The premise is simple: pigs raised on the ground instead of concrete pens are happier pigs and produce better and tastier meat. That’s the theory at Thompson Farms here in Dixie, Ga., where Andrew Thompson produces pork, selling almost all his production to Whole Foods stores throughout most of the South. There’s a local connection: he is the brother of Mike Thompson, an attorney in Technology Park/Atlanta at Peachtree Corners.
For the last several years, Thompson Farms has taken the middle man out, selling directly to Whole Foods, which pays a premium price for the high quality and more expensive-to-produce meat. And yes, all you have to do is taste his pork, and you’ll know it’s of a better quality.
Thompson Farms is on 250 acres in deepest South Georgia in Brooks County, and it also rents another 300 acres. The work force of 14 do everything from grind the feed, tend the hogs, slaughter and package the meat. “Farrow to finish,” they call it, with the live animals never leaving the farm.
Andrew’s sister, Donna Anderson, works alongside him as the corporate secretary, while his wife, Jennifer, helps out when needed, and cooks a hot lunch for the workers three days a week. (On the other days, they grill hot dogs or hamburgers, or even pork.)
The operation started with Andrew’s grandfather in 1930, and were continued by his father, Raymond, until his recent death. Now Andrew, 51, anticipates that their son, Bayly, a high school senior, will join him once he finishes college. The couple also have a daughter, Abby, now in college at Milledgeville.
Thompson’s pigs are raised on land that has been chemical and fertilizer free for 14 years. The sows live, give birth and nurse for 8-9 weeks within electric-fenced areas, while the pigs can scoot under the wires and roam and eat on acorns, supplemented by grain. The sows average producing eight to a litter, though some produce 12-13 offspring.
At one time, the Thompsons raised pigs on concrete. Andrew says: “But this way, when one got sick, all got sick within that pen. And the meat was tougher, and not as tasty. It was too lean. All the pigs did was sleep, eat, drink and defecate with no exercise. We had to medicate them more, and the area smelled awful.
“Now we let the pigs wander around, and keep the sows within electric pens, and rotate them often. We have shading to keep them cool, plus water from two wells and 68 nozzles create mud holes. And we seldom have to medicate.”
Presently the farm has four boars for breeding, and plans to get several more soon. Thompson raises meat from several breeds, Brookshire, Duroc, Yorkshire and Hampshire. The boars are kept active for about five years, then destroyed on site, “For by then, their meat is not as tasty.”
A Georgia Department of Agriculture gathering two years ago put Thompson in touch with Whole Foods, which buys the entire carcass, which is cut up at Thompson Farms. “Those stores run out of bacon and loins the quickest,” he says.
Next for the farm will be another processing and packaging building. “We’re just running out of room right now.” Another goal is that Thompson is anticipating to be free of genetically modified feed, with Whole Foods encouragement, by the year 2018. “We’re working on it.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Thompson anticipates continuing to produce pork that “puts the taste back in the meat.” After all, his meat comes from “happy pigs.”
To learn more, go to ThompsonFarms.com.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared at GwinnettForum.com.
Images: all of the photos were provided by Elliott Brack.