Jerry Nelson: Beer-fed hogs
A few years ago, I met a trio of brothers who had started a brewery and had leveraged its success to take over a small town.
Well, OK, they didn’t control the entire town. But their brewery had grown to become one of the most prominent businesses in Lucan, Minnesota (population: 175).
Thanks to their last name, it was all but predestined that the three brothers – Dustin, Trevor and Brady – should go into the beer business. After all, brau is a German word that means “brew.”
The Brau Brothers Brewery soon outgrew their digs in Lucan. They moved to Marshall, Minnesota (population: 13,487) and set up shop in a building that had been a farm supply store. In addition to their beer-making equipment, the Brau Brothers Brewery features a restaurant that serves scrumptious pub grub.
I was recently Googling an event that was being held at Brau Brothers Brewery — it was called Hop Fest, although it had nothing to do with jumping frogs — when I stumbled upon a Facebook post titled Beer Fed Hogs.
Google revealed that the hogs in question are owned by Dave and Leah Schueler, who live near Echo, Minnesota (population: 278).
I called Dave to learn more about their operation and how their pigs came to be brewski aficionados.
“Our 500-acre farm has been in the family for three generations,” Dave said. “When I was growing up, Dad raised a few hogs and had some beef cattle.”
How did you meet Leah?
“We met when I was going to college in the Twin Cities (population: 4,046,000). Leah was mentoring youth and working at a nonprofit bakery called the Cookie Cart.”
When did you start raising pigs?
“We purchased our first five feeder pigs from Craigslist shortly after we moved back to the farm in 2014. It was Leah’s idea to start raising hogs. She has always had a deep passion for food and how it connects with the local community.”
Did Leah have previous farming experience?
“No. She grew up in Grand Rapids, Minnesota (population: 11,000) and went to college in the Twin Cities. It was a bit of a culture shock when she moved out here. For instance, she couldn’t believe how fierce our prairie blizzards can be.”
Tell me about your hogs and their relationship with beer.
“Shortly after we began raising hogs, Leah’s former boss contacted us. She was starting a restaurant and asked if we could supply pork for her. We made an agreement and began to grow our hog operation to its present size. We currently butcher about seven head per month. The hardest part these days is finding a place to process our hogs.
“About six years ago, Dustin Brau asked if we would like to start taking their spent brewer’s grains. We immediately said yes. We get about four one-ton tubs of brewer’s grains each week. This varies, depending on the amount of beer the brewery has produced.”
Is there anything special about raising hogs on brewer’s grains?
“Pigs love brewer’s grains. It’s like the slop we used to feed hogs. The pigs grow slower on brewer’s grains. This causes them to marble more thoroughly, which gives the pork a richer flavor profile. We also pasture our pigs as much as possible. We feel that letting them be out in the sunshine enhances the quality of the pork.”
Do you make your entire living from the farm?
“Not yet. I’m a special ed teacher and the football coach at our local high school. Leah also works there as a counselor. We basically have three fulltime jobs. My father lives across the street from us and does chores when I have a football game.”
What are the challenges of feeding brewer’s grains?
“When we first began, it didn’t occur to us that the stuff would freeze. I spent the first winter hacking away at frozen brewer’s grains with an axe. Leah and I eventually built a small, heated shed for wintertime storage. But that’s why we enjoy farming. We enjoy being creative and finding a way to make things work.”
I see by your website that you have three children.
“We adopted our children, who are siblings, four years ago. Leah and I wanted children and our kids needed a family. It worked out extremely well for everyone. We couldn’t imagine life without our kids.”
One final question: is your pork served at the Brau Brothers’ pub?
“Absolutely. Theirs was among the first restaurants to start featuring our pork. The brewer’s grains come from Brau Brothers and returns to them as pork. It’s the circle of life.”
To learn more about the Schuelers, go to: www.fertileacreagefarm.com.
If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.