Pigs: Where, How Much and What’s the Plan?

Eumaeus asked a series of great questions in comments for my recent post on taking pigs to market. I appreciate that. Rather than write a lengthy response in comments I thought it was better to just make a post.

You got the pigs from a farmer or at auction as weened piglets and how much per piglet?

I buy directly from my farmer friend Mike. Mike produces pork for a major upscale retail chain. He farrows on pasture and finishes in deep bedding, generating mountains of compost.

Piglet

I say “friend” but really, Mike is a friend of a friend and one heck of a nice guy. I never show up unannounced but Mike always makes time to chat. Mike was the childhood friend of Steve and best man at Steve’s wedding. I met Mike through Steve. I met Steve because I buy milk from him.

SteveI buy milk from Steve because I found out I was stealing his chicken customers (on accident), went to his house to say “sorry” and he stopped digging potatoes, loaded my car with vegetables and grape starts and forced us to eat peaches…oh, and the milk is great. True story. And Steve, like Mike, is one heck of a great guy (if you hadn’t put that together on your own). He came to AI a heifer for me once (25 minutes one-way), his wife brought us a pie and he didn’t charge me anything for the service and then he bought the resulting heifer. We send him all the milk and beef business we can. He sends us chicken customers in return. I think the account balance is strongly in his favor. I owe Steve a lot. Mike is just as giving.

Oh. Rabbit trail. Sorry. This time Mike charged me $1/pound. It changes with the market. I’m sure you can reach a similar arrangement once you locate a reliable farmer nearby. Mike doesn’t hold back his opinions about even his own pigs saying the red ones are the best eating…but we take what we can get. Hopefully your farmer will be similarly candid.

They come advertised docked with shots?

Mike doesn’t appear to advertise. Mike vaccinates for tetanus but that’s about it. I buy them castrated (my choice) but none of his pigs have their tails docked. Because of the deep bedding the pigs have plenty to do so cannibalism isn’t much of a problem. Long, wagging pig tails are very entertaining. I prefer to buy barrows (grow out faster) but I also buy a couple of gilts as some customers specifically request them.

GardenScrapsI don’t own a needle. I don’t doctor pigs, I eat them. Mike’s pigs are so healthy that I have never needed to do anything with them other than to add feed and water.

Then you took ‘em to processor and did you bring them all back home to freezers to sell as cuts or did you have mostly people pick their halves/wholes up at the processor?

I just drop the pigs off at the processor along with a list of names. This time I gave 7 buyers for the four pigs I dropped off, assigning each buyer to a specific pig (black, big red, little red and spot). The processor records the hanging weight for each animal and that tells me what I need to charge each customer. For example, I believe the spotted pig (Laverne) weighed 280 so the buyer owes me $560. Then they buyer calls the processor before Thursday (cutting day) and chooses what cuts they would like. I am not involved at this point. They choose spare ribs or country-style ribs, pork steaks or Boston butt, hams, ham steaks, ham roasts, pork chops, butterfly chops or loin, bacon or not, ground pork or sausage and how big to make the packages. It’s all up to them. They buy a whole pig they get a lot of bacon. Half a pig? Half the bacon. I usually get a chance to talk to the customer right after they call the processor. I guess it is intimidating to talk to the processor so they call to ask me questions like, “What is a pork catfish?” When they pick up their pork (week or three later) they pay the processing charges directly to the processor. I’m not involved. If I had a type 1 processor nearby I might be interested in having pork cuts in inventory as my chicken freezers are all empty this time of year.

Piggies

Last question, is keeping boar and sow stupid?

Nope. But keeping a boar for one sow is not economical and he would be bored. Keeping a boar for 8 sows would be OK. Normally, you buy a purebred boar from a known breeder and put him in with your sows. If you want to move your genetics along quickly, sell the sow after her first litter, keeping the best gilt or two. Rather than keeping or borrowing a boar for the two gilts I held back I plan to AI. Kelly Klober had quite a bit to say on this subject in a recent Acres USA issue. I haven’t read his most recent book Dirt Hog. Let me know in comments if any of you have.

I am happy to share more detail on farm activities. Sometimes I just don’t know what questions to answer. Help me know where I can be more clear.

The White Calf and the Pasture

I think the white calf is OK. She’s not as runny today as she was yesterday. Still a mess though. She is kind of a downer calf anyway and is always lagging behind the group or squeezing under the fence. I don’t hold out much hope for her genetic future but we’ll see.

