Jim Short of Dover lives high on the hog. / Photo by Joe del Tufo
Jim Short is a full-time environmental scientist who also works in his family’s grain and hog farming business, Country Boy, in Dover. He raises Berkshire pigs for meat that he sells to area restaurants.
DT: How long have you been a farmer?
JS: I started working in the family grain and hog farming business when I was 9. I’ve farmed or been involved in gardening my entire life. However, my career has been as an environmental scientist.
DT: Are you a full-time farmer?
JS: No. I work full time and farm part-time. This “part time” farmer probably works at least 1,000 hours per year. Most of this time is spent tending hogs and managing pasture, but I also transport the hogs myself to Haass’ [Family] Butcher Shop for processing and deliver the pork products myself directly to the restaurants. This also takes time. Pastured farming is very labor intensive.
DT: How did you get involved in raising Berkshire pigs?
JS: A combination of factors. I was familiar with hog farming from my youth. We had a small, fenced-in horse pasture that was unused, and my gardening produced excess, some of which was just ending up in the compost pile. At first I thought raising a couple hogs on the vacant pasture and garden excess seemed like a good idea. After doing some research on raising pastured pork, it became apparent that Berkshires are the preferred breed by the restaurant industry. By growing Berkshires, not only would I be able to provide a quality pork product for home, but it might also afford a niche business opportunity.
DT: What do they eat?
JS: Delmarva Feed of Kennedyville, Md., is a local feed mill with a good reputation and competitive pricing. I use their hog feed. [The hogs] are also pastured now on a variety of plots besides just the old horse pasture. The pasture varies throughout the year and includes orchard grass, clover, wheat, peas, rapeseed, turnips, a variety of fresh vegetables during the growing season—alfalfa hay, in particular during hard winter times, to provide a pasture source, to the extent possible, when the ground is frozen or snow covered—and, of course, corn. I plan on trying other annuals in the pastures as well. Because I do not ring my hog’s noses, they are also permitted to root in the pasture while in the sunlight and fresh air for soil minerals, roots and invertebrates, to their liking. This affords them the opportunity to partake in the natural act of rooting, which is very important to swine behavior, and to supplement their diet with nutrients and minerals that may not be available in manufactured feeds. Sometimes I even simply let them free range in the harvested field and the woods. I also let the hogs dig their own wallow (mud hole) in each pasture so they have a place to cool off in the warmer months—also a very important activity to hogs. Combined, this makes for a happier and healthier hog, both for themselves and for us. In terms of the quality of a hog’s life, brief as it may be, there’s simply no comparison between a pastured farm versus a factory farm.
DT: Why do you think the farm to table movement is so popular these days?
JS: It makes good economic and environmental sense for so many reasons.