The pigs don’t know anyone like they know Andrew Tilt. He’s the man who feeds them and chases them back into their enclosure when they get too curious and wander past the wood door to the shed in the middle of the field they call home.
When a car pulls into the driveway by the old farmhouse store on Tim Barrie’s asparagus farm, one can see them rooting around the field just past the sweet corn that’s getting tall in late summer. As soon as they hear the door to the car close, the pigs run over like an old friend returning after a long absence.
They have a candid look of happiness and a piggy smile they direct toward passersby; their small eyes scan as their snouts sniff the air.
Tilt is used to this greeting.
“We would always have cows and a few pigs and exhibition ducks and chickens so we showed them at fairs,” says Andrew, walking toward the farmhouse.
“I was at the University of Guelph and I just became interested in pastured pork,” he laughs.
Tilt was a geography major who went on to become a high school teacher in Preston but his passion for pigs stayed with him.
“I approached Tim [Barrie] about keeping pigs out here, I knew he had a bit of land and I asked him,” he says. “Tim’s up for anything, and a forword thinker, so we started behind the barn. We did ten our first year.”
Pigs don’t sweat. Standing in the far, sun-drenched side of the field they don’t seem to notice its getting warmer. The pigs are spread around the corner of the field where they feed on grain and sweet corn. Some are starting to wallow in the mud to cool off.
“I just love raising pigs this way, there’s no smell and the hogs love it, they are so happy,” says Tilt.
Pig farming in Ontario is not supply managed, so you can have as many as you want. For someone wanting to break into agriculture, pigs are a really viable option. An operation can start small with just a couple animals and a bit of space. Tilt rents two acres from Barrie (about two football fields); in exchange he offers one pig, averaging $3.50 per pound.
“We didn’t borrow any money to start this, this is all just cash,” Tilt says, hashing out the economics of agriculture. “Five hundred bucks in pens, $200 in fences, $700 in feeders and that’s it.”
“If you want to get into it you just have to be ambitious and cold call a few farmers in your area closest to you and outline what you want to do and why you want to do it and see if they are interested.”
Farming pigs, however, is more than a call to one’s neighbour. Tilt spent a significant amount of time researching and travelling to get the skinny on pork.
“There’s a lot of guys looking to downsize and slow down and if you can get a hold of a farmer like that who is looking for people to take over, or try different things there is lots of opportunity, it’s just a matter of finding them.”
Today Tilt’s herd numbers 34 hogs. He takes orders for whole and half pigs and sells cuts of pork from his self serve freezer or through Barrie’s Asparagus Farm & Country Market.
Until October, these pigs will mosey toward a parking car with the same, friendly greeting they offer Tilt.