Backyard Pig Farmer Profile, Tera Chanasyk. This small pasture pig producer from Alberta Canada opens about her operation and how this popular old school way of farming works for her and her family

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Photo credit Camanna’s Petite Paradise

Get in the “Swineweb” with Backyard Pig Farmer Tera Chanasyk. This small pasture pig producer from Alberta Canada opens about her operation and how this popular old school way of farming works for her and her family.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
A lot of people call a small pasture Farm backyard Pig Farming, what is your official term?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Funny you should ask, given the title of the piece is Backyard pig farming because my preference has been anything but being called backyard. My impression when I hear backyard producer or backyard breeder follows the stigma of a breeder that is uneducated in animal health, welfare and one that follows poor, if any, practice. This is what comes up first in a web search of these words. We are, and strive to be anything but backyard, by definition. At 111 acres, we are small, but not a backyard in size, health practice or in heart. We hold animal health at the highest value, it is and has always been my passion, if I can’t maintain and support healthy animals I won’t have them.

I do understand that some of the small operations can, and do, pose a threat to other pork producers and the industry due to lack of best practices with regard to; vaccines, parasite control, biosecurity and by feeding meat, scraps and garbage. I believe most is unintentional and due to a lack of understanding and/or a lack of support. Vets that specialize in swine can be hard to come by and sometimes logistically a vet that will even work with swine can also be challenging to find. This has created a risk group. This group relies on; trial and error, grandfathered advise or the internet including pasture pork groups. Sometimes this works out but is not optimal in my opinion and I am glad to see some more support reach these producers, such as the link below, but I do hope there is more to come. The amount of times I see the encouragement to treat pigs like garbage cans is very disturbing, to say the least. I hope to see the “we have done it this way for years and never had an issue” phased out and continue to see the growth of progressive breeders.

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/agricultural-land-and-environment/strengthening-farming/farm-practices/bc_small_lot_pork_producer_resource_manual.pdf

 

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
Is your Pig pasture a business or a personal venture? Please explain either way your purpose, goals and profitability?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Undoubtedly both, personal and business, it has to be or I don’t feel it would be sustainable. We knew going in we would never be able to compete with commercial pork, definitely not in price, even for our own table knowing how incredibly tight and challenging that market is.

Simply, the purpose is to provide our family the pride, flavor and the health benefits of home pasture grown food. We have provided beef and eggs in this way, onto our, our families, as well as some friend’s plates. So the goal was to do the same with pork. To combine the pros of high health practices with raising animals in a small scale environment with a lot of space. I love talking ‘pig’ with others and hope to have a positive contribution all the way around.

Profitability …. I hope we see that one day, right now it is still an investment time for us financially. We are very rich in pig/piglet affection as well as the companionship of some really awesome people and farms.


Photo Credit Camanna’s Petite Paradise

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):

What made you start raising your own Pigs? Do you see this is a society trend moving forward?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

As mentioned were already producing eggs and beef, it was time to go for the trifecta! This also ties into our farm name, Triple Eh Farm. So, it was time to research, this started online, I typed in “types of heritage pigs.” There are so many amazing breeds to choose from; Berkshire, GOS, Large Black, Red Wattle, Mangalitsa the list goes on, based on your preferences and goals you can find one that will best fit your farm and goals. I saw and fell in love with the kunekune, the more I read and learned the more they fit our family, our farm and our goals to have beautiful pork. They are a great breed for starter pigs, being easier to keep and handle then most other pig breeds.

It took about 3 years from want to, to finally adding pigs to the farm. Within the year we imported some additional kunekune stock and also added the Meishan breed. I found the Meishan extremely funny looking at first, like Eeyore crossed with an elephant, but they grew on us and they continue to with all their uniqueness and the strengths they bring to our program.

