Happy Hogs

Greg & Bonnie 2

Connecting with your food and your farmer is an integral part of any farmers’ market.  We strive to take it one step further and give you a little more insight into the products you’re buying and who you are buying them from.  Every once in awhile we get really lucky and can steal a few hours (or more if we’re truly blessed) from one of our farmers; I visit their farm, pick their brains, and learn all about their story.  This week, perfectly timed with Easter approaching, I visited Spragg’s Meat Shop and Farm in Rosemary, Alberta.  Greg and Bonnie Spragg are at the market weekly doing deliveries and saying hello, but we wanted to know more.  Don’t you?

Piggies5

After being employed at a hog barn for a few years, Greg decided he wanted to take a crack at raising his own pigs.  So, Bonnie purchased 3 little pigs for his birthday in May 2002.  It may not seem like the most romantic birthday gift, but his herd flourished and by the end of the summer, Greg had raised 75 weaner pigs to market weight.  He loves his pigs and it shows; he’s been nicknamed the “pig whisperer” and rightfully so.

What little piggy wouldn’t be happy to romp around in all of that green grass?

They’ve now been farming at their present location for 12 years; growing to have approximately 1000 pigs roaming free at any given time. In addition to the free-roaming hogs, the Spragg farm has 200 acres of irrigated land on which crops of barley, wheat, and faba beans are grown to later grind into the necessary pig feed.

In order to increase production to meet the growing demand, they partnered with another local hog producer who specializes in breeding and weaning.

The baby piglets are born year round inside (where it’s nice and warm!), and are moved to their free-range environment at the Spragg farm when they reach 50lbs.

Running PiggiesGreg and Bonnie’s pigs run and frolic in open interconnected pens, free to eat an antibiotic-free, plant protein diet when they please.

Piggies6

They live happily, hormone-free, in the fresh air… and they really are happy hogs.  Their pastures are seeded with annual grasses to increase grazing time for the pigs.  And in the colder months, they are provided with straw and alfalfa hay to keep the forage component in their diets.

Piggies7

I couldn’t resist jumping into the pig pen to take advantage of a more personal introduction.  They’re curious little piggies, gently nudging with a boot-chew here and there, as interested in me as I was in them.

Piggies3

The above are the ‘little’ piggies, weighing in from approximately 50-70lbs at 3 months old.

Piggies9

They will bulk up to about 240 lbs by 7-8 months of age, like the hog above, before being sent to market.

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Look at all of that space!!!

If you ask Greg and Bonnie what sets their pork apart from the rest of the pack, they will tell you, first and foremost that they have happy hogs.  But in more technical terms:

  • they do not spray the pastures that the pigs are on for weeds or insects
  • pigs do not receive antibiotics, hormones, or artificial growth promoters to ensure pigs grow faster or leaner than they would naturally
  • their pigs get a plant based diet, with no animal by-products in that feed
  • the barley and faba beans that are fed to the pigs have been grown conventionally (crops are sprayed once to kill the weeds in the field, and the barley crops are grown with inorganic fertilizer when necessary to provide the appropriate levels of fertility in the soil).
Piggie Feed Collage

Faba Beans and Barley grown by Greg & Bonnie Spragg; then ground into a fine flour for pigs to eat when, and as much as, they please.

Spragg’s Meat Shop opened in Rosemary, Alberta in November 2005; due to increasing demand for their product, they built a new (and very impressive) processing plant, on the right, which opened a month ago.
Spragg's Shop
You should see the smokehouse they have now!
Greg & Bacon

Bacon is brined for 10 days before spending time drying and smoking in Greg’s impressive new smokehouse. It’s even digital!

The expansion to include processing allowed Greg and Bonnie to raise the hogs, process them, and then market the pork products direct to the consumer.  The meat shop prepares their free range pork for both the farmer’s market retail locations in Calgary, Brooks and Millarville, as well as restaurant and wholesale customers.  In peak season, they process approximately 50-70 hogs each week; with hogs being butchered twice weekly, the pork you buy Thursday-Sunday at the Calgary Farmers’ Market is as fresh as it gets.

And since they were cutting hams, they gave one to me!  When someone gives you such a beautiful ham, you don’t refuse.  So, here’s and Easy Easter Ham recipe for you.

For more photos of the farm visit, check out our Facebook album.  And for another look at Greg and Bonnie’s happy hogs in greener pastures, check out the slideshow on their website.  Or you can follow them on Twitter and Like them on Facebook!

Want to know more about what sets Spragg’s apart from the rest?  Stop by the meat shop here at the market and ask, they’ll be happy to share more information with you!

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