James Ranch, Durango CO

james ranch market durango

Last Friday we were driving from Durango to Silverton and Ouray (on an incredibly scenic road–if you are in the area, do it), and just north of Durango we saw a sign for James Ranch Market: Open Saturday. It being mid-April, farmers market-type places are in short supply, so we happily returned the next day to check out the James Ranch offerings. It’s a gorgeous property, with rolling green fields dotted with cows, a mobile chicken coop, picnic tables, and a little burger hut serving their own beef and cheese, in addition to the shop selling the farm’s products. We were disappointed that we’d already had breakfast so didn’t get to try a burger, but we did buy some ground beef, flank steak, and eggs, and strolled the grounds hoping to spot some baby animals.

james ranch food cart durango james ranch durango cheese james ranch durango meat cooler

James Ranch raises beef cows on a 100% grass diet with no chemicals or hormones. The beeves (a new word to me since spending time out West and I love it) spend their entire lives with the family herd in a stress-free atmosphere. The dairy cows and goats also live on grass, or rather leaves, bark, and shrubs for the goats. Pigs are new to the farm, living in herds on pasture, able to root and wallow like pigs do. Chickens are pastured too, happily eating fly larvae from cow pies to keep the fly population in check–and they have a guard donkey to protect them from predators!

james ranch durango picnic area james ranch durango pasturesjames ranch durango pastures james ranch durango

The James family practices sustainable agriculture in preserving soil and water quality, and believes in transparency in farming: they encourage consumers to visit the farm to see where the meat, eggs, and milk come from and how the animals are treated, and if you have questions about the animals or the meat, they are happy to answer them. It’s how a farm should be!

james ranch durango james ranch durango grass fed beef

Babe(s) in the Wood

Here is the first guest post from the fabulous Ewe-nique!

Since the HPs, Cheenius, Mr. Dr. Cheenius, and the Tiny Twosome were all off to more exotic locales over Labor Day, it fell squarely on my shoulders to ensure that at least one of us attended the 2014 “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour. I accepted this self-directed mission with gravity and pride. In fact, I was so stealthy in my plan that the whole thing was unbeknownst to HP until I sent her this guest post and begged to be featured.

Meet Yer Eats

For those not familiar with the “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour, it is an annual Central Virginia event where a number of local farms roll out their welcome mat and offer the general public the chance to explore and “meet” their food sources. As an avid cook, locavore, and conscientious (i.e. picky) eater, I think that we can all benefit substantially by learning about and being aware of where our food comes from.

I must admit that my choice of farm this year was driven by an ulterior motive. As a longtime vegetarian, and more recently a pescatarian, I’ve been considering including other meats in my diet again for the past few months. However, one of my chief objections to the carnivorous lifestyle has long been the manner in which the consumed animals are raised and slaughtered. Thus, I decided to truly meet my eats and visit Babes in the Wood, a farm out in Dillwyn, Virginia that raises free-roaming, forest-foraging pigs.

The drive out to pastoral Dillwyn was winding, warm, and sunny. I’d been out VA-20 South many a time, but never this far south. I knew that I had ventured into uncharted territory when I passed a larger than life inflated chicken outside of an establishment called Lumpkin’s.

Since this was a solo expedition, I played one of my favorite alone-time games on the drive out: Rockin’ Road Name Revue. Believe me, people get creative on the backroads of Virginia. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but here were my top favorites:

  • Troublesome Creek Road (That pesky creek is forever making mischief.)
  • Little Heaven Road (Leading to a trailer park, but… perhaps a reference to the Tiny House movement as chronicled by the Tiny Twosome on HP back in June?)
  • B-A-H Road (I can only assume this name is in reference to sheep or that it is one Bad Ass Homestead.)

I arrived at Babes in the Wood in time to wander around before we began a tour of the farm. In addition to sighting the piggies from afar, I also ventured over to the chicken coop and a small barn where there were a few calves hanging out.

Farmyard scene

Bill Jones, the owner and founder of Babes in the Wood, took us on an excellent hike in the farm woods, where he answered a bevy of questions from our curious group. Here are the highlights of what I learned:

  • Bill raises English Tamworths, a breed that is well suited for forest life. The Tamworths have a lovely red coat and enjoy foraging for their food.
  • The sows give birth approximately twice a year (although if a sow had a very tough birth or large litter, Bill will only breed her once during that year), and the average litter size is eight piglets.
  • The pigs are fed at the farm once a day, and then are free to forage as they like throughout the forest.