There definitely seems to be a trend of new producers emerging, some raising for meat, some breeding and some doing both. Pasture pork has a soft juicy texture, a rich colour and flavor, as well as higher fat content. It is beautiful and tasty, and people want it. I can definitely see pasture pork becoming more and more popular.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):

A lot of small Pork Producers have been consolidated to large entities and there are not as many family farms left. Do you see this current backyard cycle as the infancy to revert back to family farming?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Maybe, I know something has to happen with the pork industry as a whole. I love the pasture pig model and the “know your farmer” movement. I hope to see safe and controlled growth there but I also hope for a balance that supports the whole industry and does not create a risk to health and safety. It really saddens and concerns me to read about the hardships of producers who are currently producing at a loss. These producers have experience and knowledge that is so incredibly valuable, plus a passion for pigs. The amount of research and development invested is significant and I know I personally have only been exposed to a portion of it. I do not want to see the loss of best practices and high health that these larger entities bring to the table. I hope to see more support for this hard working group and more recognition.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
How do you make your purchase decision and products and Veterinary service? What are you watching for to ensure your pigs are healthy?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

The single best thing for our program was making the inquiry to prairie swine health services to see if they would take us on as a client. We do also have excellent support through our main veterinary center in Didsbury, and we still use their services, but the support of a team that specializes in swine has been invaluable. They sent a veterinarian out for a farm visit, which we paired with our first gilt pregnancy ultrasounds. I had a long list of questions which were thoroughly answered and followed up on with our written farm protocols for; general practice, biosecurity, parasite control and vaccines. The vet reviewed our feed nutrition and some questions on our suitability for importing. Our decisions process for adjustments to our program now typically goes like this

Me: “Hi Dr. Kelsey, are there any vaccines you would recommend to guard against or help prevent pneumonia?”

Dr. Kelsey: “So for pneumonia here are the big ones:

1) flu

2) PRRS

3) mycoplasma

4) glassers

5) strep

1) flu vaccines- work best on a commercial level. Not practical for you.

2) you are PRRS negative (based on the surveillance we ran on your farm when you brought the imports in. Do not ever vaccinate for PRRS if you don’t have it. You can cause a wild virus strain to go live on your farm.

3) mycoplasma. You are also myco negative. Very slow moving disease and very unlikely you would get

it based on your farm situation. Not really necessary to vaccinate for since it’s not common.

4) glassers. This would be not a bad one to do. I don’t know what strains of bugs live on your farm..but glassers can be nasty. It is usually a bacteria we see on commercial levels when ventilation goes badly.. so it wouldn’t be too common for your farm, but its not a bad idea. There’s a vaccine called parasail if you are interested and its very good.

5) strep. There’s no vaccine, I wish there was one!!

So, overall, that doesn’t give you many options! Most important keep pigs healthy, good feed, good shelter, warm in the cold months. Minimal mixing of new pigs especially in winter.”

We order most of our products through Prairie Swine as well, I have found their prices are great, they are always efficient and awesome to deal with. Our feed comes from a local mill called Healthy Herds, they have zero tolerance for ergot, they do a custom mix for us, double roll it and are extremely efficient whenever we order. Our mineral comes from Sollio Agriculture, formally standard nutrition and we have also found them to be amazing to work with as well (Thanks Rick!). The liver trace mineral testing we have done has shown the feed and mineral to be efficient.

Pigs can be tricky to check you need to be keen, catch and treat any health concerns quickly. Too often I see posts on social media “my pig has been acting funny the last couple days” I get a pit in my stomach. Pigs often mask symptoms as much as they can and they can go downhill fast.

If a pig catches your eye for some reason; droopy ears, gunky eye, rapid breathing, limping, slow to the food dish or milk bar you NEED to act quickly. Look at their environment; water, feed, fencing, check their fecal matter, watch them urinate. Try and observe their natural behavior before they are aware you are there and how they come up to eat. Count them, is one missing, if so why? Always have a thermometer (or two) ready.

Most important, be proactive!

  • warm clean draft free and dry sleep areas,
  • access to plenty of clean water,
  • shade,
  • wallow or pool,
  • quality feed,
  • parasite control,
  • appropriate vaccines and
  • biosecurity practices

If on pasture, is there toxic weeds, appropriate fencing, and predator risks?

