A small-scale farmer in southeastern New Brunswick is doing his part to restore a rare breed of curly-haired pig.
Dominic Beland — or Nic B., as he's known locally — is raising a pair of Mangalitsa heirloom pigs on his farm in Riverside-Albert. He brought them home about a month ago after buying them from a breeder in Nova Scotia.
Now, Beland says he's the only Mangalitsa producer and his pigs the only representatives of their breed in New Brunswick.
"The numbers are growing," he said on Friday morning of the breed's total population.
The increase comes three decades after the Mangalitsa almost disappeared altogether. Now, the curly-haired pigs — historically bred for Austro-Hungarian royalty — number in the hundreds in western Canada and almost 60 in the Maritimes.
"Within a couple years we should have quite good numbers," Beland said.
The goal in this region is to establish multiple bloodlines within the species so that their producers can avoid cross-breeding or inbreeding the pigs.
Beland, for his part, plans to buy a third male and two females in April and a fourth male next year.
"With this, we should be able to have multiple bloodlines going at the same time here in the Maritimes."
Huey and Lewis
Aside from trying to save the species, Beland is also raising the pigs for their meat. He said he will keep some boars but it's difficult to find male pigs that aren't related, given that there are so few breeders.
Currently, he owns a pair of brothers, Huey and Lewis.
"I am a cold cuts- and dry sausage-, prosciutto-type of person, so I guess one of these guys [is] going to end up in the fridge," Beland said.
That will take place in the fall of 2018, once the pigs are full grown and have at least quadrupled in size. Now just 30 pounds at three months old, Huey and Lewis will grow to between 160 and 200 pounds.
This is relatively small compared to other breeds, which as adults can easily reach 600 pounds, Beland said, noting that the Mangalitsas are fattier pigs.
However, it's healthier fat, which doesn't go rancid, he said.
"It is the fat that was used in the old days to preserve pretty much anything. … It is the perfect fat.
"And not only that, on the prosciutto, when it has aged a little bit, it tastes like butter. Should I say more?"
Beland feeds his pigs organic ancient grains from local producers, as well as peanuts, which the pigs love. In the summer, Huey and Lewis will also have a field of pumpkins, carrots, beets and other vegetables to forage in.
Then, in the fall, Beland will feed the pigs acorns from the trees on his property. The nuts, he said, make their meat taste amazing.
'We're trying to do it old style'
Originally from Montreal, Beland moved to Albert County in order to expand his honey business, Heirloom Remedies.
"The farm is just exactly what we were looking for," he said, highlighting its acreage, as well as its location on a road travelled by tourists.
Already wanting to grow heirloom tomatoes and raise heritage chickens, Beland said, "Why not pigs? That's pretty much how it started. We're trying to do it old style."
'Everything started to taste better'
Beland's interest in producing his own food began a few years ago, when he started a garden and realized that his carrots and tomatoes tasted better than those he bought from the store.
From there, he started raising chickens.
"Everything started to taste better," he said.
Now Beland's goal with the farm is two-pronged.
He said he wants to encourage summer tourists — with the help of his "mascots," Huey and Lewis — to stop and stay a while in Riverside-Albert. He also wants to educate people about producing their own food.
Beland is holding an event this Sunday at his property, Queen's Farm Fundy, which begins with a meet-and-greet with his pigs at 9 a.m. and wraps up with BLT sandwiches and a potluck at noon.