Arkansas hog raisers rally around Boston Mountain breed

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 1,478 views 

Northwest Arkansas is known for calling those hogs, but at Mason Creek Farm near Fayetteville, it’s not about sports, it’s a way of life. Rose Konold, owner of Mason Creek Farm, has developed a new hog breed known as Boston Mountain Hogs.

She said the breed is a sturdy lean and long hog suited for pasture raising, which she does year round, selling winglets for finishing to other smaller local farms and finishing some herself which are marketed to local restaurants and area farmer’s markets.

Realizing that there are strength in numbers, Konold recently organized a local breeder’s association for the Boston Mountain Hog. The group of about 30 met in Fayetteville Wednesday, (June 18) to select their board of directors. The group also has a trademark pending for the recognized breed.

Members in the local breeders group came from as far away as Edmond, Okla., to hear more about marketing opportunities with new brand trademark, which is also U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Animal Welfare approved.

Konold recently met with Whole Foods, who toured her Fayetteville farm looking for potential pork suppliers this region, which will include the new store coming to Fayetteville, in Little Rock and soon-to-be two in Tulsa.

“By pooling our resources the farmers in this association will be able to supply enough meat all bearing the same quality label for larger retailers like Whole Foods,” Konold said.

The group is also eager to work with B&R Meat Processing, new meat processor which recently opened in Winslow. B&R also is USDA and Animal Welfare certified, key for the Boston Mountain Hog trademark.

“I think the timing is ripe for our breeder’s association to take off. We continue to get requests we can’t meet for winglets to raise. We have about two dozen members in our group with breed sows at this time. We expect the trademark approval by early 2015,” Konold said.

The Boston Mountain Hog breed was bred for more bacon and longer loin meats, Konold said.

“Everybody wants the bacon, but’s there’s only so much bacon on the Berkshire and Tamworth breeds we were raising. So through gene selection we bred for a longer hog, with large litters. Because it’s pasture raised and not confined, it needs big eyes and ears and hair to better weather the elements,” she said. “The breed also gives a consistent chop with just enough marbling to be forgiving to the general public who tends to overcook their pork.”

Because the breed is pasture-raised they are leaner than commercially produced hogs, but Konold said she also uses some grains to help finish the hogs at Mason Creek.

“Hogs are what they eat. They graze and eat roots for six months and they get finished with grain, at Mason Creek,” she said.

Al Tynon runs a large hog farm in Northeast Oklahoma raising Tamworth, Berkshire and soon, Boston Mountain Hogs. His farm is located near the Lo Ma organic dairy and he feeds whey from that dairy to his hogs which are raised on pasture.

“Our hogs are leaner and known for their sweet flavor,” Tynon said.

He markets his hogs online and is eager to see what co-oping as a breeder group will do for overall sales.

The group said they were surprised to see the markup at retail when selling directly to grocers like Whole Foods, Ozark Natural Foods and Allens.

“Whole Foods gets 50% to 60% mark up. It’s half that Ozark Natural Foods and less at Allens, when I worked them,” Konold told the group.

She said Ozark Natural Foods sells out of the pork when they have it because people who try it can taste the difference.

As more consumers want to know where their food comes from and who it’s sourced, retailers are taking note. Springdale-based Harps Foods announced a new partnership with Seaboard Foods to supply 100% natural pork, minimally processed with no solution or other additives to the regional grocer.

“The new pork program will improve our customers experience and will allow us to provide a more consistent quality pork product at the same great price points,” said Carey Otwell, Harps director of meat and seafood. “Sometimes it pays to not be the biggest guy on the block because being a smaller company, we have the ability to partner with single source suppliers, which means one pork processor can supply all of our pork needs and we can control quality at a whole new level this way.”

The new Harps branded pork program will roll out to the public this fall in which Harps will begin branding their pork under the “Harps” name. All of Harps meat is cut in-store by meat cutters.

Harps said Seaboard Foods raises its pigs on farms located throughout the Plains, including neighboring Oklahoma and Kansas, and is a 100% USA owned and operated company, with headquarters in the Kansas City metro. Seaboard Foods controls every step along the way in its integrated pork production system.

SeaBoard is a commercial pork processor that still uses a controversial practice known as gestational crating. Many food retailers and restaurants have joined the movement to abandon pork sourcing from companies that use the gestation crates. 

Cargill, announced June 8 it will end the use of gestation crates on its company-owned pig facilities by 2015 and its contractors’ facilities by 2017.  

“Cargill’s decision brings us closer to the day when gestation crates will be relics of the past in the pork industry. Americans simply don’t support locking animals in cages barely larger than their bodies, and Cargill is right to be leading its industry away from the practice,” said animal rights activist Paul Shaprio, vice president for the U.S. Humane Society.

Cargill’s announcement follows similar announcements from more than 60 of the country’s largest food retailers— including McDonald’s and Costco—declaring plans to eliminate the confinement cages from their supply chains.

Additionally, Smithfield Foods announced plans to move away from gestation crates, and meat giant Tyson Foods said “future sow housing” should allow animals to turn around.

For Konold and her fellow breeders who adhere to the Animal Welfare Approved criteria,  pasture raising is the only method that will do.