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LA Chefs' Suppliers: A Cook Pig Ranch's tale - the middle Part 2

Second part of two parts, please start here with Part 1

Pigs at Cook Pigs Ranch
Pigs at Cook Pigs Ranch
Image courtesy of SHGfoto
Mike & Krys Cook plus family of Cook Pigs Ranch
image by Carrie Sandoval, Baby as Art, provided by Krys Cook

Krys quickly realized that her new pigs were amazing! Her pigs were intelligent, stimulating, and also very frustrating. Having never had pigs before or even any training on another pig ranch, Mike and Krys learned by doing which, of course, included making a lot of mistakes. For example, they put their pigs in a chain link pen (horrible idea), never fed them at the same time everyday, gave them water in buckets, and tried to avoid walking past them because their pigs would go crazy oinking at them. Mike and Krys quickly learned that pigs weren't a novelty, plus that their own schedules were never going to be the same again.

Krys and Mike's prior experience with dogs didn't prepare them for their new life with pigs. Krys remembers coming home from a wonderful family day out only to find their lush gorgeous green grass completely uprooted by the pigs that were also drinking out of the swimming pool. After crying, Krys took the kids inside and had a long conversation with Mike about what the hell they were doing. Understand, at this point, Krys became obsessed with pigs and the psychology of relating to them. Krys thought constantly about the best possible feed and environment for pigs, the most elite breed of pigs, methods of farming for pigs, niche markets, and the farm-to-table movement as well as how to do all of this when their savings were close to being depleted.

Krys's great grandpa on her dad's side started one of the very first ranches in LA, specifically in Agua Dulce, that had three hundred plus acres. It was a full working sustainable pasture ranch. Krys's dad grew up fishing and riding horses there. When Krys's Great-Grandpa Asher passed away, the ranch got sold. The county now owns some of the ranch as a county park while the rest of the land was developed as upscale houses called Asher Estates. Krys's dad is an extremely smart business man, plus is Krys's inspiration and mentor. Krys's dad though was very confused about this whole whimsical pig farming idea that she was doing. Her father worried because Mike and Krys were investing all of their savings into this seemingly crazy venture. Krys's father's father, her grandpa, helped Mike and Krys with their beginning business plan, plus gave Mike and Krys some amazing tips that her great grandfather used. To begin with, don’t buy commercial grain, instead tap into local high quality throw away food. So this food strategy intially became Krys's primary focus.

She formulated a feed plan from all of her research on hogs raised in Hawaii and Spain. She learned that if you start feeding them a more wholesome diet that they actually exert less methane in their feces and this is better for the environment. (Additionally, all the food that pigs eat that would otherwise end up in landfills reduces methane from that food decomposing). She also realized that living in Fallbrook was the perfect set-up for the most delicious pig ever. So rather than the soy and grain fed factory farms pigs in large industrial warehouses, Krys and Mike's fed their pigs raised outdoors avocados, macadamias, tortillas, spent grain, fresh fruits, and goat's milk. Krys obsessing on breeds of pigs also started learning more about heritage breeds. Krys and Mike already had Durocs, which they got on a whim. But now they did more research and decided to purchase Red Wattles. They bought one young boar, one barrow, and two gilts. This purchase was a huge financial and and emotional commitment for them. Additionally Krys and Mike invested in some heavy duty livestock panels to help keep their pigs contained.

At this point, Krys's family thought Mike and Krys were certifiably insane. Though at this time Mike and Krys also connected with Mike Sullivan from Cochon 555 and were subsequently invited to participate in LA's Cochon555. They were excited and honoured being involved, even if they weren't sure how their participation in this event would help them. As it turned out, the Cook Pigs Ranch pig got paired with Chef Ben Ford from Fords Filling Station, who did an amazing job, and consequently won this region's competition. Needless to say Mike and Krys were very excited to be a part of Chef Ford's team! Krys's parents came to this event and saw the respect, want, need, and love for what their daughter and her husband were doing raising heritage breeds of pigs so this was the turning point for her parents from skeptics into believers. After Cochon555, Mike and Krys got calls from tons of chefs the following week as well as a couple small write-ups.

Also around this time, after buying a heritage turkey for Thanksgiving at McCall’s Meat & Fish Co., Krys and Mike got into a conversation with co-owner and chef Nathan McCall about what they were doing with their pig ranch. This eventually led to McCall's being Cook Pigs Ranch's first buyer. Chef McCall continues to be one of Cook Pigs Ranch's biggest supporters.

So almost immediately after Cochon and receiving their first buyer, Krys started Cook Pigs Ranch's Facebook, instagram, and twitter accounts. Through social media, Krys marketed what they were doing and found even more like-minded chefs. Krys and Mike's whole business is built off of social media. As Krys noted, "who knew I was good at marketing!" Though all the sudden, Cook Pigs Ranch had a lot of demand but not enough supply or, for that matter, space for that supply. They had already out grown their property and zoning in Fallbrook.

Consequently Krys's dad did a business plan for Mike and Krys based upon what they were doing and then showed it to her family. Every one in her family wanted to be a part of this new plan. So Cook Pigs Ranch started looking at places where they could expand. They had a lot of different criteria. They didn’t want pasture, horse property, or flat land. Plus the location couldn't be too remote (since Mike isn’t home a lot), had to have the right zoning, be in San Diego County, and have good schools as well as an abundance of oak trees and interesting terrain.

Though this seemed like a lot to look for after months of searching, Mike and Krys found hog heaven in the forest and higher elevations just outside of Julian.

End of Part 2; please click here for Part 3 to continue

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