Sunday, 12 September 2010

Education Goes Both Ways

by danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

This not so little piggy went to market on Thursday. He was in the finishing acre, feasting on really good fresh picked apples (some windfall too, but not as much since we found a really good tree to pick for this week) and 10-15 gallons of whey per day between just four pigs. We also offer them grain but they are not eating much of that, opting for the delicious food instead.  Next week the new round of pigs will also get pears. Very exciting change in season. :)

We are learning a lot keeping these pigs. It is only our second year, our first with a heritage breed, our first with so many and in a large pasture area. Last year we had 4 in a much smaller pen, they still had shelter and grasses and natural shade, but it is really not the same living environment we offer the pigs this year.

This year is also different in that we intentionally kept these pigs to sell. Last year we had 4 to ensure that we'd end up with at least 1, assuming we'd make major mistakes and then when we didn't lose any, sold them at harvest time. This year we pre-sold all the pigs, took deposits, and educated people about how our livestock is kept, the effect of feed and clean water on meat quality (some of which we are still in the process if learning!), what questions to ask and why, and much more. Some of the education was for non-customers as well.

Last week we had a feed/nutrition specialist from our co-op visit the farm. We are trying to eliminate from the purchased grains what we can if it is being provided elsewhere in the pig's custom diet. We asked the co-op to take a whey sample and have it analyzed for protein, amino acids, and nutritional value. The idea is that they whey might replace the soy element in the grain mix and possible the lysine additive too. Then we can just look at the starch part of the grain mix (currently corn) and try and further improve the quality of that too. Understanding pig nutrition is complicated and actually that applies to a lot of livestock. Chickens are also omnivores and have similar complexity of nutritional needs.

The feed guy said he'd never seen a pig set up like ours. He'd seen outdoor pigs, yes, but not on so much pasture and not being fed apples and whey. We had a lot of  things to say and it occurred to me later that we were once again educating a non-customer about a different kind of farming. The more we do this the better. By we, I mean everyone who values the kind of food system we hold as ideal. We may not be exactly where we want to be just yet, but as we move towards it and learn more and more we are also teaching, sharing, and feeding more and more. The data collected from our whey samples will help the next farmer who wants to customize their pig feed. The feed salesman now has a point of reference, novice as we may be, and the relationship is important.

And that's just it, isn't it? We talk all the time about relationships with farmer to consumer, but just as important is how we support each other with farmer to farmer and farmer to supplier (be it for feed or livestock or seeds) connections. It isn't all about informing the media for spin and hype, or marketing to customers.....the system is more complicated than that.


Robin said...

That is exactly what I want to do someday..(finishing school to afford the land). I was wondering what the feasibility of just free ranging the pigs; in theory could they forage their own dietary needs?

Mama Podkayne said...

As far as we understand it, no. The lycine (aminio acid) is an essential building block in muscle growth and development. But still, we are looking into that possibility, perhaps intentionally planting forage grasses.

Annette said...

Someday soon I hope to have pigs of our own.

chad said...

Robin - I think you'll have trouble with that. Some breeds are known for being good foragers (tamworth) or even grass eaters (large black), and our berkshire seem to do some of both, but all have been bred over generations for fast growth and large pigs - and even if you selected for slower growth over generations you'd have to bring new genes into the herd periodically. If you had access to land that was superb for pigs with large amounts of wild acorns, alfalfa, roots and tubers you might find that some pigs could handle that, but I doubt they would grow as fast as you'd like - the notes I've read from similar operations a hundred years ago seem to indicate pigs kept like that were sometimes kept for 2+ years to get to a profitable size, and I think you'd be disappointed with how much land would support one pig in such a fashion. That said, it doesn't take much supplement if the pigs are on good pasture - GMO free grain is available, a cow that grazes nearby can provide milk or you can find a source for milk or whey from another farm. Windfall apples have been a fantastic boon to our operation - feed sources don't have to be expensive. In our operation, the grain and whey are the main feeds, with grain tapering off and apples taking over in the last 2 - 4 weeks before harvest. They also forage on grass and whatever else they are digging up in the pasture, and pigs actually ingest soil when given the opportunity and get nutrients (for example iron) from the practice. That said, Sugar Mountain farm (a great resource, google it) maintains his pigs on dairy and bread supplementing the pasture and manages to use hay as a primary feed for the hogs, a trait they seem to have had bred into them and have learned from watching the other pigs.