Bumpy Road Ranch keeps it natural

Farm Forum

The Bumpy Road Ranch 7 miles north of Aberdeen is breaking the mold of today’s agriculture industry and producing some delicious meat as it does.

Amy Crawford is a third generation farmer on her family’s land, where she and her father operate a humble, free-range ranch with pasture-raised pigs, turkeys and chickens.

“Why I do this is I believe in creating quality and ethical food,” Crawford said. “Having a relationship with your customers and knowing where your food comes from are why we do this. We believe it’s a better way to raise food, and the outcome of that food is a higher quality as well.”

Crawford predominantly raises three different breeds of hogs, including Berkshire and Mulefoot. But she said the highest-quality hog bred on the farm is the Mangalitsa.

“Mangalitsa is considered the kobe beef of pork,” Crawford said, adding how the meat is high-fat, marbled and red rather than white in color.

While Crawford’s hogs are exotic in comparison to the pig breeds typically found in confinement operations, nature is just as important as nurture when it comes to pork quality and flavor. She said confinement operations may negatively affect the taste of the pork.

“Pork is the easiest meat to flavor, so having them (pigs) in confinement, where they are in a building with their own waste, that flavors their own meat,” Crawford said. “Also, they’re not able to move around. That makes the meat different as well.”

Crawford said her pigs are fed non-genetically modified grain along with any other seasonal, natural goodies that come along.

“We collect extra apples in the fall along with acorns. So we’ll find those and give them to them, and that flavors them really well,” she said.

The pigs rotate between several different pastures during the year, allowing them to graze on fresh grass and roots.

That grazing technique is also beneficial to the land.

“They leave behind their waste, which adds carbon to the soil, so instead of depleting the ground of nutrients, they’re actually adding the nutrients back into the soil,” Crawford said.

She said the way pigs behave when allowed to roam freely in pastures debunks many misconceptions.

“Pigs are a lot like dogs. So a lot of people think that pigs are aggressive, but confinement pigs are aggressive because they don’t have the chance to move around and rut and express their natural animal behaviors,” she said.

“So they have all this pent up energy, and they’re on concrete, so there’s nothing comfortable about it. These ones, if we were to go in there and walk around, they would come up to you, lean up on you, want their ears scratched. They’re very social animals. They’ll even try to escape to go find you because they miss you.”

And just as promised, the pigs slowly began warming up to the strangers visiting Crawford’s farm — especially a male pig who took full advantage of having somebody scratch that hard-to-reach spot on his back.

While the animals are easy to become attached to, Crawford said knowing she raises the animals in the most natural way possible is reassuring when it’s time to process the meat. That’s usually when a pig is 9 months to a year old.

“When we take them to butcher, the goal is kind of to be 250 or 275 (pounds),” Crawford said. “These are considered heritage breed pigs, so they do take a little longer to grow out. But they have so much better flavor that it’s worth it.”

The turkeys and chickens are also pasture-raised at the Bumpy Road Ranch, though the chickens will soon be mobile.

Sort of, anyhow.

“My dad and I are converting a camper into a ‘chicken-egg mobile,'” Crawford said, adding that the chickens will be able to nest in the camper during the night, but will be free to roam outside during the daytime.

Having a mobile nesting shelter will help alleviate waste build up.

“So the poop will go onto the ground, and we’ll move the camper every week so they’re leaving the waste behind,” she said.

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• Find out how to purchase pork and other products from the Bumpy Road Ranch at bumpyroadsd.com or the ranch’s Facebook page.

• Amy Crawford said she will also be selling products at the Aberdeen Downtown Farmers Market, which opens on May 5.

• The Aberdeen farmers market will be from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Thursday through October at Central Park.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Bumpy Road Ranch raises Yorkshire pigs.