two boars. The gilts Donna shows at the Deerfield Fair before breeding them and keeping them on the farm.
A clear advantage of the American Spots is that, although they remain in the barn at night to be safe from coyotes and coy dogs, they happily wander the fields outside, winter and summer, snow storms and heat. “As long as there is food, they seem to be unconcerned about weather,” says Donna.
The pigs move from field to field, clearing land as they go, leaving the family with exquisite lawns. Donna screensthe soil that the pigs have fertilized and sells it for lawn plant food. The woods are open to the pigs as well to dig up stumps. “Put corn around the stump and they will pull out most of the stump.”
Donna believes grain is a must in supplementing the grass diet they get in the fields. Otherwise she says, “I have no way of monitoring their diet. By not skimping on grain, I know they’re getting the proper nutrients.”
As an active member of the New Hampshire Pork Producers’ Council (www.nhpork.org) Donna is working to increase the membership. “We have great posters, recipe cards to hand out at farmers’ markets, and general information available, but pork producers are an independent, “go it alone group,” so the organization’s membership is a very small percentage of the farmers raising pork in New Hampshire. Donna respects their feelings, but at the same time feels thatto have a vibrant industry, everyone must work together.
And Raymond? He continues to help his mother when he is home and there are hopes that he will return to farming someday. Until then Donna is the custodian of the pigs.
Abair Family Farm Contact:
95 Hazzard Road
North Springfield, NH 03284
Retail: (direct to the customer) Danbury Winter Farmers’ Market (Saturdays)
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