By Jennifer Welch
I’m hitting my stride.
I’ve always known that I was a whiskey girl. Whiskey. Bourbon. Single-malt Scotch. Maybe a blend if you force my hand. Neat. Always neat. This I know. But my stride has nothing to do with that. No, my stride has more to do with curly tails and round snouts, curious minds and hearty grunts. My stride is pork. I take porking very seriously, as it is my business. More of an art form, really. The art of raising pigs for nourishment. This I am coming to know.
Luckily for me, these two things go hand in hand. Like pieces of a puzzle, they fit together in a way you might not expect at first. In fact, drinking and porking, as it were, go together in more ways than one. (I should know, says the mother of three.) Although, for safety’s sake, I do feel inclined to point out that we enforce a strict two-drink maximum if you plan to wander into our pigpens. Not because of my concern that you will suddenly find my sows overly attractive, but because, to a pig, everything is food … even your Uncle Gilbert. And certainly we must recognize that a shot or two of whiskey makes it easier to relate to pigs in their natural setting. I feel confident that I know several people who spent a portion of their lives just as my pigs do now: fornicating, overindulging, constantly sleeping in and lazing about on hot afternoons. It actually sounds like a little slice of paradise.
Really, though, only one thing equals paradise in a pig’s mind: food. And food is what I’m getting at. Brewers and distillers mash certain grains as one of the first steps in their craft. After the liquid is pulled out of this mash, they are left with the by-product of spent brewer’s grains. Traditionally, these spent grains have been used to feed waves of livestock, from pigs to beef and dairy cattle. Today this practice remains and what you get in the end is a valuable product grown from a waste product: a truly remarkable feat.
When we first started raising pigs, we didn’t know if we wanted to have a breeding operation. Pigs are smelly. And dangerous. And smelly. Not to mention the fact that they eat a literal crap-ton of food every day. A good sow, nursing a litter of piglets, can easily go through 15-20 lbs of food per day. A good boar can easily reach a weight of 750 lbs or more, depending on the breed. To start, we fed our first pigs kitchen scraps, goat milk, hog feed and small amounts of spent grain from the local distillery. We would hang out in the back alley of East Main waiting to grab a few buckets of free pig food. Every successful pickup felt like winning the lottery. Then one day the owners at the Distillery apologized to us and said they needed to find one taker for ALL THE SPENT GRAIN and that we would no longer be able to do small pickups. No more lottery winnings. No more free food. So, naturally, I served up a glass of whiskey to my husband, batted my eyelashes, and sheepishly suggested that we get A LOT MORE PIGS.
It worked. All hail the power of the whiskey glass … and the idea of perpetual bacon. Before long, we started picking up every load of spent grain that the distillery was cranking out and we started cranking out piglets to match the supply. That was what feels like forever ago, and what started out as a way to provide food for our family has now grown into a small business. Three to four times a week we haul nearly a ton of wet grain to the farm, unload it into 55-gallon drums, begin a second fermentation process to keep the grains fresh, and feed it out over the following week. We additionally mix it with milk and whey from our home and local dairy, a practice which has allowed us to grow out our pigs yearround with fantastic results.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not touting that EVERY brilliant decision I’ve ever made began with a glass of whiskey. Nor am I trying to coerce other wives into using it as a bargaining tool with their husbands. I’m definitely not encouraging random acts of porking … at least not with my pigs. I am simply trying to point out the obvious. And the obvious is this: I have three beautiful kids, a willing life partner, a growing business, a glass of whiskey, and all the bacon I can eat. And I owe it all to drinking and porking.
Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, the finest damn valley for drinking, porking and everything in between.