“The more pigs I meet the less I like people … they’re more fun!” said Slocan Valley farmer Jim Ross, sounding more than half serious. He noted that his pigs have characters, just like dogs and cats.
Of course he was talking to SPCA volunteers, who would have been disappointed if he didn’t share their passion for animals.
The small advocacy group tours local farms to learn about the alternatives to factory farming. Farm animal welfare is a hot topic, especially after the shocking abuse uncovered recently at Canada’s largest factory dairy farm in Chilliwack.
Ross and Rachel Abbey took over the farm in 2005. They have grown to 50 pigs, 30 sheep and a fascinating assortment of poultry. Ross says they have a Class E license. This allows him to slaughter on-farm and sell direct to the public.
From an animal welfare perspective, “farm gate sales” have advantages.
Transportation is extremely stressful. Legally, pigs can be transported for 36 hours. Ross’ closest abattoir is in Creston, which he considers is still too long a journey for his pigs.
Canadian regulations for factory farming of hogs allow extremely cruel practices, including long-term confinement.
In contrast, Ross’ pigs live mostly free range and can express a full spectrum of natural behaviours. Pigs have strong urges to root in the soil, and it’s amazing to see how their soft snouts can churn up even rocky ground.
In winter, and in the few weeks prior to slaughter, his pigs are kept in outdoor pens. The pens looked muddy, and there is a lot of manure.
“I mix in woodchips. The carbon helps to keep the smell down and it also gives you fantastic compost.”
Ross intends to cultivate and replant the area when the hogs are moved, to provide future grazing and rooting pasture.
Ross loves animals, but he is also proud to be a Kootenay farmer.
He farms 17 acres of hillside in Slocan Park, part of the old Crebbin farm deeded in the early 1900s.
The last remnants are a few old fruit trees, and the memory of legendary pioneer Pearl Crebbin who died in 1974 when her cabin burnt down.
Ross fondly recalls stories of Pearl’s eccentricities.
“Her secret to a good pie crust was bear fat.”
Ross and Abbey certainly have the pioneer spirit themselves. They have learnt animal husbandry through trial and error, and what they can pick up from other farmers. Ross wishes there was more agricultural support programs available.
“Before the dams were put in, we were the fourth largest bread basket in the province… the farmers that grew cattle, grains and hay and fruit are gone. They didn’t pass on what they knew. We are building from the ground up.”
Ross is constantly looking to improve his operation, especially the welfare of his animals.
Following the visit, Ross is striving for SPCA farm certification.
This certification mandates high standards for animal welfare, with regular inspections. Ross would be the first in the Kootenays, giving him an edge in a market increasingly concerned with the ethically issues of meat and dairy production.
— To find out more about the Nelson BCSPCA Farm Advocacy group contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/groups/nelsonfarm.