Meet the Modern Farmer Using New Zealand Pigs to Restore a Former Tobacco Farm

When Rachel Herrick purchased a 47-acre farm in Cameron, NC, she had her work lower out for her. The soil was stripped of vitamins, dry after a long time of tobacco farming. However Herrick was undeterred. Farming was in her roots, and with some work and regenerative practices, she knew she might change the land for the higher.  

And she or he has, making gradual however regular progress over the past seven years. She even named her land Gradual Farm. However she hasn’t undertaken this transformation alone. As a substitute, she’s had a workforce of helpers by her aspect: 25 roly-poly pigs, her secret weapon for soil well being. 

Herrick retains kunekune pigs, a breed domesticated in New Zealand—kunekune means “fats and spherical” in Maori—and they’re good for the small farmer. The pigs fortunately chew their means by way of the broadleaf weeds that pop up throughout her fields, which different livestock received’t contact. “They hold pasture techniques balanced in order that unpopular vegetation can’t simply take over,” says Herrick. 

Herrick grew up engaged on her household’s 60-acre farm in Maine, the place they raised and offered beef, pork, poultry, eggs and produce. Like many farming households, her mother and father inspired her to depart the enterprise to go to varsity. After graduate college, she spent a decade pursuing a profession in blended media artwork earlier than realizing that farming themes had been on the forefront of her work. 

“It solely took me, like, 10 extra years to appreciate that it was bananas of me to make artwork a few factor that I knew find out how to do,” she says. “[I could] be half of the particular change that I longed for.”

Rachel Herrick.              Pictures by Christine Corridor.

So Herrick put away her artwork provides and returned to North Carolina, beginning Gradual Farm. The property was a foreclosures that had been unoccupied for a decade, however Herrick was intrigued by the itemizing. It included a home, two barns and a pond, and it was already enclosed with a fence, so the muse was there. She says she knew she was dwelling midway up the driveway. 

She introduced in goats to maintain the overgrowth and provides the soil a lift of vitamins. After a yr and a half, she noticed important enhancements within the pastures. However goats solely eat overgrowth at their knee stage, so she wanted livestock to maintain the decrease weeds. 

That’s when she turned to kunekune pigs. Kunekunes are small, docile pigs with brief, upturned snouts that forestall them from uprooting the dust like conventional hogs. When making an attempt to revive topsoil, the very last thing you need is to until it up, in order that they have the proper abilities for the job. They pull their weight on her farm by merely consuming and pooping.

“They munch broadleaf weeds and depart behind this lovely, fairly pH-neutral poo that the dung beetles go loopy ([for],” she says. “If you will get your dung beetles excited in regards to the challenge, they’ll accomplish that a lot of the give you the results you want. They make all of the [pig] poop into tiny little balls after which tuck it like an inch beneath the soil for you. That’s precisely what you need should you’re making an attempt to construct topsoil.”

Maori folks in New Zealand domesticated kunekunes to stay among the many villagers, so they’re naturally laid again and pleasant. They’re common amongst small farms and family-owned operations as a result of they eat about one-fourth of the grain wanted for the standard pig and are pleased to roam fenced pastures with out making an attempt to flee. 

“Kunes don’t usually push fences, which is one other large deal. Farmers spend plenty of time fixing fences, and we don’t usually like it,” she says.

For Herrick, the pigs are an integral a part of the farm, contributing to a holistic surroundings. That’s what she was searching for when she began Gradual Farm, a spot to maneuver away from the farming strategies she grew up with and lean into practices that labored with the land as an alternative of in opposition to it. 

​​“I’m fascinated by the historical past of farming by way of what it could train us about slower, extra sustainable strategies,” says Herrick. “These are people that took their time, in order that they didn’t need to repeat themselves and so they weren’t making an attempt to make use of plenty of inputs they didn’t have.”

Herrick retains a everlasting herd of 25 kunekunes, and she or he additionally breeds them for different farms wanting a greater technique to handle their lands. They’re nonetheless a comparatively uncommon breed, so she is cautious to maintain the diversified bloodlines she has introduced in from locations like California, Pennsylvania and Virginia to make sure her pigs are wholesome and genetically numerous. 

They stay amongst her different livestock, together with chickens, Ancona geese, geese and guineas, and she or he says the pigs are straightforward to please and get together with everybody. Give them a pasture and a few grain and so they’ll fortunately do the work.