WhiteCalfThe wide jersey pointing her rear our way was runny last week. I have to wonder if I’m not pushing them too hard…trying to stretch pasture too far. Maybe some of the cows are getting insufficient nutrition. Or just an imbalanced diet. Julie and I put out a bale of alfalfa and a bale of grass hay this morning. 7 of the cows got to work on the grass while the other three started on the alfalfa. The white calf ate grass hay from one pile, then ate grass hay from another then ate a little alfalfa. We try to let them medicate themselves. I just have to make what they need available to them. The next section of the field we will strip graze has a good mix of grasses and legumes. Should be better for the moos.

NextStrip

I took the day off Thursday to do some hunting and catch up on some chores. I haven’t been hunting yet. Oh well. I’m a lousy hunter anyway. I am also trying to teach my right hand man to back up a trailer. We’ll need a few more sessions. Power steering would help.

BackinUpOtherwise, cold day. The heavy snows went south…for now. Good day to do some housework!

Market Day for Pigs

On Tuesday the pigs went to market. That was easy. Seriously easy.

It all started on Sunday. Sunday we backed up the livestock trailer to the shed and allowed the pigs to explore the trailer on their own.

They did. Almost immediately. In spite of the step up.

PigTrailer1I put a bale of moldy hay in the wagon…the kind of hay you don’t feed to pregnant cattle…and the pigs had fun with it.

PigTrailer2Monday afternoon we let the hog feeder go empty. The pigs were comfortable hopping in and out of the trailer so I just took a bucket of feed into the trailer and dumped it near the front. Within 15 minutes all 8 pigs were all loaded, separated gently by the partition in the trailer and the four we were keeping were unloaded. Not so much as a squeal. We mostly just stood back and waited and quietly worked the gate. Low stress.

Pigs are obstinate and strong. If you try to force them to do something you will likely be displeased by the results. Go slow to go fast. No big whoop. That said, when 6 pigs are in the trailer and you are still waiting on the last two, go ahead and close the 6 up in the front half of the trailer. Then go sit down and wait. It will happen. The other two will join the herd. Now, if this was 50 pigs…well, you’ll have to let me know how it works out.

As a side note, I’m going to have to work on my string measurement. I was afraid some of those pigs were pushing 340 pounds. The four we shipped averaged 275. Just about perfect.

The Group W Bench

If you don’t get the title…well, obviously you didn’t have the same father I have. I’ll need about 30 minutes to tell you all about the 27 8×10 color glossy photographs with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. We’ll start with the half a ton of garbage and some friends who live in the bell tower of an old church, talk quite a bit about the draft and we’ll finish up singing “You can get anything you want…” I mean…I mean…I meeeeen I’m sittin’ here on the bench…

GroupW…eating my lunch and creating a nuisance and playin’ with the pencils and fillin’ out the forms and it’s 62 degrees outside and it will be below freezing for the next…eternity and I’ve got spring fever so bad I can hardly stand it.

Weather Forecast brought to you by wunderground.com

Weather Forecast brought to you by wunderground.com

And my dad calls. “Looks like you’ve got a calf that’s about to die.”

Well. That’s great. Shoot. Never lost a calf before. First time for everything I guess.

Now what? Now it’s 67 degrees outside, I’m stuck sittin’ here on the group W bench creating a nuisance and playing with the pencils and fillin’ out the forms and my dad says I have a sick calf.

Then my wife calls and the water line guy is there to dig. Guess what I forgot?

So I call my dad and tell him about the Group W bench and the pencils and the forms and the sick calf and the water line guy and he stops me right there and says, “Kid…You got a lot of darned gall calling me up to tell me that. What is it you want me to do about it?”

So I continue to tell him the story about the Group W bench and the created nuisance and the pencils and the forms and the rapidly changing temperature and the sick calf and he stops me right there and says, “Kid…You’re my boy. I’ll take care of it.”

Well that’s about the time my wife (who has a rare day off from watching the kids) calls to say she gave the cows a fresh tank of water with a pint of ACV and she’s on her way to get a bale of good grass hay. I suspect the calf either has been eating too much alfalfa (fresh or baled) or something fast-moving is going through the herd. One of the jerseys was unexpectedly runny for a couple of days last week. But the white calf clearly isn’t feeling well. She gets up, she eats, her ears are up but she looks a little gaunt, has been laying in manure and her rump is covered. I’ll have to keep a close eye on her but hopefully the grass hay will be just what the doctor ordered.

But here I sit on the group W bench. Not a danged thing I can do. Sigh.

Now if you’re the kind of a reader who knows about the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement you know why I’m writing this. You might know somebody in a similar situation or you may be in a similar situation and if you’re in a situation like this there’s only one thing you can do. With feeling.

And if you have no idea what this post was about then come back tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have good news about the white calf.

Patronize a Farmer, Save the World

My apologies to the show Heroes for my choice of title. I never saw the show but the marketing still found me. Give that marketing firm a raise!

