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Heritage Lane: Farm’s focus on rare breeds

Jun 6th, 2012 | Category: Community, Farms

by Jessica Harbert

Tucked minutes from the Canadian border in dairy farm territory, Heritage Lane Farm raises and sells pork products, both fresh and frozen. The farm’s mission is to focus on rare breeds of livestock, raising pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys and geese.
Right now the farm has 50 to 60 pigs at one time, said Heritage Lane Farm owner Craig Mayberry, and hopes to begin processing 80 pigs a year. It takes one year to 18 months to raise the pigs – Large Black and Mulefoot breeds – to be big enough to process, he added. This is a longer time frame than for commercial pigs.

Heritage Lane Farm. COURTESY PHOTO

The heritage breeds of pigs provide a better quality meat, which is darker, more marbled, and has better quality taste and consistency,  Mayberry said.

Heritage Lane supplies meat mostly to local retail stores, including the Bellingham Community Food Co-op, Sno-Isle Co-op in Everett, Acme Farms & Kitchen, Link Lab Artisan Meats in Seattle, and the Fountain Bistro in Bellingham.

With different factors affecting the price of local meat, Mayberry said feed is a major challenge. The issue is cheaper protein that comes in higher quantity feed compared with real grain and protein, which provides a higher quality feed.

“It is expensive on the feed front,” Craig said. “But the cost of processing is a main factor in the price in the purchasing of local meat.”

The increased price in processing is responsible for the better quality in both product and working conditions at the processing facility, along with a higher level of cleanliness. The meat from Heritage Lane is processed at Keizer Meats, the only USDA certified meat processing facility in Whatcom County, also in Lynden.

“The main thing is to educate consumers,” Mayberry said. “People need to be educated on why local food costs more and then decide whether cheap livestock is better.”

Pork raised and processed out of state is typically $3 less a pound, Mayberry said. Beef has the same issue.

The ultimate challenge the farm faces with raising rare livestock breeds is finding the ideal diet, a combination of grain and protein to keep the livestock thriving, Mayberry said. “It’s hard because there is no research on optimal diet for optimal growth.”

Heritage Lane Farm is experimenting with a fodder system, a method of growing feed on the farm for its animals. The farm has a container space filled with barley mats costing the farm 50 cents per mat. This new system will hopefully aid to decrease spending more money on higher quality feed, Mayberry said. The barley mats do not replace purchasing feed all together, but help to reduce those costs. The new system has been in place for a month and a half, so it is fairly new and adjustments are being made.

Mayberry is working to find a diet with the right balance of barley grown on the farm and locally produced feed, and being sure the livestock is getting the appropriate proteins while maintaining a high level of quality for the livestock. The pigs need more fat and protein, which the barley does not provide and must be found in other feed options. The pigs are also fed a flax meal that is grown across the street from the farm. The farm is also exploring growing wheat grass.

Heritage Lane started about three and a half years ago. The Mayberry family (Craig, Kelly and their five children) moved from Portland to Whatcom County in 2004. Mayberry, also a professor at Western Washington University, teaching business at the College of Business and Economics, said farming was new to them, but were inspired by the local level of interest and conversations.

Heritage Lane Farm was a former dairy farm with basic infrastructure to start with, and Mayberry added fencing, pens and areas for the livestock to match what was needed.

“It has been more expensive than I thought,” Mayberry said. “That is certainly a hindrance for getting people involved in farming.”

A big challenge, he added,  is keeping up with local demand – generating enough frozen and fresh quantities.

Long term goals include building a commercial kitchen on site and hosting dinners on the farm. Along with the new fodder system, Mayberry plans to develop a larger composting system too.

The farm participates in the Food to Bank On program through Sustainable Connections and the Whatcom County Farm Tour, scheduled for early September this year.

For more information, visit heritagelanefarm.net or follow their Facebook page.

Published in the June 2012 issue of Grow Northwest magazine

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