Dilemma of a Vegetarian Pig Farmer
"I didn’t even eat pork."
Before water pumps and tinacos and motorized transport, the ancient Maya somehow grew enough food on this thin, rocky, drought-prone soil to feed a population at least double its current size. How did they do it? How did they feed such a populous advanced culture while we can’t survive a month without food imported from all over God’s green earth?. Why does this matter? And what does it have to do with a vegetarian’s reluctant plunge into pig farming?
It’s All About Food Security
I was intrigued by the agricultural genius of the ancient Maya but even more impressed by their resilience in the centuries after the civilization’s collapse. What fruit and vegetables did they depend on through the hard times? What animals provided protein? Which are still in use and how can we make sure we don’t lose them to coca cola and choco rollos? One answer reared it’s muddy head while I visited a traditional Maya village in 1999. It was a dark grey, hairless, long-snouted “box kekén” or black pig. It was nearly extinct, I was told, and had previously been part of every rural Yucatan household. I may have been intrigued at the time but would never have thought I’d want to be a champion for this underpig.
One Busy Boar
A few years ago I enthusiastically bought 9 box keken piglets for a neighbor who was interested in raising them. Unfortunately they ended up back in my care in 6 months. I had no urge to raise pigs. I didn’t even eat pork. But there I was, unloading 9 new critters to root and roam on my farm while I returned to finish high season at my eco-hotel. By the time I turned my attention back to the farm, piglets were popping out everywhere. Looking out over a sea of 38 dark grey pigs and piglets I said the words all novices regret:
How Hard Could This Be?
They had ample space to forage. There were food scraps from the restaurant and rice bran for bulk. Months were spent googling and studying benevolent pig farming. Yucatan pigs: history; diet; forage; intelligence; free range; playground; humane slaughter. There were experiential learning opportunities too, like the time we let them out to free range and lost them. We found at dusk in the neighbor’s corral having been nabbed while pigging-out in his corn field. Oops.
So I enlarged their corral to one acre, improved their shelter, expanded a cooling pond and mud bath and built a large feeding trough to minimize crowding and conflicts. Farmer friends urged me to just truck them all off to slaughter and I knew I couldn’t afford to maintain them into old age. But surely there were alternatives. I studied the guidelines for humane slaughter. I read Temple Grandin’s books. I talked to farmers who raised and butchered their own livestock. Finally, I felt satisfied that I could provide not just a pleasant life, but also an easy death, free of fear or stress. When their time comes I must still remind myself that each pig that lives and dies at Rancho Regenesis is one less that suffers in a factory farm and dies in a slaughterhouse. It also means that people who eat meat have the choice to eat “clean” meat with a clean conscience.
Lee Christie of Rancho Regenesis is currently omnivorous, focusing on home and locally grown organic foods. She will not be restocking the pigs after herd numbers are down. The last few will live in semi-retirement, loosening rocks and compacted soil on the farm and just being pigs.