Smith rallies pig farmers together to share experiences
NEW BRUNSWICK — Kyle Smith, an Air Force mechanic who lives in South Jersey and works in Delaware, led a lively small group discussion about the challenges of raising hogs in the Garden State at the Jan. 28 NOFA-NJ annual Conference. Smith encouraged input from the dozen or so people at his talk, “Raising Hogs In New Jersey.”
Smith and his mother, an uncle and several other relatives are involved in his small farm in Williamstown. He started out with chickens for meat and eggs and six years ago, started raising pigs for meat.
“People say to me, ‘You’re a farmer?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, I’m a farmer. Remember, everybody was a farmer, back in the day.’ ”
Smith went around the room so that all who were seated could explain who they were and their level of experience with raising pigs.
Some were neophytes, others were intermediate smaller pig farmers and others were teaching others how to raise hogs.
Smith gave the group several questions to consider: What’s your end goal in raising them? How much pork do you eat, and how many pigs would you need in a year? How much would your family need in a year? What do your friends do? What does your neighbor need?
He asked, what will happen if something happens with our supply chain here in the U.S. or here in the Northeast?
“The mindset now in America is when you run out of bacon, eggs and milk, what do you do? You just run back to the store and get more,” he said. “People can eat a lot healthier if they have a half a cow and a pig in the freezer,” he argued.
He also reminded his audience to be mindful of feed costs and how to keep those down and the need to plan months in advance to get pigs processed, owing to the severe shortage of processing houses in New Jersey, Lancaster County and other parts of eastern Pennsylvania.
His challenge, he said, “is finding a balance between the two types of livestock, the chickens and the hogs, with my full-time job at the Air Force base.”
Smith showed historic photos and slides depicting hog farms in Secaucus, five miles from Manhattan, and old hog farms in Gloucester County, close to Philadelphia and for years a hotbed of activity for pig farms.
He revealed he got his first two hogs from another NOFA-NJ person, Jessica Isbrecht, formerly of Green Duchess Farm in the Somerset section of Franklin township, just outside of New Brunswick.
“Times have changed,” Smith said. “Gloucester County was known for a lot of farms of all kinds back in the day, but now, they don’t worry about food, it just comes from the grocery store.”
Smith stressed the importance of networking and becoming friendly with other hog farmers in South Carolina, where some of his family is originally from, and other hog farmers elsewhere, as he picked up tips on what to feed, how to feed, how to control costs and pig roasting techniques.
“It has been a big help to network and see what my friends are doing in Georgia and in the Carolinas. I kind of used their plans and their objectives and tailored it to my farm,” Smith said.
Smith’s hog farm is not far from Bringhurst Meats in Berlin, where he can get his hogs partially processed or smoked or seasoned anyway a customer wants.
He also noted in days before refrigeration hogs were a bigger part of the U.S. meat diet and most families had a few hogs on their land.
“Back in the day, most everybody ate pork because it was so widespread and available,” he noted, and because all parts of the pig can be used for a range of food products like sausage and even soaps, hogs were important to poor farmers who could not afford beef cattle.