These measures will save you from many potential health issues, but not all of them, ensure you have veterinary oversight.


Photo credit Rose Campbell

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):

How steep was the learning curve, do you have an advice to share? Do you have any growth or expansion plans?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Steep haha!! There is a lot to learn about pigs and fencing is a lot more involved than, say cattle or horses. While I found many parallels with general health checks and drugs used, reading the animal and animal handling is quite different. I second guessed myself a lot, I did a ton of reading. I got some “questionable” advice and I learned to lean on our vet, there is just no replacement for a good vet.

Treat your vet like the amazing resource they are.

Be prepared for vet visits, make a list of questions or notes prior, have animals and areas ready for them. Be patient, understand your vet is going to be late, animal care is a tough thing to schedule. If you vet is late it is because they were doing a thorough job, taking the time to answer questions, or responding to an emergency. Know that they are going to give you the same care and attention when you need it.

Start with good stock, it will save you heartache, time for improvements and is worth the upfront investment. Embrace the lessons on the way because sometimes we need them to figure out the direction we want to go.

Clear expectations make good relationships, when working with breeders ensure to do a formal written contract/bill of sale, including any guarantees or conditions, this ensures there aren’t any misunderstandings and they won’t result with unmet expectations down the road. This is a responsibility of both parties.

Growth wise pigs are such excellent multipliers we need to be selective on what we keep so we ensure integrity is maintained and that we can fully support the stock we have. We don’t have any additional growth or expansion plans at this time, I envision us staying on the smaller side.


Photo Credit Camanna’s Petite Paradise

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):

What is the biggest myth perceived with backyard Pig Producers?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Being small and not having a big operation removes exposures to health risks, that there is no need to vaccinate and deworm. This is just untrue! Many of the things we vaccinate for can be found in the soil, and due to little or no biosecurity with some small operations the exposures are higher, in my opinion.

It is a toss-up, the biggest myth might be that iron shots are not needed if piglets are on dirt. Piglets are born with little iron reserves and do not get much iron from sows milk, their need for supplementation is compounded significantly due to their fast growth rates. Couple this with longer weaning times for pasture raised piglets and it actually increases their need even more as they go longer before consuming full feed. There is often the advisement to just put a shovel full of dirt in with the sow and piglets, firstly most soil is deficient, if there is iron in the dirt there is no guarantee it is bio available or that the new piglets will root or consume any of it. Injectable iron is recommended, easy to give and highly beneficial for overall health and growth. We administer iron shots on day 3 and day 18, per veterinary recommendations. We find this style repeater syringe very efficient and effective.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
What are the 5 key points people may not understand (challenges or gratifications) of being a small pasture farmer?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

It isn’t easy or cheap, but it is worth it… you will spend a lot more time fencing than you anticipate

Bigger isn’t always better, over conditioned (fat) pigs will not yield a nice meat carcass

My pigs will not eat you if you fall over in their pen, they will however remove your shoelaces and proceed to piggie pile around you. Our pigs are extremely affectionate. That said, stay safe animals can be unpredictable especially with young piglets present.

Breeding and farrowing has its own set of challenges and gratifications including keeping pigs over the winter months. Raising weaners is a good way to start and if you love pigs then move forward into breeding and farrowing.

Some think if a pig is on pasture that they will get what they need from the soil for vitamins and minerals. Pigs need a balanced diet including minerals, even a grazing breed like the kunekune. Source a balanced feed and if using a custom blend ensure to source appropriate minerals, for swine. Do not give them access to salt blocks, swine are sensitive to salt and salt toxicity happens quite easily.

One final note to add is to know the regulations and regulators for your area. For example, in Alberta, you need to register with Alberta pork regardless of size. Even if you have one pet pig you are required to register. Your provincial or state regulator will also have a site full of helpful information and guidance.


