Greg Hazelton, owner of Copper Hill Farm, has been selling his organically grown produce, fresh eggs and home-grown pork at Ellington Farmers’ Market for several years, and patrons look forward to trying the unusual varieties of vegetables he brings to the market each summer. Greg grew up in Ellington but relocated to Vermont and lived there for six years after attending Green Mountain College. Living in Vermont amongst the cows and green rolling hills must have put the farming bug into him; Greg made a decision to move back to his home state and begin his “homesteading” journey.
Greg Becomes a Farmer
Greg’s first Copper Hill Farm was a rental property in West Suffield on which he lived and worked for five years. For four years he also owned and solely-operated Earthwise Organic Landscaping, a NOFA certified organic land care company. As his farm began to grow in size and workload he gave up the landscaping company to concentrate on expanding the farm, including 20 pigs, 100 chickens and two acres of vegetables. He faced and overcame many challenges, including straying pigs, financial hardships, natural predators and weather fluctuations, and in 2013 was forced to relocate as his landlord announced that he was selling the property. Greg decided to part ways with the West Suffield farm.
Buying a Farm
Photo courtesy of Eric Virkler
He and his fiance’ Heather Souza are now proud landowners, moving his livestock and equipment to their newly-purchased property on Hall Hill Road in Somers, which includes a large house, 11 acres of land and three barns. “The land is a great mixture of forest and pasture,” describes Greg, “with three thick stands of trees for a future silvopasture, and the entire property is enclosed with metal fencing.” He has constructed a 60-foot greenhouse and has plans to add two 100-foot greenhouses, including one that will be heated by an outdoor wood-burning furnace.
Pigs Are People, Too!
Greg breeds Large Shireworth Pigs Photo courtesy of Eric Virkler
Copper Hill Farm specializes in raising Large Shireworth, which is a cross of Large Black, Tamworth and Berkshire Heritage breeds of pigs. The following are excerpts from questions posed to Farmer Greg about life with his pigs:
• How long do you raise pigs before slaughter?
Most of my pigs are about a year old before slaughter, and weigh 200-250 pounds. Once I have built up a larger inventory of pigs and freezer meat I will raise them to about 300 pounds before slaughter.
• Do you think they are intelligent animals, and do you ever grow attached to them?
Meat animals never get named because that can cause an attachment problem. It is still a struggle for me every time I bring pigs for slaughter, but I am confident that my humane way of raising them gives them the best life possible. Pigs are very intelligent; just about as smart as dogs. There is a misconception in our society that they are filthy, dirty animals, but when raised right with pasture, full sunlight and good feed they are clean, kind and a joy to have on the farm!
• Do they develop personalities?
Photo courtesy of Eric Virkler
Yes, to an extent. Some are friendlier than others, in the sense that they like being petted instead of running away in fear. Pigs always have fun with each other, running around in circles and wrestling with each other and even barking like dogs when they get excited.
• What do you feed them?
They get at least 20% of their diet from naturally occurring pasture feed. Also they eat organic/GMO-free granola and cornflakes mixed with goat/cow whey (yogurt and cheese liquid remnants), spent beer grains from Olde Burnside Brewing Company, and vegetable scraps that I collect from numerous supermarkets and restaurants. They also eat eggs, cheese and other dairy products from a local dairy farm.
• Is it difficult to have them slaughtered?
Yes, it is something that I still struggle with when I have a trailer full of pigs headed to the slaughterhouse in Vermont. Regulations require that pigs are slaughtered in a USDA inspected slaughterhouse, so they have to be loaded and driven over an hour and that can be frightening for them. With my first two pigs the farm from which I bought them came right to my farm and got in the pen with them to do it. While that might seem extreme, it is the most humane way as it doesn’t stress them out in any way.
Plenty of Poultry
Greg has over 90 laying chickens and is soon purchasing broiler chickens to raise strictly for meat as well as turkeys that will be ready this Thanksgiving. The laying hens are raised only for eggs and the broilers only for meat. Greg shared the following about his passion for his feathered friends:
• Do the chickens lay eggs year-round?
Yes, but they slow down significantly in the winter months. It also depends on their diet; egg production increases when organic grain is being fed. In the spring when they first hit fresh pasture the eggs double in size and yolk yellowness.
Rooster on the farm. Photo courtesy of Eric Virkler
I specifically move my chickens in their “chicken tractors” – which are moveable coops – twice a week to new areas. When they are on pasture they have 6,724 square feet per pasture in which to roam. The pastures are surrounded by electric net fencing to keep predators out. At my old farm there was a swamp so the hawks had that for distraction, but we will see on my new farm. I have had good luck so far, and the electric fencing keeps out larger predators like coyotes, foxes, raccoons and possums.
• What do you feed them?
During the warm weather they get up to 30% of their diet from pasture, including grasses, weeds, perennial and annual pasture plants, bugs, worms, grubs, minerals from the soil and anything else naturally occurring. In addition they eat organic, non GMO grain, organic GMO/free granola and cornflakes and any vegetable scraps when I have them.
Growing Veggies, and Greg’s Vision for the Future
Greg’s third passion on his farm is his large variety of organic vegetables that he grows and brings to market throughout the summer months. He raises heirloom vegetables of all kinds, and prides himself in offering varieties that are not usually available in supermarkets and restaurants. Greg states that although heirloom seeds are not certified organic, they are non-hybridized, which means they are not crossed or mixed with any other strain. He purchases his seeds from organic seed companies such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Comstock Ferry Heirloom Seed Company in Wethersfield. He purchases his started plants and plant flats from one specific organic plant producer. Greg responded to the following questions about his vegetable growing regimen:
Hoop house up and seedlings are started.
• What do you do to prepare your soil for planting?
I spread compost and manure whenever possible, and plow or rototill lightly – I am working toward a minimal or no-till system. Then spread organic fertilizer and lime at the appropriate time, and run pigs and chickens through the old garden plots to till the soil and spread more manure. I use North Country Organics fertilizer.
• Do you have a natural water source on your property?
Unfortunately I do not, so I am taking steps now to collect rain water from the roofs and am going to excavate a small pond and install a solar panel to power the well in case of a power failure.
• What are your goals for your farm?
While I do have goals to expand, at the same time I want to “keep it simple” and raise more animals for meat, fine tuning what vegetables I grow to match them with consumer demand and increasing my self-sufficiency as much as possible, which was one of my main reasons for wanting to homestead in the first place. I want freezers and shelves full of homegrown food to last the winter and plan to have my land provide as much wood-fired heat and solar energy as it can for my home and farming facilities. I would like to raise cows for raw milk and perhaps start a meat CSA, as you rarely see them available in our area. I would also like to plant some fruit trees and some of the lesser-seen berry bushes and perhaps some kiwi vines.
Barn and tractor at Copper Hill Farm in Somers CT.
We wish Greg the best of luck with the “new” Copper Hill Farm in Somers as he settles in and adds to his inventory of livestock, gardens and pastures. We look forward to visiting him at the market in the coming year.
Post Written by: Margaret Cavanagh