Dinner Bell Farm offers heritage breed piglets this spring
Special to The Union
Under the shelter of oaks, Mulefoot piglets darted and scampered in playful circles, stirring up little dirt clouds as their enormous mother looked on.
Farmer Paul Glowaski chewed leaves of bell beans as he watched the animals one warm spring-like day at Dinner Bell Farm in Chicago Park.
For four years, Glowaski has been building his pig operation and this spring is offering two heritage breeds of piglets for purchase to area homesteaders and farmers – Mulefoot and Mangalitsa.
“We have people from all over coming to buy our piglets,” Glowaski said.
After experimentation with different breeds of hogs, Dinner Bell farmers selected the breeds for their good temperament, hardiness, disease resistance, foraging ability and taste. Animals came from as far away as South Dakota and Michigan and thrive in a wooded or pastured environment.
This is the sixth season for Dinner Bell Farm, which Glowaski runs with his wife Molly Nakahara. The couple lives on the farm with their young son, Yoshi, who just turned one.
This is the first year that the couple won’t be selling what they had become known for, heritage breed chickens. Cost and labor intensive, chickens became a target of numerous foothill predators such as mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, hawks, feral cats and dogs.
“This is a really tough place to raise chickens,” said Glowaski who has never lost a pig to predation. The farming couple continues to maintain their commitment to humane animal husbandry methodologies with the care of the pigs.
Glowaski and Nakahara manage 17 acres and lease an additional 15 from Chris Bierwagen of nearby Donner Trail Fruit. After peach harvest, the pigs clean up the culled fruit from the ground. In open areas, Glowaski has planted peas, triticale, chard and daikon for the pigs.
“I put the pigs right through that forage,” Glowaski said.
It is an experimental partnership that, so far, is working favorably for both farmers.
“We have a real good relationship. We’re still trying to reinvigorate the wheel and they are, too,” said Bierwagen.
The pigs root out and eat the stems of the invasive weed, Johnson grass, and leave their “fertilizer” behind. As an organic farmer, Bierwagen doesn’t use herbicides on his crops, so the pigs are a welcome alternative to weed control.
Pigs must be carefully managed and moved regularly, every seven to 10 days, to avoid damaging impacts caused by their wallows.
Stewards of the land, farmers from Dinner Bell are no strangers to the time rigors of careful management practices. It’s been at the forefront of their farming philosophy all along and not something they care to compromise. From birth to death, animal welfare has always figured prominently.
“Those are principles we don’t want to bend on,” Glowaski said.
Choosing to have a breeding herd on the farm was a decision that came about after purchasing piglets from other farms with less than desirable living conditions.
Sometimes these visits felt like an animal rescue operation with pigs living overcrowded in poor conditions on dirt lots with lice and other diseases.
At Dinner Bell, the animals are kept in a closed herd and new pigs are kept under high scrutiny, meaning the pigs are lice- and disease-free. Breeding stock eats well and is constantly moved to new ground ensuring health and well-being.
Originally from Hungary, thick and wooly Mangalitsa pigs are prized for their fat and used for sausage and bacon-making and other charcuterie products. Compared to the six months of fast-growing conventional breeds, it can take up to 15 months for Mangalitsa pigs to reach desired weight for maximum flavor and fat, a time dedication worth the wait to gourmands.
American Mulefoots are known for their distinctive feature of having a solid, non-cloven hoof (like a mule). By 1900, the Mulefoot was a standardized breed, highly valued for their hams.
These days, the breed is critically rare, with fewer than 200 documented in 2006. A growing number of chefs and foodies seek them out for their incomparable taste. Glowaski compares raising heritage breed hogs to saving grandma’s heirloom seeds, helping to preserve genetic agricultural diversity.
“There is a bigger picture happening. If people don’t eat these pigs, they will go extinct,” he said.
Glowaski was a vegetarian for a long time and respects eating habits and ethics of others. As a farmer, he takes his “beyond full-time” job seriously.
He has grown to understand that domestic animals have co-evolved with humans for a long time and he sees a place for them on a complete farm.
“We really are stewards of these animals,” he said.
Besides piglets for sale to people who want to raise their own animals, Dinner Bell Farm offers a meat club CSA and will sell their products at farmers markets in Auburn and Tahoe this year. Whole and half animals will also be available direct from the farm.
Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-913-3067.
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