When their niece won the Cheshire Fair’s pig scramble more than a decade ago and gave them her prized pig, it set Sleepy Brook Farm owners Renee and Wendy Juchnevics-Freeman down the path to humanely and sustainably raising animals.
After raising the pig their niece caught, they went ahead and raised another. When they butchered the first and tasted it, they knew they had something.
“Things blossomed from there,” said Wendy Juchnevics-Freeman.
The couple, who moved into the 32-acre farm in 2002, now has four breeding Yorkshire/Hampshire crosses at the farm.
“They are the perfect meat pig,” she said. “They get large very quickly, and they are very long so there is lots of bacon. The meat is very tender.”
The English breed, also called “blue butts” for the black speckles on their hind end, is also adaptable to the wooded environment.
Bacon is the most desirable cut from the crossbreeds, and they are also known for the nutty flavor of their meat.
“They are allowed to forage in the forest for things to eat,” said Juchnevics-Freeman, adding they love the tender roots in the ground. “They are big on digging.”
They also raise chickens and turkeys that are allowed to free-range during the day and protected from predators at night in hoop houses they designed themselves.
All of the animals at Sleepy Brook Farm are fed non-GMO grain from upstate New York that is hand-mixed on-site.
“It’s something we sort of perfected,” said Juchnevics-Freeman. “We can grow lean pigs with little fat.”
While the farm started small, Juchnevics-Freeman said sales have grown steadily but slowly and are invested back into the farm each year. Last year the farm was a week behind on meat orders due to increased demand during the pandemic.
The couple has moved from raising one to two litters a year and is looking to do three with a break between litters.
They chose to artificially inseminate their pigs because a boar and breeding sow have to be the same size.
“It’s difficult to have multiple breeding pigs and one boar,” said Juchnevics-Freeman.
While Renee works full-time on the farm and it’s her passion, Wendy said neither of them grew up on a farm (although they each had a little bit of exposure to farming).
“It’s more about a way of life,” said Juchnevics-Freeman. Since they have lived on the farm, they built a barn and adopted a horse and added a flock of ducks and two rabbits as pets. They also sell their eggs and excess produce from their garden at local farmer’s markets.
Meat products they sell direct-to-consumer as well.
Customers may order pigs by the half via the farm’s website (sleepybrookfarm.com) and fill out a form showing their desired cuts of meat to fill their order any time of year.
“They can have their side of pork processed any way they want,” said Juchnevics-Freeman. “It is all vacuum-sealed and flash-frozen at the processor.”
The couple also started a CSA. In exchange for purchasing three months of product in advance, CSA members get a 20 percent premium: if they paid $300 for $100 of meat a month, in exchange they receive $120 worth of meat.
To keep things as simple as possible in the wake of the pandemic, customers may fax or text a photo of their order sheet to the farm and make pickup arrangements—they may choose touchless pickup if they desire, and customers are asked to pick up their order one at a time.
The couple is a vendor at the weekly farmer’s market in Rindge on Thursdays; and they will also deliver to neighboring towns.
The Juchnevics-Freemans know they have a superior product at Sleepy Brook Farm.
“I haven’t bought meat in the grocery store in 13 years,” she said. “Renee always jokes that the bacon gets rubbed daily but it’s a matter of humanely raising these animals. They wouldn’t be here if we weren’t consuming them.’