On a crisp March morning, Jen Brevard fires up the UTV she has nicknamed “the feed cart” and heads towards the pastures of the family’s 120-acre farm outside of Helenville, Wisconsin. Her pigs are anticipating her arrival and run to greet her.
“I love watching them dance through the pastures when they hear me coming,” Jen says. “They look as if they’re about to take flight!”
Remember those impossible tasks you promised to do when pigs sprouted wings? Well don’t worry folks, you’re still off the hook. Jen is referring to the sizable floppy ears her heritage pigs, Large Blacks, are known for. This unique feature helps protect their eyes while rooting and foraging on pasture.
“This breed was really built for utilizing forages,” Jen explains. “We keep a mix of red clover, alfalfa and pasture grasses, which they really like. They also enjoy munching on dandelions and thistle. So, they actually help keep the pastures healthy by doing a little weeding for us.”
Jen keeps her Large Black pigs on pasture year-round. The pastures are equipped with straw porta huts, so the pigs have a cozy spot to go in inclement weather. She says she has noticed a considerable improvement in the pastures since she started raising pigs in 2014.
“Every year the pastures seem to get a little better,” she says. “We move pigs frequently to ensure that manure is dispersed evenly in each area. The pigs have really helped turn this piece of land around.”
Jen became interested in raising heritage pork after reading a book about backyard homesteading. She’s now a full-time farmer and says she really enjoys spending time with her pigs.
“Aside from just being able to do what I love, there’s a real preservation aspect to raising these pigs. The demand for these unique breeds ensures that producers can continue to raise animals in a sustainable manner and keep these breeds from being eradicated. It’s a healthy environment for the pigs and a healthy product for consumers.”