Photo Credit Camanna’s Petite Paradise

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):

Yum, Yum! We need to know your favorite meat, Chops, Ribs, or something else? Can you also tell me the Health benefits of your meat and also about your Lard being the new Butter?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Pork is my favorite, in all its forms! Right now I am enjoying all the meat, bacon and pepperoni but having a lot of fun with the lard. Pork lard (tallow) is amazing and once rendered it is pure white with a gorgeous texture. You can use it anytime you would use butter or cooking oil, especially when baking, and it is great for cooking. Lard has zero saturated fats so is a healthy fat, can we say KETO friendly?

How did the use of lard fall out of the mainstream? This has been one of the more amazing discoveries for me during this process, it has so many uses. Some make soap, candles, skin and lip balms from pig lard (tallow). Don’t get me started on whipped lardo, it is LIFE! We flavour ours with garlic, rosemary, pepper and Himalayan salt. It is great for use with appetizers, cooking, even just on toast. Whipped lardo could start a trend all on its own, when I first tried it I literally thought, I need to raise more pork. I hope I don’t run out before our next harvest! I really owe the whipped lardo discovery to Corva Bella farm, they also produce the nicest skin balm and lip balm I have ever used.

Pasture pork is said to be higher in vitamin d and omegas, we have testing planed but did run into an issue sourcing testing from the initial company we contacted. We are really excited to get this done and see the value in black and white.

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
Do you have some favorite recipes you can share or a link?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Whipped Lardo, it can be made from rendered or raw lard. We based our recipe off this one. I liked the higher ratio of garlic, but that’s my usual MO https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/whipped-lardo-with-garlic-and-rosemary-zbcz1905

Corvas Bella’s shop link https://swansongprovisions.com/

And link to recipes https://corvabella.com/category/farm-to-table-cooking/

I also love making Pulled pork, I just put in all the favorite things and don’t really follow a recipe

Chops are great seared and finished in the oven, mushrooms and sauce option or often we will just put them on the smoker.

Our butcher did an amazing job on our hams, I love to put lard under the ham in a roaster and honey on top then in the oven it goes. No additional spice required and the fat is buttery and beyond delicious. If harvesting pigs for your own freezer and in central alberta, we highly recommend 6TH on the block https://sixthontheblock.ca/

Question (Jim Eadie from Swineweb.com):
Where do you personally draw inspiration from to enrich your passions?

Answer: (Tera Chanasyk)

Watching our daughter with the pigs, she has learned so much and she has so much compassion for the animals. To watch her give extra care to a young one falling behind or take time to give some extra tummy rubs makes the hard work worth it. She enjoys playing hide go seek in the tree belt with the pigs. I am glad we have such an amazing breed that our daughter, 8, can be involved with them. One pig in particular had some extra care that involved him being in our house, he is affectionately still referred to, by her, as her little brother.

Our amazing vet team and the other breeders have definitely helped keep me going and smiling. They are doing it, they know the challenges, they embrace them and they strive to better their breeds, their plates and their community. Established and new, they all have inspirational bits and pieces, there is no end to it and after a bad day, they keep you going!

Can I shamelessly promote some of them below?

Prairie Swine Health Services for always being there when we have needed you, even beyond service hours and days,

Corva Bella business model, tenacity, passion, all their amazing products and maybe above all the whipped lardo inspiration,

6th on the block our inspiring, accommodating and talented butcher,

AKKPS non profit registry,

Schuurman farms example for strong buyer support and the amazing pig squeeze I hope to buy or copy one day,

BBS kunekune’s supplier of breeding stock, hope to get some of those legs and feet here someday,

Camannas peite paradise, we love having some of the downline of your stock, so inspired by your pictures, such a true talent and gift you share through your page and the calendars you produce,

Pasture Pigs Canada and Small Pig Farmers of Canada pages and the members of those pages

The farms that have inspired us, and additionally went through the challenges of exporting for us were;

Sequoia Mountain Creamery of California,
Randy’s Kune’s of Washington and,
JD livestock of Oregon

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