I read a lot of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s work as I read economics information on “the internets”. You know, a man has to have a hobby. I read about global economics for fun. Seriously, if you pay close attention you’ll be in stitches. If it helps, begin by understanding that the world’s financial experts are all idiots. Pretenders. They have no real insight into the future they rarely grasp the present and they learn nothing from the past. But, since they have some prestigious degree, they think they can tell us how to improve – even save! –  the world with (…get this…) interest rates. LOL! I guess if all you have is a hammer…

Anyway. Mr. Evans-Pritchard published an article about dirt. Well, he published an article about a published article about dirt. And I think it’s worth reading. Kind of a validation that I’m moving in the right direction…but not fast enough. Further, he points out that we, as humans, have a tendency to prefer instant gratification over delayed…or even deferred. I mean, we could have acorns for the next 50 years but I need an oak board now. I could avoid diabetes and keep my feet but I really like pie. We could have savings but there is so much cool stuff to buy. We could have had cedars in Lebanon but we needed a desert. We are a short-sighted species. Ripping the soil gives us an immediate boost in fertility…though at the expense of future fertility. “Well, we’ll figure out tomorrow when it comes.”

Now that I have agreed with him let’s look closer at what Mr. Evans-Pritchard actually wrote. I mean, I kind of just picked out the points that make me feel vindicated as I initially skimmed the article. How does he really feel? I think he’s a little confuzzled. How about this quote?

It comes as China and emerging Asia switch to an animal protein diet, replicating the pattern seen in Japan and Korea as they became rich. As a rule of thumb it takes 4kg-8kg of grains in animal feed to produce 1kg of meat.

What kind of meat requires 8-16 pounds of grain per pound to produce!? It doesn’t take any grain to produce 2.2 pounds of beef. Or lamb. Or goat. What about fish? It takes 3 pounds of grain to make a pound of pork on a production hog floor but you can reduce or eliminate that if you park your piggies under oak trees, chestnut trees and apple trees. They also do well on alfalfa and a healthy dose of cow manure. I mean, his article is essentially about how modern row cropping is destroying the earth and goes on, in the quote above, to say that we can only feed animals with additional row cropping. And that, we have established, is bad. So we have to do more row cropping to feed the world grains. And that, we have established, is bad.

But why not just let the cows eat grass? Make beef the new chicken. Close up shop on all those Arkansas chicken houses and twelve-thousand sow farrowing operations in Manitoba. I am suggesting the issue at hand isn’t simply the lost of soil biota brought on by tillage and chemical death but, instead, our continuing use of the wrong paradigm. Stop taking feed to cows. Take the cows to the feed. Ta-da! Stop buying eggs at the store. Keep a few hens and feed them kitchen scraps. Ta-da! Use tree crops instead of annual crops. Make our Coca-Cola with high-fructose chestnut syrup! Ta-da! Just give your HOA the bird and get some chickens. See how easy?

The UNCCD is aiming for a global deal to achieve “zero net land degradation” from 2015, mostly by replanting forests. The body’s environment chief Veerle Vanderweerde says it is not going well. “We know what to do to restore degraded land. It’s not impossible but it takes time, money, dedication, and political will, and there is not a lot political will.”

Where to begin? Political will? I think that means use of force. As in, “we have the guns so you do what we say.” Remember this passage?

Yacouba Sawadogo, “the man who stopped the desert”, began to revive the ancient zai technique thirty years [ago] to stop soil erosion on his little farm in Burkina Faso. It involved digging small holes and filling them with compost and tree seeds to catch the seasonal rains, recreating a woodland of 20 hectares in the arid Sahel. Sadly, local officials then expropriated the land.

So much for political will. Time? Money? Dedication? Whose? If we elect some bonehead to fix our problems…well, I don’t have high hopes that our problems will get fixed. In fact, I have centuries of evidence that our problems become worse as governments become more involved. I don’t need regulation forcing me to set aside forested land as magical and protected so we can have a “net zero land degradation.” We need massively net negative land degradation. And this is something we can do on our own. No guns election required! Stop ripping soil and leaving it bare and exposed for 6-7 months each year. Instead, grow cover crops, graze livestock, rotate polyculture crops through. If you have the time, Gabe Brown has a lot to teach us on this topic. He talks about “speeding up biological time” and says, “Feeding 9 billion people will be not be any problem whatsoever if we change our production model and focus on soil.” I feel he backs up that bold claim.

We need the freedom to do the things that were traditionally done before 1950 but leveraging modern technology and new ideas. I need to be free to combine livestock, wildlife, trees, people and time in a carbon-sequestering, soil-building, sustainable and profitable mix. The money will suddenly appear so Mr. Elected Bonehead can have his pound of flesh. Check out Mark Sheppard’s book for a real life example of regenerative forested agriculture. (I could list any number of books that illustrate this well but Mark Sheppard is high on my list. I mean, who can resist a guy who has the …stuff… to lecture for two and a half hours then pull out a guitar to sing a song at the audience?)

