Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Livestock Conservancy Conference

Last weekend I attended the Livestock Conservancy's national conference in Austin, TX. Like all of their conferences, the food was amazing! Members donated a variety of delicious pastured meats from heritage animals. Then the lucky chef gets to use that meat in all sorts of creative ways for a breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The meats included Gulf Coast sheep, Red Poll beef, and Large Black pork.

Although food plays a starring role in the conference, the real reason that everyone attends is to learn and network. I presented a half-day workshop on Friday morning about creating value-added products with heritage livestock, and it was a lot of fun. The point of the session was not to tell people how to do things (like spin yarn) but simply to give them an idea of things that could be done and what type of investment would have to be made in terms of learning and and financing. I met some very interesting people at all stages of the farming journey, from those still in the planning stages to those who've been raising livestock for many years. Saturday, I presented a one-hour talk on goats as the centerpiece of a diversified homestead, which includes information on how to actually make things like soap and cheese.

When I wasn't speaking, I attended sessions. During most hours, I was wishing I could be in two places at once! My favorite was a session on silvopasturing pigs -- or, raising pigs in the woods. The speakers were Marc and Lydia Mousseau of Atlanta. If I had met them anywhere else, and they had asked me to guess whether they were pig farmers or the owners of a design firm, I would have totally chosen the latter. However, the correct answer is "both!" I could totally relate to them because they were city slickers like I was 12 years ago!

It was two years ago that Marc became enamored by Ossabaw Island hogs and started talking about raising them on their land outside of Atlanta. Of course, his family thought he was nuts. (Sound familiar?) But as he continued talking about them and even came up with a business plan, they began to realize that he was serious.

Marc talked about the job of building a barn and erecting fencing for the pigs, as well as his agreement with an Atlanta chef who buys all of the pork that is currently being produced. I laughed more than once at his stories, and I filed away a couple of interesting tidbits of information. (1) He buried his fencing eight inches deep to keep the pigs from escaping, (2) If you say "Ossabaw" to Siri, she thinks you're saying "Awesome Bob," so of course, Marc had to name one of his boars "Awesome Bob!" and (3) Ossabaw Island hogs kill and eat coyotes! But they don't eat the tail.

Although Austin was unseasonably cold with temperatures in the 50s, Illinois was much worse! I arrived home to temperatures in the teens, and we had a dusting of snow on Monday evening. Winter seems to be arriving much earlier than normal, and I am definitely not looking forward to it.

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