CUTS OF PORK come with quirky names. Terms like spare ribs, picnic shoulder and Boston Butt lend nomenclature nuance to the meat lover’s menu. And now, thanks to a new local farmer, Augustans can add “pig feather” to the list.
Kenny Bottoms, of PigFeathers Farm, simply made it up. “People are always asking me ‘what’s a pig feather?’ so I needed a story. I tell them, ‘Well, if chickens can have fingers, then pigs can have feathers.’”
Kenny is a tall, squared-off and burly man, straight out of central casting for a middle Georgia farmer. You can bet he’s got a shotgun in his safe, a knife in his pocket, and a dog in his truck. Thing is, he’s new to the field. By profession, Kenny is a locomotive engineer – a railroader – of seventeen years and counting. He took up farming as a hobby in his spare time just two years ago.
Selling through “the Augusta Locally Grown market is the first time I’ve ever tried to get my farm products to anyone besides family and friends,” he says.
When asked to compare his two work worlds – locomotives and lifestock – Kenny doesn’t hesitate with his response. “Safety,” he said firmly. “The number one thing is to take care of the animals.” That includes making sure that they have ample space to graze, that they’re protected from predators, and – most importantly — he said, that their spaces are kept clean. “Using natural remedies, keeping the bugs down, cleanliness.” Those are Kenny’s priorities.
He struggles a little more to answer what drew him to farming. “I guess it’s because I really enjoy being around the animals. When I feed them, I’ll just sit there sometimes and watch them for a long time. It’s kind of therapeutic.”
Kenny also said that he noticed there was a growing demand for more humanely raised meats locally. “Animal welfare is important to me.” He ensures that his animals are outside as much as possible, not standing in some warehouse on a cement slab. “I want them to be able to root up whatever they want to root up. Not crowded, not stressed. My animals get to live in the dirt. They get to be pigs.”
“Every week there’s another recall in our country’s highly-processed, mass-produced food system,” Kenny says. “I question the integrity of it all.”
To kick off his 20-acre experiment in Hephzibah, GA, Kenny started with Berkshire-Tamworth heritage-breed hogs and has since added broiler chickens. In fact, he will be taking his first poultry to the processor today, which also happens to be his 39th birthday. “I started from scratch. No barns, no pastures, no anything.”
Long term, Kenny would like to add an on-farm processing facility at Pig Feathers Farm. “Processing costs me more than anything else,” he says, noting that such a dream will require an investor of equal commitment and compassion.
For Kenny, the hardest part is figuring out how to price his meats so that he makes an income but also keeps his product affordable for the average, working-class family. “I was the oldest of seven kids growing up on one man’s below-middle-class income. There weren’t any extras.” As such, he’s constantly trying to figure out how a farmer can make a living and still practice small-scale production that benefits the local community.
“We live in a penny-pinching society out of necessity,” he says. “But my hogs take two times as long to get to production because they’re out to pasture instead of an all-grain diet” so it’s hard to compete. It’s an equation he’s still wrestling to solve.
In the meantime, Kenny counts on the railroad to pay the bills while making sense of farming. Welcome aboard the local foods movement, Farmer Kenny.
And Happy Birthday to you.☺