Happy pigs: Revival Meats raises all-natural pork products
March 24, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.
Updated March 24, 2010 at 10:25 p.m.
YOAKUM - Morgan Weber stepped carefully Saturday through Revival Meats' fields. His tall rubber boots protected him from the muddy ground below.
The soggy, chilly weather might have presented unpleasant conditions for humans, but the 43 pigs who call the place home didn't seem to mind.
"They love it," Weber said, glancing at a pig wallowing in a puddle.
Weber owns Revival Meats, a Yoakum company that opened this year. The company raises rare Mangalitsa and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and prides itself on raising animals humanely and with environmentally sound practices.
The company isn't certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture, but it raises its animals all naturally, Weber said.
That means workers don't put antibiotics into the pigs' food like many industrial companies do. They do, however, inject antibiotics into a sick animal, Weber explained.
A Revival pig recently developed such a high fever that it became disoriented. Rather than watch it suffer, Weber gave it a round of medicine, which cleared the fever up.
"If anyone's spent any time with a sick animal, you know you don't want it to stay like that," he said. "And here, in this setting, they don't get sick as much anyway."
Weber allows the animals room to roam. When pigs find themselves in cramped enclosures, they can become claustrophobic and so unnerved they begin to eat one another, he explained.
The Yoakum location boasts fields of clover, bound on all sides by electrified netting fences.
Pigs are destructive animals and can cause quick damage to the ground, so the portable fences help. Weber keeps them on one patch of land for about a month before moving the fencing. That way, by the time the pigs return to the original patch, the ground's had time to heal.
The animals, for the most part, learn to stay away from the fencing, Weber said. On Saturday, however, one wayward sow struck the charged wire and ran in the opposite direction.
Pigs are herd animals and hate to be alone, so Weber said he makes sure the pigs always go places - even to slaughter - at least in pairs.
The environment the animals are raised in offers more benefits than simply happy pigs. The roomy environment makes for better meat, Weber said.
When animals are stressed, they release hormones and tense their muscles, which changes the meat's texture and taste, Weber said.
The Yoakum pigs feed on clover, alfalfa, grasses and minerals, although Weber said he hopes to introduce acorns into their diets soon. Pigs take to acorns the way Weber said he takes to ice cream, and it also increases the meat's quality.
"It transforms already great pork into the best pork in the world," he said. "This is kind of the Kobe beef of pork."
Revival's products are certified by the state health department.
Ryan Pera is executive chef at The Grove in Houston. He practices "nose to tail" cooking with the Mangalitsa. He says he uses every bit of the animal possible.
Pera developed a variety of dishes, such as sliders from the roasted pig belly, sausage from its shoulder, pate from its head and liver - and even a condiment from its fat.
"It's a beautiful animal that tastes great, without a doubt," he said. "It kind of melts in your mouth, as well."
Mangalitsas are extremely rare and it's a new flavor for the area, Pera said, adding he enjoys working with Revival Meats.
"As a chef, I'm always looking for new products, new ways to give customers something exciting and different," he said. "This is another way to do that."
Revival Meats may still be new, but plans are already underway to expand.
Chickens and sheep are in the company's future. Weber also hopes to plant fruit trees; one of the company's other locations already plays home to cattle.
Weber's main goal is to focus on local agriculture, he said. He wants to pair with local farmers who share similar views about raising animals and urge restaurants to look for food products that come from their area.
"There's no reason I should not be able to buy local," he said, adding that he won't ship his meat across the country because he wants to encourage similar ideas nationwide.
In the meantime, plans are to continue raising the animals all naturally. Revival Meats began more as an experiment than anything else, Weber said, but it took off.
"We'll just see how it goes," he said, adjusting his hat. "But it's been fun."