Homes needed for pigs

Metchosin's Tom Henry feeds one of his hogs. He has hundreds of them.

Pig farmer Henry needed a new home for his 350 hogs but found himself competing for barn space with classic cars and weekend fishboats.

“There is more money in storage than there is in farming,” said Henry, co-owner of Stillmeadow Farm, on Wednesday. “So barns get rented to people who have recreational fishboats, motorhomes or ‘69 Mustangs.”

Eventually, he reached an agreement with his in-laws that would allow him and his wife, Violaine Mitchell, to build a new hog barn on family land in Metchosin. He expects to have the barn completed to meet his February move-out deadline. Getting approval to allow the operation to move to his in-laws’ required a variance to the development permit — a hog operation with the number of animals he has at peak times of the year is too many for the proposed setbacks from property lines. But Henry said his meetings with councillors and other Metchosin residents were heartening. Everybody was in favour, whether it was about being good neighbours or supporting local food production.

“There was just amazing community support, including from people who are absolutely proximate to this site,” Henry said. The 56-year-old, who was born on Vancouver Island but grew up in northern B.C., has been farming on the Island for about 10 years. Henry now farms about 130 acres spread over several parcels, many of them rented. Stillmeadow employs four people and earns about $700,000 a year in revenue.

Besides hogs, he also raises poultry, some sheep, and a little grain for local bakeries. The pigs are mostly heritage breeds, Berkshire and Tamworth, with more fat than standard pork, bred since the 1980s for very lean meat.

“They have leaned the pigs out so much the meat is now more like a roofing shingle than a pork chop,” Henry said. He also tries to raise his pigs in ways animal welfare authorities certify as humane. Instead of being kept in small stalls and crates, they get “buckets of room,” quality bedding — which Henry said helps cut down on odour — and are allowed outside on occasion.

When he received notice of eviction in July, he investigated buying more land. Metchosin didn’t have anything suitable available. The Saanich peninsula and north of the Malahat were too far away to run a livestock operation. It looked for a time like Stillmeadow might have to liquidate its pigs. But hogs are 90 per cent of the Stillmeadow operation, and Henry has become too familiar with his 50 breeding sows to just send them off to slaughter.

“You develop an attachment to them, especially the breeding sows,” he said. “We know these characters really well, so [liquidation] was an option that was almost unthinkable.”

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns said council was happy to help with the variance to the development permit. Ranns noted in 10 years of operation, the municipality had received not one complaint about smell or any other disturbances about Henry’s Stillmeadow operation.

“He has been doing it for about 10 years and nobody even knew,” Ranns said. “He is a very careful farmer.”

Richard Watts / Times Colonist

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