Interesting People: Meet Dr. Karleen Swarztrauber

Playing around in the mud with 500 pound Tamworth pigs is no big deal to Dr. Karleen Swarztrauber who grew up on a farm in Colorado.

There is no shortage of interesting people living in White Salmon and The Enterprise makes an effort to get to know them; we try to give them an opportunity to share their stories and show how unique this little dot on the map is.

Like many transplants to the Columbia River Gorge, the mighty Columbia River is what drew Dr. Karleen Swarztrauber to White Salmon. But, what made her stay was the soil.

“When I lived in town I had a small garden and kept chickens and I couldn’t believe how rich the soil was!” said Swarztrauber in an interview with The Enterprise.

Swarztrauber grew up on a farm in Boulder, Colo., which at the time was a place very much like White Salmon, where the rural and the technological worlds defined the area.

“We lived on a farm, but my dad was a computer scientist and he and my mom were all about the importance of getting a good education so that was instilled in me from a very early age and guided my path towards my career,” said Swarztrauber.

Swarztrauber attended Stanford University and got her undergraduate degree in organic chemistry and biology. After college, she took some time off to travel and work before attending medical school at Tulane University. Swarztrauber did her residency at UCLA while participating in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program. Eventually, Swarztrauber became a professor of neurology at Oregon State University.

“I eventually got burned out on teaching, and academia became all about money and less about the education,” said Swarztrauber.

After leaving teaching, Swarztrauber began her own medical practice around pain management in Portland. When she moved to White Salmon in 2011, Swarztrauber continued her practice out of Skyline Hospital two days a week. Now, she operates out of White Salmon Family Practice on Fridays.

If being an acclaimed neurologist that kiteboards and runs her own practice wasn’t enough, Swarztrauber has another interesting aspect to her life… she raises pigs.

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to own and live on a farm again. I really like growing my own food and caring for animals and living that lifestyle,” said Swarztrauber.

“People are going to hate this, but I chose to raise pigs for the culinary value. Pork is a very versatile meat in cooking and it’s healthy for you especially when the pigs are well taken care of while they are alive. I’ve always had a lot of respect for animals, and I’ve come to learn a lot about the animals I care for, the pigs especially. Their intelligence is just a step above a dog’s and they are extremely social animals,” said Swarztrauber.

As of right now, Swarztrauber has a total of four pigs on her farm. However, two of them are pregnant and will give birth to 6-12 piglets between them. Of the four pigs she has, there are two types of breeds, Mangalitsa and Tamworth. Managlitsas are Hungarian pigs that were bred with European boars in the 19th century. They can weigh up to 400 pounds by the time they are a year old and considered the “Kobe Beef” of pigs when it comes to product. Tamworths are a domesticated pig originally from the United Kingdom and are one of the oldest pig breeds in the world. They can get up to 550 pounds by the time they are a year old and make up the more commonly priced pork products.

Besides where they are from and how much they weigh, another difference between the pig breeds is how they survive. Both Tamworth and Mangalitsa pigs are heritage pigs meaning they both know how to graze in a pasture. However, Mangalitsas are the best at utilizing pasture and need less food than other pig breeds to survive.

Swarztrauber is currently working on building a protected pathway for the pigs to use to get to her pasture on her property.

“Just want to keep them safe from other animals that live out here, I have to do the same to protect the chickens from hawks and other predatory birds,” said Swarztrauber.

The health and safety of all her animals are paramount to Swarztrauber, even when it comes time for them to go.

“A personal philosophy for me is to give the pigs the best life they can live and then just let everything go black for them, no pain or fear. I still cry every time, but it’s part of this lifestyle,” said Swarztrauber.

In addition to raising pigs, Swarztrauber also breeds Curly-Coated Retrievers and has many chickens and roosters on her property, as well as an active garden. She is even thinking about getting a horse to help her with some work on the farm.

“I grew up riding horses and participating in horse riding and rodeo competitions, so I’m pretty done with having horses. But I have been considering getting a working horse to help with some of the work around the farm,” said Swarztrauber.

“Ultimately though I would really like to invite folks out here, especially kids to learn about farming and just basics about different types of sciences that occur on farms,” said Swarztrauber.

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