Nettle Valley Farm raises open pasture pigs

There’s a farm just outside of Spring Grove where heritage breed pigs roam in fields of grass, eat black walnuts and rest under cool pine trees.

The 67-acre farm belongs to Dayna Burtness and Nick Nguyen, who recently started raising pastured pork. A husband and wife team, both were raised in the Twin Cities, though Burtness remembers visiting the area during her childhood.

Burtness got her start in farming when she took an internship on an organic vegetable farm during college. After that, she started her own organic vegetable farm and grew vegetables for seven seasons.

She and Nguyen decided to make the move to the area and start raising pastured pork on Nettle Valley Farm.

“I love this area and the topography is amazing,” she said. “People have been very welcoming to us.”

Though the farm is not certified organic, they do follow the rules of organic farming.

The pigs are fed a 100 percent certified organic feed made from field peas, barley and flax meal plus minerals. They also graze on clover, black walnuts, grasses, nettles, gooseberries, raspberries, roots, brush, grubs and whatever else their snouts can find.

Many of the pastures that the pigs are rotated through have the pigs’ favorite snacks including dandelions, grazing kale, buckwheat and chicory.

In result of that feed, the pigs’ fat is firm, higher conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and a better Omega 3:6 ration, Burtness said.

“They’re not bred for lean quality. If they have more fat, they have more flavor,” she said.

Customers have told her the pork is “the best they ever had,” and neighbors say it tastes like old-fashioned pork, or “how pork used to taste.”

The pigs are also not given antibiotics or dewormers. Instead, Burtness uses apple cider vinegar as a dewormer and Dr. Paul’s SwineX, which is made of Diatomaceous Earth, black walnut hulls, neem and garlic.

“We focus on prevention for them,” Burtness said. “I always learned the organic way.”

The farm has hosted several open houses for people to come and see the pigs. Customers are always welcome to come and look at the pigs before they purchase a whole or half pig.

“I want to give them the best life they could possibly have,” Burtness said. “They have room to just be pigs.”

She added she loves to watch them and see their different personalities. It’s also interesting to learn what they eat first when they’re in a new pasture.

“The more I learn about them, the more I realize I am similar to them,” Burtness joked. “They love to eat, they like the shade and they like to take naps. I also like those things. And I love bacon.”

This year, the farm processed 10 of 25 total pigs. A lot were sold to Spring Grove families, she added.

Burt’s Meats in Eyota works with the farm to process the meat. Currently, the cost is $6 per pound hanging weight for a whole hog and $7 per pound hanging weight for a half hog. See their website at nettlevalleyfarm.com for more information on ordering a pig.

Nettle Valley Farm’s name comes from nettles found there, which is Burtness’s favorite plant.

“You can eat them, dry them, freeze them and make tea,” she said. “They’re good for medicines. They also defend themselves.”

Much of the plants growing in the fields around the farm are allowed to go to seed and sustain themselves, Burtness said.

Nguyen said nettles are the most useful plant around. He currently works for a software developer based out of Nashville and also helps with the “not-so-fun” chores on the farm, such as bookkeeping.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “I want to get involved. I like living here.”

Burtness said the farm is sold out on pork this year, but plan to get 40-50 feeder pigs next year and raise them up.

Check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NettleValleyFarm and their website at www.nettlevalleyfarm.com.