Jeffrey Linton is a Canadian pig farmer who has spent much of his life working on his family’s small farrow-to-finish farm located in Walton, Ontario. But in 2010, Jeffrey travelled to Scotland to spend 3 months working on an outdoor sow farm with 500 animals, refining his husbandry skills. When he returned to Canada, he established Linton Pasture Pork, a niche market pork company that believes in humane, sustainable, and antibiotic-free production. Jeffrey’s hogs are pasture-raised outdoors between spring and fall, and spend their winters living in an old-fashioned bank barn with an outdoor option. It’s a pretty idyllic life for a pig, and it results in pork that tastes, well, better. We dare to say that you can taste the honourable, ethical, and happy life Jeffrey’s pigs have lived.
Brad Long recently caught up with Jeffrey to talk about why he does this extra work, how he got to this point, and why it’s all so worth it to him to walk the difficult and winding path of those who care.
Brad Long: Why are you a pig farmer? In this modern age you could have run away to do anything else, like write apps for Google.
Jeffrey Linton: My father, also a pig farmer, was born and raised in East London, Ontario. He started out by hand-feeding three piglets in his mother’s basement. From there he worked three jobs, saving money until he could buy his first farm in Huron County. So I guess you could say a passion for the oinking little critters is in my blood. Growing up, my father would tell me bedtime stories about pigs being raised out on pastures in the United Kingdom. These stories later played an important role in my decision to travel to Scotland to learn how to raise pigs outside. After returning home to Canada, I worked three separate jobs so I could start my own farming business. Starting a farm from scratch wasn’t easy, and I wanted to do it all on my own with little to no assistance. Raising pigs is not just a job for me. It’s my life. It’s my passion. And today I get a lot of joy and intense satisfaction from raising pigs the way I feel is the most ethical and humane. That’s really what keeps my passion alive.
BL: What does “farrow to finish” mean?
JL: “Farrow to finish” is a term used in the pig industry to describe the process by which pigs are born and raised to full maturity on the same farm.
BL: With all the buzz words that swirl around food and farming, how do the big ones—local, organic, sustainable—feed into what you do each day? Does the current state of food inspire you to do what you do, or, conversely, would you be doing it the way you’re doing it no matter the age you lived in?
JL: Buzz words such as “organic,” “sustainable,” and “natural,” just to name a few, are kind of a tough thing for me to understand. I’ve never fed into the whole hype of it all. That’s why I started the #CertifiedLintonPasture pork label from the get-go. People ask me “Are you organic?” My response is “No, I am Certified Linton Pasture Pork.” I strive to ensure my pigs have more than enough room to grow and develop, that they are treated humanely, and are fed a diet that will support their natural growth cycle.
“Pigs need to root; they need to forage. I grow 20 different species of plants in my pastures to provide a natural diet that they can forage year-round.”
BL: How does the growth cycle of your pigs differ from a commercial pig?
JL: Conventional pigs farmed on a commercial scale take about 160 days (on average) to reach maturation/finishing stage. My pigs take between 180 to 240 days (depending on their breed) to reach maturation. Conventional pigs are raised in a controlled environment, which means factors such as their environmental temperature, food and water supply, and amount of physical activity are monitored and calculated. These factors are somewhat more difficult to control in a pasture environment, therefore my pigs take a bit longer to reach market stage.
I’ve always supported an “open barn door” policy. My customers can literally come to my farm, run in the pasture with the pigs, and observe the pigs in their natural habitat. The health of the soil, the fields that I grow the feed in, and just seeing how happy my animals are inspire me to continue doing what I am doing. The commercial meat industry is lacking all of that. Not a day goes by that I regret the path I chose.
BL: There are so many opinions about food ethics out there. You treat your animals to quite a different “lifestyle.” What’s that all about? How is their life different than most grocery store pork? And why do you go the extra distance to do all of this? Does it cost more? Do you charge more? Is it worth it?
JL: You could say that my pigs live in paradise. I honestly strive for that. Pigs need to root; they need to forage. I grow 20 different species of plants in my pastures to provide a natural diet that they can forage year-round. My goal is to have a truly healthy “pastured pig” without feeding them grains. Until then, I provide a controlled balance of grains and minerals to supplement their foraging. My pigs currently roam over several different pastures, which provides them with a great amount of room to grow. Groups of pigs are separated based on their age, size, and temperament, and they are routinely rotated to different pastures. Proper fencing, ramps, and corrals are important tools I use to properly manage my pigs in a manner that will be the least stressful for them. It’s definitely a labour-intensive process, and as my herd grows I will hire and train people to raise my pigs the exact same way I do now. It is not the breed of pork that makes it delicious, but their lifestyle.
I believe everyone should have access to affordable food that is nutritious. So, when I started my business, I priced my product accordingly. Good, healthy food should not be for the wealthy only. My products are priced slightly higher than grocery store pork to account for the amount of labour and other operating costs to produce them; however, I like to think that my consumers value quality vs. quantity.
Watch for more from Jeffrey, as he keeps us up-to-date on life on the farm with his pigs. For information on where you can find his products, visit lintonpasturepork.com. You can follow Jeffrey on Instagram at @lintonpasturepork.