Friday, January 9, 2009

Industrial pigs and small farms

Last year's Womerlipp pigs sort out some compost.

Here's a pretty nasty Guardian article on the banal cruelty of large scale industrial pig farming in Europe. Sows kept in cages so small they can't move

Poor sad pigs. How anyone can accept this as normal is beyond me.

It isn't much better in this country. There are plenty of CAFOs, which is where most folks get their bacon.

We've seen some pretty horrific conditions on local small scale farms too. One barn cellar in a local town was dark, wet, full of manure that was never cleaned out, and teeming with piglets of all sizes and both sexes, no attempt made to regulate breeding, injured pigs, pigs with huge boils.

What a nightmare.

Pigs are terribly intelligent critters, smarter than a lot of people I know, and always the ones that give the most amusement around the farm. They're good at working over manure heaps and other animals' bedding because they love to root. They're also good at working over soil and can be used as part of garden soil or field preparation. But you need to have more than one operation on your farm to take advantage of this tendency. A small scale mixed farm environment, in which pigs are used with ruminant animals and arable farming or horticulture as part of the fertility cycle, is much better.

The sooner we realize that most large scale factory techniques aren't good for animals or the land or people, the better. We're going to need to pay more for food, and have a lot more people in farming to achieve this, but it's at least an honest life.

And we need to give farmers more time for countryside conservation activities. A farmer who looks after land well is doing a lot more for the community than just growing food. She's also protecting water quality, recycling wastes, protecting biodiversity, growing fuel and fiber, providing young folks a connection to the land and the place their food comes from.

The list goes on.

Here on what's left of the Great Farm, I'd like to think we're taking these tasks seriously. But we do also plan to grow a few more pigs this year, with our virtual pig theory.

Some of our "customers" for last year's bacon and ham were very complementary yesterday. "Best bacon my wife ever tasted." I was very proud. (Aimee said this was silly of me, because all we did was feed and care for the critters. The butcher was the one who made the meat taste good, with a little help from the pig.)

I say customers in quotes because we only had one real paying customer for meat last year, the purchaser of one of our lambs. Everyone else got meat for free because we used a non-USDA butcher. We're still working up to this farming business thing, and are trying to get the systems worked out nicely, particularly with the grower pig operation which has the potential to damage our land if we go too quickly with it, and trucking and butchering is a bottleneck. It's sixty miles to the USDA-approved butchers.

This year we want three-four customers for grower pigs and about the same for fat lambs. Customers will buy their animals from Womerlippi Farm at weaning. They can be taken then, or boarded here for a price. Once each animal reaches the customer's target weight, they will go to the butchers. Customer pays for the animal, the boarding and picks up the meat and pays the butcher's bill themselves.

For the customer, the advantages are that you get the knowledge your animal had a very happy life, good healthy feed with quality and variety, lots of sunshine and rain, a nice warm barn, activities, fresh water, good daily care, and companionship of a small herd of fiends and siblings. You get a custom cut, so within natural limits you can opt for more bacon or more pork, more or less lamb-burger, and so on. We haven't worked out the full costs yet, but it will something in the region of $70 for each animal, lamb or pig, $100/lamb to $300/pig for board, and the butcher's bill is $50 for a lamb and $150/pig. So a final price of $210/processed lamb, versus $470/pig.

We get 100 lbs of meat from a pig, around 25/30 from a lamb, so this is a little over $4.50 a pound. You can get cheaper meat, but not as good, and literally, you don't know where it's been.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
The purpose of this blog is for Aimee and I to communicate with friends and family, with those of our students, and other folks in general who are interested in homesteading and farming activities.

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