Forest scene

  • Quite a few of us were eager to know how Bill keeps track of his pigs since they are free to wander. The simple answer is, he recognizes them when they arrive for the daily feeding, and if they don’t show up, he goes looking for them.
  • Unfortunately, I did not bring my pen and paper, so I don’t recall the exact number of pigs that are currently being raised on the farm. The numbers tend to vary with the seasons. However, Bill does keep the number proportional to the acreage of the farm (only two to three pigs per acre). If there are too many pigs per acre, their extensive rooting for food exposes the roots of the trees and can cause the trees to fall.
  • The pigs are approximately 12 to 15 months old when they go to slaughter.
  • Pigs are considered ready for butchering based on their weight, with about 300 pounds generally being the desirable weight.

Whilst traipsing through the woods, we kept keen eyes open for Kevin Bacon, the farm’s boar, but he regrettably did not show his snout. Bill mentioned that Kevin had decided a day or so ago that he was going into the woods and not staying in the pen. Apparently, one cannot persuade a 400 pound boar to change his mind if he has other intentions. Another fun fact: Kevin will grow to approximately 1000 pounds!

On our forest tour, we wandered down to a creek in the woods in hopes of sighting a few pigs, the creek being one of their favorite hangouts. However, the piggies must not have been in the wallowing mood, because we did not spot any near the creek. We did see a large sow hanging out in the woods by herself, and Bill mentioned that she had been feeling under the weather for the past few days. During this conversation, I learned that the primary health risk that his pigs face is pneumonia. The onset of the condition is sudden, and the pigs can die within three days of showing symptoms, so it must be caught and treated quickly. Thus, Bill had been keeping a close eye on this girl.

sick piggy

As our hike drew closer to the farm’s estate, we found many pigs hanging out near the farm’s fence. Many of the older pigs were relaxing, quite sensibly, in the shade of the trees, while the younger ones were cavorting together in a large group.

pig digs

Though the pigs are somewhat skittish around visitors (there was a lot of oinking and running away as I drew near), they are very social among themselves and establish a clear pecking (or perhaps porking?) order that lasts throughout their lives. The pigs are no stranger to putting a fellow pig in his or her place, and sometimes squabble amongst themselves to enforce this social hierarchy.

I’d like to present an analysis of the traits that can determine an individual pig’s status within his or her drove:

pig trait analysis

Toward the end of the tour, I got down to the nitty gritty and asked Bill about the manner in which his pigs are slaughtered. Interestingly, Bill is not allowed to slaughter and butcher the pigs himself if he is going to sell the meat to the public. Instead, by law, he must have the pigs processed at a USDA-approved facility. Hearing this initially raised my hackles a bit, but after I received the full story, my worries were abated.

Bill, as I mentioned, knows his pigs by sight. Every few weeks, he identifies the ones that are ready to be butchered and catches them (which is usually just the case of closing the gate when they come to the farm pen for their daily meal). The pigs then spend a few days in the pen, where there is plenty of space and lovely mud to wallow in, so that they can get used to the enclosed quarters.

mud wallow

When it is butchering day, he personally takes the pigs down to Blue Ridge Meats, his butcher in Front Royal.

Bill mentioned that his butcher is certified humane, but as we both agreed, like “certified organic”, “certified humane” can encompass a variety of abattoir environments and practices. Here’s the skinny on what goes down for the Babes from the Wood:

  • The pigs are slaughtered individually, and the other pigs are not exposed to the death of their fellow animals.
  • The pigs are killed with a single shot to the back of the neck/head, and then they are bled out and butchered. I thought that the “shot” was an electrical shock of some sort, but I forgot to clarify, and after doing some Internet research, it might also be a captive bolt gun. The common alternative to this practice is that the pigs have their throats slit and are bled out while they are still alive and, quite literally, screaming.
  • At Bill’s butcher, on a really, really, busy day, they may butcher up to 20 pigs. Contrast that with a typical commercial factory farm, which may slaughter thousands of pigs per day.
  • I checked out Blue Ridge Meats’ website post-tour, and was pleased to see that they clearly support and adhere to the humane butchery of their animals.

