An unusual kind of pig has found its home in a little corner of Hinchinbrooke called Old Wood Hollow. Mangalitsa pigs, which originated in Hungary, are uncommon in Canada but Stephanie McBride is raising them to offer their distinct meat to the Valley and beyond.
The endeavour began when McBride moved to the area from Knowlton to be with her husband, Matthew Shewchuk. McBride wanted to raise horses, which she describes as “really expensive and they don’t make any money.” To pay for the equines, she started looking into different farming practices.
At the time, McBride did not eat meat because she didn’t know where most of it was coming from. Her experience working in high-end restaurants and for food magazines taught her the importance of “knowing about your food.”
After much research, McBride came across the Mangalitsas. She liked that they “did better outside and can endure really tough temperatures.” These pigs are more like dogs, she says; she can tell each of them apart based on their unique personalities. “I get a kick out of them, and I like that they live two years on the farm here before they’re sent out, so they have a [relatively] long life.” The animals are raised outdoors and thrive with lots of space and activity.
The meat from the Mangalitsa is described as “the Kobe beef of pork,” in that it has distinctive flavour, texture, and marbling. McBride says that “It got a bad reputation for being a really fatty pig. It has red meat, and so it’s not like a regular pig at all.” However, the meat being “fatty” is a misconception, she says, and it is easy to misunderstand how this breed needs to be raised for the best pork. “If you try to rush it to market, or you try to overfeed it, or you keep it inside or in a very small pen, it doesn’t get enough exercise and it eats too much.”
When raised properly, both the fat and meat are delicious. “It’s a very common pig in Europe, and they use the fat like butter there, because it’s a very clean fat.” Mangalitsa pork is also excellent for making charcuterie, and all cuts tend to be very flavourful and nicely marbled.
Arm-deep in pig raising
McBride was a first-time farmer and had a lot of learning to do when she first began. One of the stand-out moments for her was the first time her sow gave birth. She had prepared as much as she could and had been warned to stay away from a sow while it delivered its piglets. But, after hearing a horrible scream from the labouring pig, McBride sympathized with her sow’s pain, especially since she had recently given birth herself. She quickly looked up what to do: “I had to stick my arm ‘up there’, which I had never done before. I was Googling with one [hand] and arm-deep with the other, trying to figure [it] out.” She was able to free the stuck piglet, and the rest of them came out with ease.
McBride says when she was first starting out, there was some skepticism about her new endeavour. “As a woman, do you have any idea how many people thought I was crazy doing this because my husband’s not here?”
Initially McBride worked closely with a Valley native, Erika Scott, and the two of them persevered despite the comments made by traditional farmers and went about things their own way, securing Old Wood Hollow’s name as one to watch.
And while some observers showed doubt, many people from the community reached out to offer help, knowing she was a beginner. She says that, in the Valley, farmers “help each other grow, which is really cool to see.”
McBride is hoping to expand her livestock enterprise to include Icelandic sheep, whose grazing habits work well with pigs in pasture-rotation systems. The farm also grows organic vegetables for restaurants and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) baskets, and McBride recently received a grant from the FADQ (Financière Agricole du Québec) to put in a greenhouse.
This summer, she will be selling vegetables at a stand outside the Dépanneur Herdman/Marché du
Vieux Bois, which she and her husband recently purchased, and which is being run by Marie Shewchuk. On top of all that, they are converting another property into a short-term rental which will offer “farmer for a week” experiences to guests.
There is a lot going on at Old Wood Hollow, and more information can be found on the website, www.oldwoodhollow.com; the Facebook page at Old Wood Hollow; and at oldwoodhollowfarm on Instagram.
McBride says that the support of local businesses is “essential … We all need to go to Costco sometimes, but if we constantly do that, it’ll be the only choice that’s left.”