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Splotch and Me

One man’s experiment in true farm-to-table dining.


Splotch at Flying Pigs Farm late last month.  

Splotch was born in the first week of April at Flying Pigs Farm in upstate Washington County—a wrinkled two-pounder not much larger than a lobster, in a litter of twelve. He was the proverbial spotted pig. Large, black, Dalmatian-type patches covered his body, with one taking up almost all of his right ear. Spotteds are not a rarity in pigdom, but farmer Michael Yezzi, Flying Pigs’ owner, had never seen the pattern in Splotch’s particular breed: a Large Black–Ossabaw cross (Splotch’s father, Big John, was the former; his mother, Alibi, the latter). Ossabaws are a storied breed. Descendants of Spanish pigs brought to America some 400 years ago, they were discovered on the eponymous island off the coast of Georgia and are essentially feral. A cross between an Ossabaw and just about any domestic pig results in intensely delicious pork— well marbled and with just a touch of wild boar to the flavor. Which is a good thing, since I planned, not far down the road, to eat him.

Splotch spent the first four weeks of his life in a hay-lined barn, complete with a heat lamp and plenty of food for Alibi. Nursing, of course, was Splotch’s primary occupation, followed by sleep and the occasional tussle with his brothers and sisters. Farms typically keep a relatively small number of breeder pigs, which are allowed to live for three or four years before meeting their end as 500-pound “sausage pigs.” Meat pigs, on the other hand, are allowed just six to eight months of life before being slaughtered. Most grow muscle until they reach about 250 pounds, after which their bodies convert to growing fat. In Ossabaws, the switch occurs at about 160 pounds. This gives the farmer the option: slaughter them small or let them grow some fat. Splotch got the latter. He would be allowed to reach almost 200 pounds. That meant he was slated to “hang at 160”—the carcass’s weight once the guts are taken out—and destined to appear on my plate sometime in December.

It was a warm spring, and at seven or so weeks of age, Splotch and his litter were released outdoors. When I saw Splotch in mid-May, he looked like a small, sporty terrier. Flying Pigs Farm was built next to the childhood home of Yezzi’s wife, Jennifer. Michael Yezzi took up pig farming in 2000 after a career as a lawyer, and he runs Flying Pigs conscientiously. The pigs he doesn’t breed himself he procures from local family breeders. He gives his animals feed from local family suppliers and slaughters them humanely in a local family slaughterhouse. The farm’s main customers are like-minded Greenmarketers and chefs from downstate’s better restaurants, plus the occasional home-cook foodie. His Dodge Ram has the words THIS TRUCK RUNS ON VEGETABLE OIL stenciled on the tailgate.

Although an all-grass diet yields more-flavorful meat, it is impossible to raise a pig on grass alone. “It would be like raising a baby on just vegetables,” Yezzi says. “It’s fine for an adult, but not while you’re growing.” A truck regularly dumped a corn-and-soy mix into ton-and-a-half rotary feeders placed in Splotch’s field. Now and then, a case of apples arrived from a nearby orchard. If there was one thing Splotch loved with all his heart, it was apples.

Every three to four weeks, Splotch and a hundred or so of his peers were moved farther up the hillside to turn new soil and eat new grass. When it rained, as it did a lot this summer, the moves came more often: Pig hooves and snouts can turn a fresh meadow into a Woodstock mud bath in one day. All in all, there were five relocations in Splotch’s life. As farm pigs go, he was a fairly well-traveled one.

Chief among Splotch’s amusements, of course, was the wallow. Pigs are not dirty in the human sense: They don’t aesthetically choose filth over purity. They simply lack the capacity to sweat, so they use mud to cool off. Another occasional entertainment involved chasing chickens. The birds, nominally kept in an open-air pen, manage to get everywhere on the farm, sometimes hitching rides on Yezzi’s truck. Inevitably, they make their way to the pigs’ side of the property. Pigs tend to react to a chicken’s presence about the same way a small child does: with staring, followed by spirited stomping toward their subject.

Splotch wasn’t especially social or combative, active or lazy, happy or glum. Like all the other pigs at Flying Pigs Farm, he didn’t want for much, and personality usually comes through in the wanting. When the photographer for this story showed up to take his picture, Splotch peacefully ate every carrot offered to him, then took off in a gallop as soon as the photographer raised his camera. “Pigs tend to sense when you want something from them, and do the opposite,” says Yezzi.

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