Thus, in my opinion, if you are trying to source humanely raised and slaughtered pork, you need look no further than Babes in the Wood. These are happy, healthy pigs who are extremely well cared for and have the chance to lead a natural, piggy lives before they are butchered with consideration and compassion. [Ed: And Mr. HP assures you that Babes in the Wood pork is DELICIOUS. You can get a sandwich at their tent at Charlottesville’s Saturday City Market, in addition to buying packaged meat.]

Having exhausted Rockin’ Road Name Revue on my way out, I found time on the drive home to reflect on my visit and compose a few pig-related haikus, also known as hamkus:

meat on cloven feet
bacon, ham, sausage, pork are
names for pigs we eat


My dear porcine friend,
I’m glad you had a good life
up until the end.

And with that, I’ll turn, appropriately, to the words of Porky Pig to sum up this post: “Th-th-that’s all, folks!”

happy pig

Temple Grandin on Pigs

I recently finished Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin. She discusses what different types of animals need to be happy, and how to improve the living conditions of pets, livestock, zoo animals, and wildlife. Below are some of her thoughts on pigs. Read cow thoughts here.


  • The winters in the Midwest are brutal, and pigs born in the winter could be lost in snowdrifts in the old system, so the mama pigs had to be kept inside. This led to the invention of gestation stalls where a sow is kept confined during her entire pregnancy. The sow can lie down and stand up, but she cannot turn around… Basically, every time the pig industry comes up with a solution to a problem, the solution costs so much to implement that the industry has to intensify production — raise more pigs on the same amount of land — to stay profitable… Most of these improvements have lowered the emotional welfare of the pigs. (p. 176)
  • Unfortunately, the industry continues to prefer hard technological solutions to soft behavioral or management solutions. Keeping sows locked up alone saves on labor and training because it takes fewer employees and a lower level of skill to manage sows in sow stalls than it does to care for sows living in pens. (p. 179)
  • The worst thing you can do to a pig is to repeatedly mix and remix small groups of strange animals together. (p. 179)
  • So far, no one has found anything that can compete with straw for a pig’s interest and attention… The solution for limited supplies of straw is to use straw exclusively for enrichment, not for bedding. (p. 186)
  • You have to handle pigs gently because they’re more excitable than cows… The lactic acid levels in their muscles skyrocket from all the exertion, and that wrecks the meat quality. (p. 193)

Buy the book from Amazon:

Thinking HP thoughts on vacation

In Cambodia, we saw a man bind a pig’s legs and tie him, on his back, to a small trailer behind his motorbike. Presumably, if you need to take your pig to market, and your vehicle is a motorbike, this is how you do it; but the pig was terrified and his shrieks haunted us. Two days later, when visiting a floating village, we saw a floating pig pen. The pigs lived crammed together on a wooden raft. Again, what are the villagers’ options? If you live on a boat, and need meat, what else can you do but build a crate that floats and fill it with meat animals?

In Laos, later in the trip, we were reflecting on the pig experiences, and the sights of all the other barnyard animals running around willy-nilly in both countries, and food animal welfare in the third world in general. Mr. HP observed:

Only rich societies can afford to care about this shit.

Agree? Disagree? Please debate.

More vacation posts to come. So much food for thought. <groan>



Meet Yer Eats 2012 Recap

Last year, our Meet Yer Eats route was planned around getting maximum bang for our buck: we picked three farms that were close to each other and a short drive from Charlottesville, and had a variety of animals and plants on display. We visited Ted’s Last Stand, Brightwood Vineyard and Farm, and Forrest Green Farm, an easy and fun trio I would recommend to Meet Yer Eats first-timers. This year, however, we had a more specific goal: to target farms that raise animals for meat, and learn a bit about humane care and respectful killing practices used by small-time producers. We chose a couple places we’d purchased from at the City Market and seen on local menus at places like Brookville and The Local: Babes in the Wood and The Rock Barn. We couldn’t drive through Caromont‘s neighborhood without stopping there, so we added it to the itinerary, and set off on a rainy Labor Day adventure.

