Friday, June 8, 2012

A Canadian-Brazilian FairyTale - Rance Hesketh's Happy Pigs

Rance Hesketh (in blue T-shirt) and his pigs
The lucky porkers who live on the Alfheim ranch, located high in the Serra do Mar mountain range that separates São Paulo city from the coastal plain of São Paulo state, just might be the most blissed-out pigs in all of Brazil. The ranch, whose name means "elf home" in German, is situated deep in the dense mountain forests of the Mata Atlantica, Brazil's threatened coastal rain forest. It is at Alfheim that Rance Hesketh, 49, a transplanted Canadian, cultivates organic crops and raises a variety of animals in the best-possible and most organic way, and it is there where those fortunate porcines spend their days rooting around, rolling in the mud and grunting contentedly.

Hesketh moved to Brazil in 2008, although he was already familiar with the country from previous visits, upon arrival began to implement his dreams for the ranch. Among his plans and ambitions was a scheme to raise native breeds of pigs organically and humanely. He eventually decided to raise two breeds, the Sorocaba and the Monteiro. When the ranch was ready to receive its first animals, he traveled to Mato Grosso state in western Brazil to pick up his first breeding pairs. Today, Alfheim is home to about 150 pigs who share their territory with organically raised dairy cows and free-range chickens.

The pigs are only fed organic food, which is primarily cultivated on the ranch itself. Sugar cane and manioc are planted on the ranch, and provide the bulk of the pigs' nutrition. Corn which comes from neighboring Paraná state supplements their diet and contributes about 20% of the animals' caloric intake. When the pigs are ready to go to market they are also given whole milk from the ranch's cows to prepare them for slaughter.

Every week, the ranch sends two or three pigs, aged between 3 and 6 months, to the nearest licensed slaughterhouse, located in Ubatuba, 35 kilometers away. Hesketh would prefer to slaughter the pigs on site, but is forbidden to do so by agricultural regulations. He disagrees vigourously with this requirement and says, "What good does it do to submit the animals to the stress of transport? It destroys all we have done in raising them humanely. We need to come up with a less stressful way of slaughtering our stock."

The pigs from Alfheim go to market at a much smaller size than most pork - at about 70 kgs (150 lbs), yeilding about 20 to 30 kgs (45 to 70 lbs) of deboned pork - but Hesketh believes that at that size, the animal provides a better-tasting and more tender meat.

The idea of humanely raising meat animals who feed only on organic, vegetable food is a new one in Brazil, where such ideas are just beginning to take hold with producers and consumers. Whether there is a viable market for such meat in the long run is still unknown. But what can be stated with certainty is that the grunts of the Sorocaba and Monteiro pigs who call Alfheim home sound like the grunts of very, very happy piggies.

With material from an article by Olivia Fraga published in the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. Translation of Mr. Hesketh's remarks by Flavors of Brazil.


  1. Reading this makes me hungry! Rance is a great guy and unless you have have a very good reason to disagree with his methods, let him do what he wants. He is not an asshole or jackass and undoubtably knows more about this than you do. Just saying....

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