“Raising outdoor pasture pigs has always been a dream of mine, and in 2016 that dream became a reality when I imported two Red Mangalista pigs from California and EH Farms was born.” – Christina Stender
AOTP: How did you get into farming?
CS: I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture -Animal Science degree from the University of Guelph focused on swine production. I am also active in community support and sit on the Economic Development Board in Wheatland County where I bring my energy and knowledge of growing an agricultural operation in the region.
Along with my husband, Andy and our two boys, we bought a little 14-acre cattle farm and converted it into an amazing outdoor pig paradise. We are located just 30 minutes east of Calgary outside Strathmore in the County of Wheatland. We are considered pioneers in introducing the Red Mangalitsa pig to Canada thus creating a niche market. We also raise chickens, quails, ducks and laying hens for extra fun!
Throughout the year, our family farm host culinary events and farm tours to introduce urban visitors to aspects of the Mangalitsa and farm life. Based on the dedication and care that goes into raising livestock, I share our story about life on the farm and the vital role agriculture plays. I enjoy reconnecting people with their food, and where it comes from, especially with Mangalitsa pigs.
AOTP: Why Mangalitsa pigs?
CS: After doing some homework, the Mangalitsa pig shined above all the other breeds. They were the perfect fit for our climate and family farm. Like us they are a rare and unique breed! The Mangalitsa originates from Hungary; they are the fattiest pigs in the world, and are renowned for charcuterie, salami and cured hams. Their meat is considered among the tastiest pork in the world. The meat is reddish, highly marbled with creamy white fat. It’s high in Omega 3-6-9 and natural antioxidants. Mangalitsa lard is lighter, melts at a lower temperature and contains high levels of mono-unsaturated fat (the good fat), making the flakiest pastries.
AOTP: What does your operation look like now?
CS: Today Eh Farms has many followers on social media. Follow #eh_farms on Instagram, EH Farms on Facebook as we love sharing stories. We also have an amazing website: ehfarms.ca We currently have 43 Mangalitsas of which 13 are piglets born this past month. These little “bacon bits” are born with dark racing stripes on their backs which eventually start to fade at around three weeks of age, just like wild boar piglets. Our farm is divided up into sections; boar housing, teenager pens, weaned piglet pen, pregnant girls’ pen and my personal favourite the farrowing barn.
We are unique at Eh Farms when it comes to farrowing. In traditional swine operations a farrowing crate is used to prevent the mamma sow from laying on her piglets. At Eh Farms, two weeks before a mamma is ready to have her piglets (aka ready to farrow) I bring her into the farrowing barn so she can rest and build up her nest before the piglets come. Once the piglets arrive, I set up camp, YES, I sleep down at the barn! I bring down a futon, pillow, blankets, food, and drink (pizza and wine are my staples) for the first three days of the piglets life. I ensure everyone is healthy, suckling and I’m on watch to rescue any piglets that are not quick enough to get out of the way when mamma goes to lay down. Squished piglets are the number one cause of death at this stage. Outside the barn, we have individual pens each with a large green space to watch the pigs roam, root, forage, dig and especially wallow in a mud hole. They all have a shelter, and fresh water. The Mangalitsa is the last breed in existence to sport a wooly fleece like coat which helps them withstand our harsh cold winters.
AOTP: What is your favourite memory as a farmer?
CS: August is a busy time here at Eh Farms. We host two events, Alberta Open Farm Days and The Hungarian Mangalitsa Festival. These two events attract over 700 people to our farm including my 82 year old dad, Pépère who comes out from North Bay, Ontario to help and support me. Having him here to see my dream come true is awesome. My dad leaves his imprint throughout our farm each year with the many projects that he has helped us complete and with his innovative ideas like building a chicken coop (out of pallets), using wheel rims to hold my garden hoses and adding barn board side rails to transform our once sporty truck into our everyday farm truck. In addition, he is our #1 tractor driver/tour guide for our events and everyone loves him especially me.
AOTP: What products do you sell?
CS: When I first started out, I was doing cold calls to chefs. I was giving out samples, talking about our farm, and how we are raising this old heritage breed of pig. It was important for me to properly introduce people to the unique attributes of the Mangalitsa breed. Today, we have grown through word of mouth. We offer various cuts of pork for sale at the farm, to the individual consumers who wants something different and unique. Whole and half sides to restaurants in Calgary and Banff. Whole muscles, like the shoulder and hind legs, to avid charcuterie makers. Any cut you can think of that comes from a pig, my butcher Noel from Ryan’s Meats in Calgary, can make it happen. Our number one weekend seller is a pack of our MANGALICIOUS bacon with a dozen of my youngest son Easton’s farm fresh eggs. Our fresh rendered lard is also becoming a very popular item as health-conscious consumers are moving away from using butter, margarine, and oils. These consumers are replacing traditional fats with our healthy and nutritious lard, to help improve their cardiovascular health.
Farrow to Harvest to Consumer,
Our Mangalitsas are raised for approximately 24 months before they are harvested vs the 5-6 months for conventional store bought pork. At this time, I bring them to an abattoir in Strathmore were I stay with the Manga until the process is over. This gives me a chance to say my goodbyes and to give myself a pat on the back for all the hard work and love I put into this individual animal. All of our Mangas are inspected for health before they are butchered and processed in a provincial facility. This allows me to sell and showcase our product to restaurants across Alberta.
Restaurants and consumers can purchase our products by simply sending an email to [email protected].