Julia Smith and her husband Ludo Ferrari never intended to become pig farmers, but crabgrass-infested land served as a catalyst for what is now Blue Sky Ranch.
The land in question is where the pair started Blue Sky Ranch’s predecessor, Urban Digs. “We were trying to have this nice organic farm. And the easiest thing to do to get rid of this weed was to spray it with toxic chemicals. But we didn’t want to do that…So we got a couple of pigs to root up this invasive weed,” says Smith.
“At the end of the season, we got bacon and we were hooked. So, over the next few years, we found ourselves growing fewer vegetables and more bacon.”
As their operation grew, the pair sought out a new location and ultimately launched Blue Sky Ranch in Nicola Valley, outside of Merritt, B.C. The 21-acre, off-grid farm now produces approximately 150 pigs, in addition to selling weaner pigs (piglets that have been weaned from their mother).
“Most conventional pork farms would be raising thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pigs a year on the amount of land we’re operating on,” Smith notes. “Our pigs are truly free range — they’re out in the woods. The sows come into the barn to have their piglets, but even then, they have about 20 times as much space as most are given.”
“Because we’re using these heritage breeds, they take longer to grow. But the meat is so much more flavourful. It’s a completely different product,” she adds.
The ranch raises a mix of heritage-breed pigs — including Berkshire, Large Black, Tamworth and Duroc — on pastures that are completely herbicide, pesticide, chemical-fertilizer and biosolid free. “The most important thing is we want the pigs to be able to exhibit their natural behaviours,” says Smith.
Smith’s latest project is helping preserve heritage breeds. Blue Sky Ranch recently began raising Red Wattle pigs. “If we don’t preserve the original heritage stock, we’ll end up with a bunch of hybrids and we’ll lose that genetic diversity,” she explains. “I felt like I was [now] in a position to start taking a little bit more responsibility for that.”
Smith says the ranch will soon be able to offer this heritage pork, which she describes as being leaner than most heritage breeds while still boasting amazing flavour.