In nature pigs are scavengers and earth movers; on the farm these propensities make them perfect preliminary compost digesters which also have the laudable ability to turn part of what would normally become compost into bacon and pork chops. Really, the natural farm should never be without a pig or two. Practically everything you might be composting is food – or maybe bedding – for a pig (did you know pigs eat tree trimmings? –and like them?). Pigs accelerate the composting process with digestion and aeration, and they convert some of the material into meat-on-the-hoof. What could be more beautiful? And the natural farm that keeps a dairy ruminant or two will have generous quantities of extra grass-harvested-ruminant-converted proteins and fats (milk, whey) that need a home. What better way of processing and storing them than running them through the guts of a pig?
A small farm like ours doesn’t necessarily need to breed its own pigs – our farm surplus, while it does very well supporting from two to four pigs at almost any given time, would be strained to provide adequate calories for a sow and boar in full-time residence as well. We buy piglets from a neighbor who keeps breeding animals and raises pigs for sale and slaughter, and often has a few extras that aren’t moving quickly enough. One of the beauties of living in community. Surplus nutrient availability – pig food planning – is predictably seasonal, something we take into consideration for timing our pig acquisition and slaughtering. Our pig year is planned first of all around milk – when are the cows going to freshen, when will we be making cheese – and then gardening, food processing surplus, the corn harvest, winter roots (mangels, turnips), surplus hay (including any bedding from other animals, like cows), and butchering offal (pigs love meat, and a cow – or fifty chickens – can produce a lot of offal). We are never without pigs; if a few weeks go by when the farm isn’t generating enough waste to fill the pigs up, we feed a little grain.
In the commercial model it is important for the pigs to grow very fast, to make room for another lot of pigs. In the paysano model, the goal is to make the most efficient use of the products of the farm: milk waste, kitchen wastes, garden and other wastes. If a pig can grow slowly on free food to the same size as another pig can grow to quickly, for the paysano, who only needs a few pigs a year, so that even if he gets one lot out of the barn quickly he isn’t going to use that space immediately for another lot, it is more economical to raise the slow pig than the fast pig.
Say a $50 pig can be raised in five months on 750# of feed, at $25 a hundredweight, you have $425 in that pig at the very least by the time you butcher. If a second pig can be raised to the same size in eight months on 150# of bought-in feed, plus all the scraps and dairy waste the farm will produce, you have less than $100 in the animal by the time you come to butcher. Processing off-farm will cost you at least another dollar a pound, or between two and three hundred dollars, whereas on-farm processing will cost you maybe fifty bucks in paper and tape, spices, and a new blade for the band saw, but probably not so much. Suffice it to say that if the paysano can raise a pig for $100, and get two hundred pounds of meat in the freezer, his pork costs him $.50/#, as opposed to the two-fifty or three bucks per pound the commercially fed pig will cost.
It helps to remember that for the paysano, it is useful to have pigs on the place at all times, because pigs are the most efficient converters of garbage into flesh. If the paysano can raise pigs solely on the products of the farm, they serve a double purpose, as garbage disposals which convert trash into compost and into flesh food.
A new catch-phrase to join slow food and slow money – slow growth, slow flesh, slow farming, slow husbandry? Meaning it is better to grow a pig slowly than to grow him quickly.