September 21, 2023

Family-owned pig farm embraces sustainable pork production

WAYNESBORO, Va. (AP) — Farmer Clay Trainum whistled at a group of young boars from a distance, urging them to greet him on a recent afternoon at Autumn Olive Farms on the outskirts of Waynesboro.

“Come on, boys,” he encouraged from the other side of the fence before giving a sharp whistle.

The breed of medium-sized black boars is a cross between Berkshire and Ossabaw Island hogs, with plump bodies and dark bristly fur.

“We selected them based on their confirmation,” Trainum said. “We know that their father has given us thousands of piglets and two different boars.”

Trainum continued to shout and whistle to the 4-month-old boars. Finally, as one of the boars looked up, they all waddled their short legs rapidly toward him.

Trainum held out his rough palm so the boars could sniff him. The long-time farmer said the boars often nip and push one another out of jealousy for his attention.

“They like to embarrass me,” Trainum jokingly said.

The pigs live happily out on the farm. They play in the mud, run around the large field they’re sectioned off in, and enjoy the nutritious food given to them daily.

Eventually, they will be sold to fine dining restaurants and artisan butcher houses throughout the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.

This is the opposite of typical corporate hog farms, where pigs are often kept in tight spaces in a warehouse that reeks of diseases and slaughtered animals.

Autumn Olive Farms, family-owned by Linda and Clay Tranium since 2005, is trying to bring a more ethical and sustainable way to raise and breed pigs.

For years, the farm has strategically worked on pigs’ genetics, environment, and diet management to ensure the animals’ healthy quality of life.

“It’s been a long time coming, and we’re finally here where we want to be,” Linda Trainum said.

The pasture hand-selects gilts, young female pigs yet to produce a litter of piglets, to mate with the young boars. They also practice line-breeding, as opposed to in-breeding, in which long-distance relatives of the pigs breed with each other.

“We’ve been working on the cross between two separate breeds into a single breed and breeding to certain ratios to get a desired outcome,” Clay Trainum said. “And we’ve done that with close collaborations with chefs, butchers and very talented food people.”

In addition to the selective breeding method, the open land environment allows the pigs to be active and enjoy nutritious crops such as clovers, barleys and various roots, he said.

Due to the leftover erosion from the Valley millions of years ago, the farmers said the soil holds a lot of high-quality nutrients, which the pigs consume, he added.

“Their flavor profile directly correlates to what they eat and how they live,” he said.

The pigs’ mating season runs all year round. Once the mothers and fathers reach sexual maturity, the farmers put the gilts and boars together in a large field.

After the mothers are pregnant, the farmers usher the moms-to-be into a nearby larger space with wooden huts made as their nests when they give birth to around seven to 14 piglets.

While the piglets are small and energetic, Tranium said their mothers are aggressively territorial over their offspring, which is supposed to be in their nature.

“Docile animals yield confirmation of the ability to be good mothers and raise piglets; you would think it’s a given, but it’s not,” he said. “It’s human corruption that created some of the best breeds have been terrible mothers.”

Operating a sustainable pig pasture is costly because of the allocation of the land and the creation of a suitable environment for the pigs.

“Our products will never be inexpensive,” Trainum said. “We do things that the industry does not do. Their goals are different from our goals. Our goal is to make delicious and ethical pork that anybody can buy and use.”

Corporations overcrowd their warehouses with pigs to produce inexpensive meat. This can cause diseases among the animals that are then transferred to humans, Trainum said.

Due to inflation, the costs went up for the Trainums to raise their pigs. However, high-end restaurants still order from them.

The restaurants make delivery requests weekly based on sales and demand. The requests are often customized on a per-restaurant basis. The pork products can become sausages, pork chops, ribs or hot dogs.

“You have everything from people who order whole animals, half animals, primal cuts of animals,” Trainum said. “But, our ability to charge and pass that (operation and delivery) along is more difficult because how much can the customers bear?”

“We have far more demand than product supply,” he said.

The farm is not limited to just pigs and piglets. The couple is surrounded by chickens, miniature horses, a white llama named Cowgirl, and a goat named Thunderbolt.

They run the farm with five to six employees and their 10-year-old fluffy, white Great Pyrenees, Jethro, who guards the farm daily but also lays down on the muddy grass to soak in the afternoon sun.

In addition to the house surrounded by farm animals, the couple maintains over 600 acres of land in the neighborhood. Some parts of the land are long-term leases, while others are organized exclusively for the pigs.

Clay and Linda Trainum hope the meat industry will become more sustainable and ethical in manufacturing pork. Perhaps when pigs learn to fly?

“Can you imagine raising a pig that would never ever run?” Trainum asked, referring to how pigs are treated on other farms.

“We want people to have a choice, and if they want to eat healthy and ethical products, then that’s what we’re about, and we have a very good market for that,” he said.