Missouri family adapts into hog production

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Source: Missouri Farmer Today

Matt Stubblefield is adamant about the fact that he is a cattleman, not a hog farmer. But with generations of pork producers in his family, raising hogs was just a part of the farm operation.

“The hog barn on my father-in-law’s property was built by his grandpa in the 1950’s or ‘60’s,” said Matt’s wife, Rockael.

Like many farming operations in the mid- to late-1900’s, raising a few feeder pigs was standard for the Cuba, Missouri family. Matt’s great-great-grandpa would feed out about 1,000 head each year, according to his dad, Drew. Eventually, the Stubblefields started raising their own pigs and moved their sows to a pasture setting.

Going in and out of the hog business a few times, the family re-entered the business in the late 1990’s when Drew bought a gilt at the 4-H youth auction and bred her to a neighbor’s Poland China boar. Hogs have resided on the operation ever since.

Not partial to any particular breed, Drew has incorporated Yorkshire and Hampshire into the herd in years past to create a colorful assortment. He recently went back to a Poland China boar and said they have a mixture of red, white, black and spotted hogs that run the fields.

The five-sow herd is a minute part compared to the Stubblefields’ cattle operation, but the hogs have provided a variety of benefits to the land and farm revenue. Using the hog barn as a farrowing facility, the Stubblefields raise their hogs in a pasture and timber setting. This provides the hogs with a diverse diet, ample sunlight and the ability to cultivate and fertilize the ground.

Eating a mix of grass, acorns and grain gives the meat a red tone, unlike the pale pink of conventionally raised hogs. Stubblefield said it enhances the flavor and provides meat with higher levels of vitamins and minerals. They are also mixing raw milk with the grain to create a mash. Drew said this is an old practice that provided higher protein to the hogs and kept their internal temperature warmer.

In 2018, the Stubblefields realized the real opportunity hogs provided their operation. While planning how they could sell beef direct to consumer, they were introduced to Joel Sallatin and learned about selling pasture-raised pork as well. Rockael was pregnant and looking for a way to reduce her off-farm workload. With Matt already farming, they decided to jump headfirst into direct marketing beef and pork. Thus, Brush Creek Valley Farms was born.

They were the first producer in their area to sell meat direct and their community cheered them on.

“We went to the Midtown Farmers Market and got introduced to the manager who helped us with some publicity,” Stubblefield said. “That really gave us a boost of confidence.”

The jump start of success didn’t come without its problems, though. As the couple dove headfirst into selling beef and pork, along with chickens, they experienced the difficulty of raising, processing and selling at a large scale.

“We started in a local farmers market in St. Louis and quickly realized it was a tough business because of the ROI,” she said.

Soon after, they launched an online store to help grow demand more efficiently.

When 2020 rolled around, demand spiked, along with competition and production issues.

“In 2020, we lost some of our help and got so busy with beef and pork we decided to drop chickens,” Stubblefield said.

Farmers and ranchers across the state turned to direct marketing as well, making the couple focus more heavily on a wider customer base and distribution outlets.

“Now we’re in a couple grocery stores and restaurants, and we ship across the U.S.,” she said.

To meet the demand, while still incorporating the pasture- setting production style, the Stubblefields have had to make some adjustments with their herd.

“We would always have hogs around because it’s so great for the ground, but we’ve kept more than usual because of the consumer demand for pork —especially bacon,” she said.

More hogs means more pasture, good fences and time to manage. With more experience and interest in hogs, Drew has taken over the reins and is planning to expand the pasture available for hogs in the coming year.

“I want to grow past the 5 sows to 10 or so,” he said. “Maybe raise 150 hogs each year. That way we can keep the farm supplied with pork all the time.”