Back to the point, there is no need for political will to do this. We don’t have to elect leaders to point guns at us so we will behave. We already know what to do. If you don’t I hope you are sitting down for this. It’s utterly profound. Stop looking at “them“. Stop blaming “them“. What are you doing? How are you saving the world? Where do you buy your food? What system do you vote for each day? We don’t need people signing petitions against industrial ag. What a waste. We need consumers educating themselves…involving themselves. Just go – you yourself – and purchase products from farmers who care about soil health. Farmers who don’t saturate their fields with chemical death. Farmers who enhance life by composting and growing food and building healthy soil. We need agricultural pioneers finding ways to do more with less in spite of existing government regulations and writing narcissistic little blogs like mine about what goes right and what goes wrong. Farmers, not legislators, need your support.

If you are not a farmer (and most people aren’t), find a farm that looks and smells good. Don’t worry about the ugly buildings or the beat-up jalopy in the driveway. Learn what healthy animals look like. Learn what healthy grass looks like (it doesn’t look like a lawn). Look at tree health. Smell the air. Feel the soil. Then invest in the farmer by buying his produce so he can continue to grow.

Patronize a farmer, save the world.

I have a few afterthoughts that really don’t belong in this posting. Don’t worry about peak oil. Peak oil will bring modern industrial agricultural practices to an immediate halt. But not before peak phosphorus brings modern ag to a halt. Unless the lack of humus in our soils enables a drought that brings modern ag to a halt first. There are alternatives. In case you haven’t seen this (how could you have missed it?) I give you this short presentation. May it change your whole life…and through you, the world. Please watch this video. (BTW, note his confession that, as a government agent, he advised his country to shoot 40,000 elephants to “save” the ecology. Made the problem worse.)

I also have to add, if you live near us and are interested in partnering with us in saving the world we can offer you excellent quality and value. If you are inclined to vote, please vote for us.

Living in the Light

The days are pretty short in December. We don’t trust our solar charger to stay charged. The chickens are laying few eggs as we don’t provide artificial light, preferring to just let them have a little time off each winter. Before long they’ll be laying eggs again. It’s just part of the annual cycle.

Another part of the cycle, for me, is depression. Right now, I get up around 5, get a little housework done then head to work. Sometimes the sun peeks at me while I drive but not enough to make an impact. I sit in an office all day (well, not an office…a cubicle. Well, not a cubicle, a shared work space.) Anyway. I sit inside all day and pack my lunch most days. I don’t get out. I don’t see the sun for days on end and it gets me down.

Let me describe what a week looks like for me right now. We’ll start on Saturday. Saturday morning I reluctantly get out of bed and begin doing chores outside. Then I find place to cut some firewood or some other irregular outdoor chore to occupy my day and end up staying outside all day long. By the end of the day I feel …recharged! energetic! Sunday I often realize I overdid it on Saturday but spend a significant amount of time outside again. On Monday I get into the office feeling good but lose a little of that energy. Tuesday I’m still functional. Wednesday is the third day of living in the dark and I begin to get snippy with the children. By Friday I only talk to my co-workers, only when I have to and only because I am paid to. Everyone else needs to leave me alone.

5 days in the dark and I’m a wreck.

You know those voices in your head that compete for your attention? Picture the little angel on one shoulder saying, “You can do it!” starts losing to the devil on the other saying “You are a loser!” By Friday I can only hear the little devil and I’m ready to sell the farm, move to town and do something crazy like register to vote. That’s right. I said it. By 10:00 on Saturday I’m “me” again.

Sunrise

I am not made to live in the dark. I have to take specific action for my health to prevent this from happening. And, really, I believe the light specifically has to shine on my eyes, not just my skin.

It is Sunday and I have categorized this with the rare “Sunday Devotional” category so let me bring this around. All of that stuff above addresses my physical needs. But I am an eternal creature. I will only have physical needs for another 40 or 50 years at most. The eternal me has needs as well. And that “eternal me” is the real “me”. So what do I really need?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

I need to see and follow that light. On a daily basis. I can’t walk for 6 days in spiritual darkness.

By February I’ll be back into healthy day length cycles. Between now and then I have to make it a point to see the sun for physical and mental health. My spiritual self has similar needs but less seasonality. Church is entirely optional. Voluntary. Not only do I have to get myself there, I have to study daily on my own. I have to get the light in my eyes. I have to walk in the light. I have to BE the light. If not, I walk in darkness. And I don’t like what happens to me there.

From Ephesians 5:

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”