May 5, 2014
Real Food | Real Farmers
TRAVIS HOOD of Hood's Heritage Hogs
Travis raises Red Wattle pigs on his Kentucky farm: Hood's Heritage Hogs.
He has a great sense of humor and clearly loves his animals.
He also takes gorgeous iPhone photos of the process to share with the world.
Here's the story of how he got into this and how it all works...
I’m a card carrying member of the “college education I’m not using” club. Sorry, mom!
Actually, that’s not true. I was in the golf business for 27 years. 16 as a course superintendent. My job was to keep the course playable and green even in the worst weather. I’m two years removed from W-2 work at golf courses. The economy pooped out…I just couldn’t rely on it to support my family any longer. Plus, golfers dress like easter eggs. No thanks. The only white belt I want to see is in pictures of my dad from 1974.
About the time I was looking at options to exit the golf biz my in-laws, who raised Red Wattles, were looking at options for selling off their hogs, cows, goats, sheep, and hippos. I had been doing some light reading about self-sustainability and hoped with the economic downturn, I could at least raise our own food.
Observing a trend in the heritage pork market, I thought we could make a go raising these bad boys sustainably for the folks who could not. Slowly, we went from one boar and two sows to two boars and eight sows. A select four were picked up in Oregon via a cross-country trek in an all-star Dodge. I knew what I wanted and that was the closest place. Nevermind the fact that the journey was two weeks after we moved our entire farm from Indiana to Kentucky. You gotta do what you gotta do. After all, nobody said it was going to be easy…but nobody said it couldn’t be fun.
"Twelve days in with no grain. Natural forest forages only. Already, I can see a difference in physique compared to the 6 month old corn fed hogs. It's similar to comparing Kevin James and Bruce Lee (No disrespect to Bruce)"
Originally bred for its distinct flavor, the Red Wattle is a breed that was almost lost due to its inability to do well in confinement. In order to preserve the breed, they must be raised with a purpose...on pasture. I can't sleep at night knowing one of my hogs may be uncomfortable in any way. They have warm houses stuffed with straw, ample acreage of both forest and grasses, and daily attention that'd make your dog envious.
These guys only get one shot. If I think for one minute that they might be unhappy or uncomfortable I’ll put on my boots, roll up my sleeves and fix it. I have to be careful though. Yes - you can give them warm insulated homes with heaters, spray nozzles that run around the clock in summer, or high profile expensive pay lean feed but this will only put you out of business. They need care and attention, not condominiums. The daily interaction, back scratches, and chase-the-farmer games are plenty enough to have a yard full of buddies.
Even since our move to Kentucky, I still haul my hogs to North Central Indiana to This Old Farm for the processing of my pork cuts. It’s owned by farmers that had problems finding a place that treated animals humanely and would process the way they wanted. Yes, my go-to is 4 hours away but I’m lucky to have them. We raise our animals all-naturally, so naturally I want them processed this way. No chemically injected nitrates or nitrites in our cures. All cures are with sea salt, celery juice powder, and turbinado sugar. This has been a huge marketing plus for us.
Many people have allergies to the msg and chemical nitrates in most cured meats. The way the human body processes these chemicals is different than from a natural source. Chemists will tell you it’s the same, but I’m not going to argue with the scores of people in line on Saturday mornings to buy our cured meats that haven’t eaten store-bought bacon in decades. The only problem is the USDA doesn’t recognize all-natural cures. Therefore, all of our cured meat has to be labeled “uncured”. It doesn’t bother me that much, it gives me a chance to educate.
Each and every hog is told "thank you" and “see you on the other side”.
I love them all.
The hogs are slaughtered one at a time. Very little stress is implied to them in the moving process since I keep them accustomed to human contact and regular rotation. As far as they're concerned, it's just another day in the life. If a customer requests "head on," a bolt stunner is used...or I should say, two stunners are used. Pastured hogs, especially the Red Wattles, need additional calcium to support the enormous hams and shoulders. Therefore, their bones, skulls included, are tougher than a bag of hammers. Otherwise, a 9 mm has been known to be used. The standard .22 "may" not be strong enough. The processor will often step up their gauge for insurance. On a side note, for larger hogs for personal use (500 lbs +), a .45 has been used. Dirty Harry Style. It ain't pretty, but it's swift.
There really isn't a pretty way to facilitate the slaughtering process. I can dumb it down with humor but it's still the end of a life. It's not easy, and never begins to be. I guess that's why not everybody does it.
I have my favorites. However, this is a business. If feelings get too involved, you won’t be in business long. It’s a sad day when a long time breeder is retired. With the size of the Red Wattles, usually arthritis has started to take its toll and they begin to suffer. This makes it a bit easier to make the call. Not that you’re doing them a favor but their quality of life isn’t what it was.
Again, I love them all and their legacy is captured in pictures.
"Much like your neighbor lady in her yoga pants, I can't find a tactful way to tell Janis that, at 800 pounds, she can't fit in a 15 gallon bowl. #mindyourownfork #faceslap"
For me, the most important aspect is knowing where your food comes from. Can it be traced back to the farm or farmer? This is why I personally do all the deliveries. I want the consumer to be able to see, ask, and hear it straight from the dude in the field. Ten years ago, I didn’t care. It was all about the most food for the least dollar. I never really gave it much thought. However, when other countries started to outlaw certain foods and the way they were prepared, I was forced to take another look. Like I said, I started out raising my own for me and my family.
My office is my backyard. The sunup to sundown work schedule is something that was required in the golf business so comes easy to me. Only this time, the 20 hour days are for me…not the “man”. If I want to involve my family and teach the kids, or just take a walk to the creek, it’s on my terms. This is the way it’s supposed to be. I wouldn’t change a thing.
This is our food. We should all know from where it originates and how it becomes.
If we were all aware, no one would eat it.
Support real farmers, seek them out. They are everywhere working their asses off to bring us clean, sustainable, healthy food. Cheers to Travis and the many others like him!
Stay tuned for the next edition of Real Food | Real Farmers.