The black sows amble over to them for a back scratch or a refreshing spray from the water hose. They're muddy because they mire in the mud to stay cool. Otherwise, they're clean animals, Perry explained.
"I have a special interest in socializing animals. I make an attempt to develop a relationship with them," she said. "I spend time with them. Cheerios and granola also help."
The bond she establishes with them has a practical purpose.
"We need them to come when we call them. They're smart," Talbott said. "We round them up every day to check on and count them. We're the benevolent caregivers."
Twelve sows, two boars named Bert and Ernie and about 150 pigs currently live at Black Oak Holler Farm and will be released into the farm's surrounding woods. "Eighty percent of the state is woodlands. All we do now is harvest and re-grow it," he said. "Why not use it as a food source?"
Before they are moved to the harvester, Nelson's Meat Processing in Milton, they are happy pigs. They have a good life. That's important to Talbott and Perry.
When they described their unique pig-raising approach to Carlo Petrini, founder of the slow food movement, he said, "When I die and come back, I want to come back as a pig on your farm."
It's always hard to see the pigs leave the farm.
Nelson's, an official animal-welfare approved harvester in Milton, processes the pigs in the least stressful environment possible. Stress in animals prompts rush of adrenaline that ruins the taste and texture of the meat.
"We have one shot at harvest," Talbott said. "All our work can be undone."
Domestic pork, inaccurately marketed as "the other white meat," comes from pigs raised in concentrated confinement, on small concrete pads and fed with corn and lot of antibiotics. Talbott and Perry supplement Black Oak Holler's pigs' foraged diet with locally grown barley.
Black Oak Holler pigs average 350 pounds. Pigs raised by confinement-feed operators weigh in at about 250 on market day.
Between 80 to 100 Black Oak Holler pigs are harvested for Woodlands Pork each year. The hams and bacon are dry cured for two years by Broadbent's B&B, a meat curing facility in Kuttawah, Ky. Jay Denham oversees the painstaking process.
"The two-year cure is not for the faint of heart. It ties up lots of money," Talbott said. In comparison, Virginia country hams are cured for three to four months.
Mountain Ham is not identical to the Tuscany hams that inspired him, which investor Heckett considers to be a good thing.
"They're different, but I'd put my ham on a plate with any other in the world," he said. "At tastings, I've had people say they like mine better."
For more information on Black Oak Holler Farm and on small-farm sustainability, contact Chuck Talbott at 304-937-3243 or email Chuck.Talb...@mail.wvu.edu.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?Talbott and Perry started the West Virginia Food Charter, in which a group of small producers pools their resources and expertise. Other resources include:
West Virginia Food Charter at www.wvhub.org/wvffc/west-virginia-food-charter.
West Virginia University Extension Service at ext.wvu.edu.
West Virginia University Extension Small Farms Center at smallfarmcenter.ext.wvu.edu.
UK Sustainable Farming Program at ukagriculture.com/farming