The motto at Shaw Family Farms in Aldergrove is the animals they raise ‘only have one bad day.’
The farm’s roughly 400 pigs — all born and bred on the property — are free to roam and enjoy the outdoors until their fateful day arrives.
The owners of the farm believe if the livestock — including pigs, wild boar and lambs — live in a relaxed, stress-free environment, they end up tasting better.
“How you treat (the livestock) is how (they’re) going to taste,” said farm co-owner Jamie Shaw, who along with his dad, Ronald, in 1998 bought the property where the farm sits today. “So if they live a life of stress and anger and frustration, it comes out in the meat. It’s just like a deer: you don’t want to shoot a deer and then chase it for four hours and kill it – the meat will taste different.”
Co-owner Mel Snow said personality goes a long way for some fortunate pigs. “A lot of these pigs are our friends, and if we get too friendly with them… they stay.”
“So if it’s a sow, and it has a great personality, like really, really friendly with us, we’ll keep it,” Shaw elaborated. “So we have a lot of animals on the farm that don’t do anything for us.”
Shaw said when the pigs are taken in for slaughter, they are transported to Chilliwack a day ahead of time so the trailer ride isn’t stressful.
“They hang out there overnight so by the time the morning comes, they’re already relaxed, they’re used to their environment… it’s really stress free,” Shaw explained. “Chilliwack has the most humane kill facility around, the way they do it. It’s almost like they kind of put the pig to sleep with a massage before they actually do it.”
The farm is truly a labour of love for the owners who both have full-time jobs away from it — Shaw works for 7-Eleven’s head office and Snow is a machinist.
“We don’t take anything out of the business, because everything we make, we put right back in, either fixing the barns, building our herd, doing this, doing that,” Shaw said. “We’re just building and building. As many pigs as we have, we still don’t have enough for all of our customers’ needs.”
Shaw said raising livestock the ‘clean’ way is all about ethics.
“So why not support people who truly look after the well-being of the animal?” Shaw said.
On its website, the farm notes that it specializes in farming practices of the old days:
“Animals are raised as natural as can be with no GMOs (genetically modified organisms), no growth hormones and free range,” the website notes.
When they are ready to give birth, the farm’s sows are moved to a natural farrowing pen, Shaw said.
“If you went to a commercial pig operation, you’d find the sows in a really tight farrowing crate, about an inch bigger than their bodies,” he added. “They’ll spend their whole life in that crate; they’ll have their babies there.”
Former Food and Lifestyles editor at the Vancouver Province, Renee Blackstone is a board member with the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation. She says ‘clean meat’ is a slogan for people who want to eat food that is sustainably raised.
“It is not a legal term and started with something called ‘clean’ eating about 10 years ago, when all the rage was to go from over-produced food substances to their more natural forms,” Blackstone said.
Blackstone said people are not only concerned about minimizing their “intake of questionable sources of their food,” they also are looking at animal welfare as part of their buying decisions.
“Again, there’s probably a lot of green-washing going on with promotion of both ‘clean’ food and animal welfare, but when you can visit the farm or look the farmer in the eye at a market, buying such products becomes easier to do,” she added.
“Plus, you support local food production, which is another aspect consumers seem to want to support.”
South Langley’s Central Park Farms has been a ‘clean meat’ producer since 2015, says its owner, Kendall Ballantine.
Ballantine defines clean meat production as the “raising of animals in a way that improves the environment in which they are raised, while also giving our animals the ability to live closer to nature.”
Sustainability is the reason Ballantine started the farm, after becoming frustrated with all the — she said — “green washing misinformation being fed to consumers.”
“I wanted to know, first-hand, that the food I fed my family was ethically and sustainably raised, so we began by raising free range non-GMO fed chicken and now also offer pasture-raised pork, farm fresh eggs from non-GMO fed, pasture-raised hens, and coming later this year we’ll be selling grass fed and grass finished black Angus beef,” Ballantine said.
She added that it’s Central Park Farms’ goal to help the community make ethical and sustainable food choices.
“We do this through transparency with our customers. You can log onto our social media and see videos and photos of our animals and our operation, we open our doors to visitors at the farm. We want you to know us as farmers and, more importantly, how we raise the meat you feed your family.”
Ballantine said just because something is “local,” doesn’t necessarily mean it was well raised.
“Likewise, a farm that isn’t organically certified may still be meeting or exceeding the requirements of certification but, like our farm, may choose to not get certified due to the high costs,” she continued.
“If we get certified, those costs have to be passed down to our customers and the consensus of our customers is that they’re happier to buy our products, because they can see what we feed our animals, where they live, and how they’re raised. We don’t need certification; we need consumers to take a more active role in their food system and to hold us farmers accountable to the claims we make. Want to know what we feed our animals? I’ll show you.”
Chicken farmers are historically “very closed door” when it comes to their operations,
Ballantine said, adding, “While we do need to be careful for bio-security reasons, we’re always willing to take the time to show our community what makes us different from commercial farms.”