Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Porcine Dispose-all

When we were growing up, I remember when we moved into our "new" house it sported a "dispose-all" device in the sink. I was both fascinated and leery - it could grind up just about anything (making after-dinner chores much tidier) and that included fingers (or so I feared). But the reality was a little more nasty and safe - it frequently got clogged with all kinds of unrecognizable goo, and since the "on" switch was a contortionist's nightmare, there was little chance my fingers would be anywhere near when the thing was running...

I thought again about that device as we brought home our summer farm guest - the piglet. I envisioned all the scraps now going into a slop bucket and the efficiency of our little farm just humming along ever better...

The raising of the pig gave us a lot to process (literally and figuratively!) and it's time to take a look back with the dawning of the new year...

We learned:

a) pigs are smart and sociable. Ours was in LOVE with the sheep, and never missed an opportunity to visit (they wanted NOTHING to do with him, BTW) and loved to be scratched. He would even roll over like a dog to have you scratch his tummy.

b) pigs are strong. Electric fencing actually works best, because they learn very quickly about the shock, and are reluctant to test it. They can knock over, push apart, and dig under just about anything else you attempt to construct.

c) pigs are efficient farm animals. We did very well supplementing organic pig feed with fell apples, acorns, food scraps, whey and garden culls. We now have a freezer full of organic pork at around $3 a pound (excluding labor expenses).

d) pigs are delicious. I've been a vegetarian for more than 25 years, and never missed meat at all, but this return to omnivorous eating has been a real treat. I feel good knowing exactly what went into this animal and how it was housed and handled. The "energy" (labor) of production was ours, and the variety of meat products we got from this one animal is impressive. We will go almost 2 years with this one animal. (There is only 3 of us, and we don't eat meat every day...)

So, would we do it again? Absolutely. In fact, we may be in negotiation to raise one for a friend next year if we can arrange a suitable barter.

We would definitely:

a) raise the same breed. Ours was a Tamworth, and it was a perfect match in size, temperament, and ease of raising. Six months to butcher weight (235 lbs.) and very good food-to-product ratio. Able to forage, and will eat a variety of pasture, garden culls, and fruit.

b) build a pen/area somewhere we need clearing. They dig up every inch, and love to nibble on branches, grasses, and leaves.

c) work with them every day. Because they are social, they learn and become quite manageable. That's a good thing when they get loose (they will) or when you need to move them (at least once, probably) and when you have to get them into a trailer (for you-know-where).

Things to consider:

a) butchering. There is a critical shortage of good, FDA inspected meat processors around here. We had to make our slaughter date as soon as we got the piglet, since they schedule 6 months or more in advance.

b) feed. We used organic pig feed as the basis, but we could cut costs even further if we had a good storage area (for a one-time delivery of multiple bags of feed) and if we sought out more fruit drops, whey/milk, and were super-diligent about food scraps. (it took a while to train the fam - but they are trainable!)

c) trailer. This time I was lucky to have a good friend and neighbor who volunteered her trailer and drove to the butcher. It would not be a bad thing for us to invest in one for a few things - only we have to either get one low to the ground or with a strong, stable ramp for loading.

Now to figure out what exactly the labor part might look like and be worth - for the potential barter....and a future post!


LindaG said...

I've heard that Tamworths are good pigs for small homesteads, so I found your post very interesting on all levels.

Thanks so much for sharing with us!

melanie said...

Can't say enough good about them....really.

Mama Pea said...

Great, informative post. We haven't raised pork for many years, but doing so again is always in the back of our minds. (Especially mine since pork is my favorite meat!) Thanks for pulling it all together regarding your experience.

P.S. Since they are sociable animals, do you think your hog would have been "happier" if you had raised two of them together.

melanie said...

Mama Pea- we did consider the socialization factor, but were reluctant to raise meat we didn't need. Of course, lots of folks "volunteer" to take bacon and ham off our hands, but that is only a portion of what a pig provides, and we as Americans need to educate ourselves to that ...

On another note, we have heard from both the butcher and other folks who raise Tamworths that more than one pig creates food competition. (Size and growth of two is never even) Even when the two are fed adequately for both, the wasted involved with the pushing and jostling adds up. If nothing else, we were trying to be efficient in how we raised our food.

It did put additional responsibility on the farmers to interact and socialize with him. In the end, that worked to my favor, but it did make it hard not to get attached.

Have you always raised two?

Mama Pea said...

We had always heard that the pigs do better with "a friend" to live with but I can see where they probably bond together and are not as tame or friendly to us homesteaders! What you say about competing for the food (it's never good to wolf down your food, is it?) and the waste when there are two of them makes good sense.

We've also found that it is much more efficient to raise just enough for ourselves rather than thinking of selling some meat, eggs, produce, or whatever.

Once again, good blog post. I copied it for our files.

Tony said...

This is a great post. My family raised a few pigs when I was a kid, but I haven't had one since. They are definately a better disposal than the thing under the sink, and the home-raised pork is so good.

kristi said...

Its good to hear you will be posting more often....I do enjoy your perspective on issues;) I don't eat red meat anymore but I do love pork but I don't think I can take the raising & eating it step. I keep saying that I will try raising and eating the chickens, but I "chicken" out!

Susan said...

I do think your pig did just fine since he was bonded so strongly to both YOU and the sheep! I love the Tamworths - a wonderful pig. Also, when you're doing most of the pig-wrangling yourself, one is plenty!

Gayle said...

It's been years since I raised pork. We are supposed to be getting two this Spring. Quality butchers are hard to find... the one we will use is 100 miles away!!