First stop: Babes in the Wood

Driving into the farm, past the Pig Xing sign, we started spotting small groups of pigs napping, mudbathing, and rooting around. What a life! I already posted some happy pig photos here, but here are a couple more:

The very friendly, very knowledgeable proprietor led a group walking tour around a loop through the forest. The pigs have 75 acres to roam, at a density of no more than 2 or 3 pigs per acre. The herd is made up of several breeding sows (BIG girls), youngsters who will grow to 10 or 12 months before becoming pork chops, and boss hog Kevin Bacon (!):

Kevin lives in his own private enclosure, with visitor Monster (not sure if that’s a name or epithet) who cannot be contained by fences and goes where he pleases. The breeding sows consort with Kevin twice a year, and often have their litters in nests in the woods, showing up for mealtime a week later followed by a trail of piglets.

The pigs forage for acorns, berries, roots, mushrooms, bugs, and anything and everything edible in the woods. Their forest diets are supplemented with grain made from local corn. They naturally form cliques and don’t normally fight–so no need for cutting their tails or teeth as often done on industrial farms to limit injury. The low-stress environment, natural diet, and exercise contribute to happy pigs and healthy, tasty meat.

Read more about Babes in the Wood on their webpage. We very much enjoyed our visit to the farm.

Second stop: Caromont Farm

Our adventure took us from pigs to goats, and from quiet walk in the woods to chaotic kiddie land (ha, pun not intended). We stayed at Caromont briefly, only long enough to sample a couple cubes of delicious cheeses, pop our heads into the milking area and listen to a few minutes of the tour of the facilities, and take a couple goat pictures. There was soon to be a special cheese tasting with the cheesemaker, but we were worried about having enough time at stop 3, so pressed on. The goats seemed happy and safe, grazing in movable paddocks by day and coming into the safety of a barn at night. They’re milked twice a day–how do goat-keepers go on vacation?

Stop 3: The Rock Barn

Our last stop was, fittingly, an education on what happens to the pigs after they leave a farm like Babes in the Wood and reach the end of their porcine journeys. Will, the general manager, gave us an overview of the history and mission of The Rock Barn, which was started by Ben Thompson as a high-end catering company with special focus on local foods. They have since added whole-hog custom butchering to their offerings, which is of particular interest to this blogger, for their respectful, humane practices as described on their website:

 Whole-hog processing, or butchering “snout-to-tail,” is a practice that pays deserved respect to slaughtered animals by finding meaningful uses for all of each pig. By working in conjunction with environmentally-sound farms and humanely-operated slaughterhouses, Will oversees the processes that bring Rock Barn meat products from field to fork without sacrificing either craft or ethics.

We got an up-close and personal explanation of pig butchering, which was fascinating even for the squeamish pescatarian in the group.

As he carved, Ben hit on many butchering topics: various cuts of meat (Rock Barn offers different cuts than you find at the grocery store), the two types of pig fat (illustrating the difference between soft fat and hard fat by handing us fresh-from-the-carcass pieces to play with), how the pigs are killed (knocked unconscious by carbon dioxide or electric shock, then shot in the head with a .22 or a bolt gun), and the importance of bleeding out the pig within seconds of killing it (to prevent stress hormones from fouling the meat).

The scene in the meat room was very clinical: the carcass being operated upon was clean and dry, and the carving, weighing, and packaging process was smooth and efficient. Those guys are good at what they do.

Adding to the experience was the setting of the facilities: it’s housed in a cottage on the expansive grounds of Oak Ridge Estate. The stone dairy barn next door looked eerily pretty in the misty rain.

For more information about The Rock Barn, see:




And here are some great tips from Whole9 on how to get the most out of a farm visit.

Thanks to Market Central for the opportunity to see where our food comes from!

Meet Yer Eats: Happy Piggy Photos

I’m working on assembling a real post on our fun and educational day visiting Babes in the Wood, Caromont Farm, and The Rock Barn (I, the squeamish pescatarian, watched a pig get butchered–and took photos, don’t worry) as part of the Meet Yer Eats Farm Tour. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few of my favorite (live) pig photos from Babes in the Wood. Those are some happy pigs. Enjoy!

