Wednesday, March 5, 2014:
Last Friday the late summer hogs went to the freezer. These are the hogs we raise on commercial feed up the road with our friend, neighbor and mentor, Barry, the man who taught us how to butcher something big and get recognizable pieces at the end. Each year for the past dozen or so years, around about July, we pick up three or four feeder pigs from one or another of the local farmers, pen them in Barry’s palatial bank barn and put as much commercial feed in front of them as they’ll eat. Used to be that was all there was to it: we’d keep the self-feeder full, clean the pen and water tank once a week, and somewhere around the first weekend in January they’d be ready, weighing in around two-twenty-five to two-fifty apiece. We’d make a three day marathon of it, hanging the sides overnight to let the meat set up so it would cut easy. Squadrons of little kids – in the beginning they were very little kids – would stand on both sides of the nine-foot-long butchering bench cutting meat in chunks for the grinder, while the men cut chops with a hack saw and inside someone scraped casings for the sausage. It was a good way to learn.
The last few years the schedule has been variable, though. It’s a funny thing, but the pigs are getting picky about their feed. More than once we’ve had the experience of finding that the young animals aren’t eating their mash, or their pellets, just scooping it out of the feeder and onto the floor, building up a bank of wasted feed around the galvanized feeder. The pigs don’t grow; they just maintain, and meanwhile sack after fifty-pound sack of feed is going uneaten. After giving them ample time to adjust to whatever we are offering, we’ll switch and try something new. If it is pellets they are rejecting, we’ll try mash; if mash, then pellets, or our feed mill’s specialty mix. Eventually we find something that goes down all right and the pigs finally get their growth, but in these cases we end up butchering late, February, or even, as this year, in early March. We watch the weather anxiously, needing a cold weekend for the job since Nature is our only cooler.
We’re hearing stories like this from other places, too. Farmers in Minnesota and South Dakota, for example, in Vermont and Kentucky, report animals turning picky about commercial grain rations. In Pennsylvania one of our correspondents reports ongoing experiments with their own animals, experiments that seem to indicate that, given a choice, livestock will avoid eating genetically modified grains and beans. Even the rats, we hear, will bypass a bin of Bt corn in favor of a non-mutated grain. We wonder if the constituent ingredients of our commercial hog rations, undoubtedly including GM corn and soy, are the reason for the hogs’ lack of appetite. Fortunately our home hogs, Porca the mother sow and her children, are on a diet consisting mainly of garden surplus, fruits and vegetables salvaged from a local grocery store, with a good bit of waste bread from a small bakery in the city, and lots of waste buttermilk, whey and clabber. Whatever GMO’s are or are not doing to our livestock and ourselves, we’re glad to think that our farm is largely independent of a bankrupt agricultural system.