For Black Hill Rancher Felix Florez, a Nightmare Scenario With 300 Hogs Stranded Outside Katy

Heritage breed pig farmer Felix Florez has more than 300 hogs with status unknown at this time.
Heritage breed pig farmer Felix Florez has more than 300 hogs with status unknown at this time. Photo by Ben Sassani
On Friday,  Felix Florez — who has spent the past eight years building up his stock of heritage breed hogs into one of the most renowned sustainable farming networks in Texas, Black Hill Meats — moved his 300 hogs to the highest ground he could find, which even still he was uncertain would be high enough, located as it is in a low-lying area off FM 529 outside Katy. He gave his hogs enough feed for two days. Then he returned to his home off of Highway 290 and Fry Road and hoped for the best.

Two days passed. By Sunday morning, Florez had water within eight feet of his front door. His entire road appeared to be a river. Neighbors were being evacuated from their flooded houses.  By Monday morning, August 28, Florez was watching the water recede to about ten feet from his front door, but with rain still coming down, he was still trapped in place and couldn't return to check on his hogs.

"I have a truck, four-wheel drive, a good lift, but there's three feet of water out there, so I'm stuck," Florez tells the Houston Press.  He is uncertain if his 300 hogs, from the 100 newborns to some of the massive 700-pound adults, were able to ride out Hurricane Harvey or not. "They can go four or five days without food, but that's not the problem. Not having any dry land, if they can't lie down they'll stand to the point of exhaustion, and then if they lie down, they'll drown. I'm already assuming the newborns won't make it."

Florez, who comes from a long line of ranchers and farmers and has also made a name for himself in Houston's restaurant industry as a wine professional and a cofounder of Heights eatery Ritual, specializes in raising heritage breed pigs humanely. His stock includes rarities such as Berkshires and black Iberian Ossobaw hogs, but it's a tough business. Even though he's sourced meat to big-name restaurants around America, including Emeril's, Café Boulud and Houston's own Underbelly, the margins haven't been high enough for Florez to really develop or make many changes to his low-lying land.

"This could be so bad," he says. It's a horrendous situation for one of Houston's most progressive and promising talents in the sustainable local farming and ranching business.

"It will take a long time if I need new breed stock," he says. The process essentially takes years, from acquiring quality hogs from other farmers who also raise rare breeds around the country, to seeing if the hogs will even mate and which will be good mothers and how many babies they will produce. Because Florez runs a non-commercial, all-natural farm, that also comes with its own caveat: Only half of newborns are usually guaranteed to make it to maturity, he says.

On top of all this, it's also just incredibly expensive. His stock is fed high-quality feed: acorns, seeds and produce. Building up land is a major expense as well. "Little by little I've been trying to develop it," Florez says, "but fill dirt is so expensive."

While not much can be done right now, Florez does mention one charity, the Piggy Bank, started by Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe, which may be able to help him in the long run. Its mission is to provide family farmers with access to heritage breed livestock. Or he might be able to start a crowdfunding campaign, as many farmers across the state of Texas appear to be doing at this time, facing the same situation Florez is in.

For now, though, he says, "I'm just pacing around my house. As soon as I can drive out, I will. It's the very first thing I'll do."

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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.