Random news from the interwebs

Some tabs I’ve had open in my browser for a week or so, but haven’t finished reading. Hopefully these are interesting!

  • EatKind.net: some news blurbs, and some directories for organic/vegetarian/local/pasture-raised options in the US, Canada, Japan, the UK, and New Zealand (not all directories exist for all countries). I found this when looking for happy food options in Japan
  • Smithfield Foods To Stop Using Gestation Crates For Pigs By 2017
    • I did not realize Smithfield is the world’s largest pork producer
    • I did not realize Smithfield is based in VA
    • Smithfield’s explanation for their decision was that their customers want it–so voting with your dollars can make a difference!
  • Article on the return of US horse slaughterhouses. Man, this is controversial. PETA is for, HSUS is against. I haven’t completely formed an opinion on the issue, other than:
    • It’s more humane to put a horse down than to let it suffer from neglect–if there are no other options for adoption/shelter/assistance
    • It’s more humane to send a horse to a slaughterhouse in the US where (presumably) treatment regulations would be stricter than in other countries where horses are currently shipped for slaughter–and shorter transport distances are easier on the poor beasties
    • Yay: “Churchill Downs says it won’t assign stalls at any of its tracks to any trainer or owner found to have sold a horse for slaughter.”
    • Not sure how legit this one is, but it could be a contributor: “Hancock said that she’s worried that the potential availability of slaughter ‘makes it easy for some people to continue to overbreed or overproduce because they have an out at the end.'”
  • Biosolid use as fertilizer: gross. Fertilizing farmland, that is then used for grazing or crops, with human waste? The waste is treated, but not all pathogens are killed, and chemicals, steroids, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals are among the pollutants found in the sludge. This seems like a bad idea to me.

Happy reading!

The Omnivore’s Dilemma QotD

From The Ethics of Eating Animals, p. 326-7

To give up eating animals is to give up on these places as human habitat, unless of course we are willing to make complete our dependence on a highly industrialized national food chain. That food chain would be in turn even more dependent than it already is on fossil fuels and chemical fertilizer, since food would need to travel even farther and fertility–in the form of manures–would be in short supply. Indeed, it is doubtful you can build a genuinely sustainable agriculture without animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production. If our concern is for the health of nature–rather than, say, the internal consistency of our moral code or the condition of our souls–then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.

Since the utilitarian is concerned exclusively with the sum of happiness and suffering, and the slaughter of an animal with no comprehension of death need not entail suffering, the Good Farm adds to the total of animal happiness, provided you replace the slaughtered animal with a new one. However, this line of thinking does not obviate the wrongness of killing an animal that “has a sense of its own existence over time, and can have preferences about its own future.” In other words, it might be okay to eat the chicken or the cow, but perhaps not the (more intelligent) pig.

Politics vs conscience

New footage was released today from an undercover camera in a pig factory farm in Iowa:

Company’s Farm Practices in Question After Video Is Released

First of all: what is wrong with these people? Who can callously throw a piglet? And encourage others to do so? Who can justify cutting tails and castrating pigs without painkillers? How can someone make a career of doctoring animals and claim that a gestation crate is humane?

Secondly: how can one’s political allegiances override one’s basic human sensibility? The bill-supporting politicians are supporting animal abuse. The article says the politicians did not watch the video. Perhaps the way to think the abuse isn’t so bad is to ignore it, pretend it’s not real, stay in a state of denial by not looking at the proof. Disgusting.

On a brighter note, at least some of the grocers are doing the right thing and suspending shipments from the company that distributes pork from the offending farm. Kudos to Safeway and Kroger.

Who ya gonna call?


This is one of Haute Pasture’s favorite ways to be environmental: hire a troop of goats to clear out underbrush, rather than using chemicals or gas-powered, air- and noise-polluting machinery!

Can you see them? They were active back in the trees, but the camera didn’t pick them up well. The guard dogs didn’t seem to care about us–guess humans aren’t high on the list of potential goat predators.

Haute Pasture has friends in North Carolina who needed heavy brush cleared from a few acres on their farm. They purchased five young pigs and set them loose on the land. The pigs devoured EVERYTHING other than the trees, and after several months, the pigs were sold to a local restaurant as organic, free-range, happy pork!