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Posts Tagged ‘scrap-fed pigs’

Sunday, February 24:

Yesterday was the Day of Destiny for the two pigs up at Barry’s.  They were two of the four we got from F., and they hung at two-hundred thirty and two-hundred fifty pounds, split.  The guys got them on hooks in about three hours on Friday afternoon; on Saturday they started around seven o’clock, and with three of the Fallon boys had both hogs cut and wrapped by three o’clock.  The sample sausage that Barry brought in and fried was of surpassing excellence; tonight we will grill pork chops.

The hams and belly from the black hog the boys killed last week have been brining for a week in a black pepper/brown sugar cure.   To hold them at forty degrees we put them out in the cave on the east side of the house where we store pumpkins, winter squash, and potatoes.  Three times the bacons were brought in, massaged, turned in their brine and put back out in the cave.  The hams require a week longer in the cure, and only had to be checked to make sure the brine wasn’t turning ropy, a sign that bacteria have taken hold.  Today we took the bacons from the brine and washed them; later we will set up a fifty-five gallon drum and smoke the belly for seven or eight hours.  Not wanting to wait that long for a taste, though, we cut a few rashers after Mass and fried them up for breakfast; they were delicious.

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Wednesday, September 26:

Let us speak for a moment about pigs.  Not the two pastured pigs presently residing by the stock pond, but the pigs in the barn.  It is a serious consideration for the family-scale farmer what to feed his livestock; since he is not raising his animals primarily to sell them but to eat them, it is important that they be fed for just as small a cost as possible.  The meat we raise may be better than anything money can buy, but we whose means are limited cannot consider it a bargain unless we reduce the actual cash outlay to almost, or literally, nothing.  This means little or no bought-in feed.  So what do our pigs eat?

Well, first of all, dairy waste.  Only in a family-scale dairy, there is no waste, there are just dairy products.  The ones that usually go to the pigs are whey, buttermilk, and some skim milk.  Right now, with the cows either going into heat or in early pregnancy and with three baby bulls in the calf barn, there is less milk to spare than we like to see, maybe a gallon of skim every other day, two gallons of buttermilk a week, and whey only by the quart from drained yogurt.  The pigs devour it.

When there is no milk there is swill, or slops, the cooked vegetable and table scraps from our own and the monastery’s kitchens.  This is also extremely palatable to the pigs, as well as to the chickens and dogs.  There is bakery waste usually two days a week, given to us at third hand by the Franciscan sisters to whom it is delivered in black plastic trash bags.  There are windfall apples by the bucketful, gathered from the trees in the pasture.  These have only been ours for two years, just since we bought the field, and the pruning we have been doing, while it helps, has not yet succeeded in making the apples from those trees worth harvesting for our own use, but the bruised fruit, sweet , red and yellow, is prized by pig, chicken, and duck, miniature horse, and the cows.

The garden offers many things for the pigs, and will offer more.  The zucchetta rampicante, or tromboncino zucchini, which has sprawled fifteen feet out of the raised bed where it is trellised, produces far more squash than our households can use.  The overgrown individuals are roughly chopped with a hatchet when we split the firewood for cooking swill and added to the mess in the big copper cauldron.   Bean plants, corn stalks and tomato vines pulled from the garden are thrown in the pig pen where what is not eaten becomes bedding, trampled and chewed to shreds.  In the monastery garden ranks of beets and turnips, maybe a thousand row feet or more, fill the open spaces left when the potatoes were harvested, and these are intended for the pigs winter food.  And the late beans, when we have had our share, will provide good protein for all the pigs on the farm.

This last item seems to us a good idea, and next year any spaces left empty before the middle of Augusts will be sown to pintos as fodder for the pigs and cattle.

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Monday, September 10:

This is to answer the question, “What do you feed the homestead pig?”

Corn stalks.  There is a big stack of these in a spare stall, and we throw in six or seven every day or two.  They must be getting eaten, because anyone who has cleaned a stall where they were not getting eaten knows just how miserable and tangled the bedding gets, and the bedding in the pig pen is loose and duffy, with only a few fragments of cornstalk in it.

Windfall apples.  Our farm has five apple trees within forty yards of the pig sty.  Piglets who run from a human being at the fence will poke their noses through the gaps in the wire when offered a slice of apple taken off with someone’s Uncle Henry.  In the season there is always a bucket or two of windfall apples beside the pig pen, and passers-by hand-feed them to the babies, or tip a dozen over the fence if in a hurry.  Apples are good pig food, at least so say the pigs.

Swill, slops, garbage, whatever name you give it, waste food from cooking and the table is good pig calories.  We boil it in a big kettle to increase its appeal – pigs and chickens prefer cooked scraps to a jumble of vegetable waste and leftovers – and the pigs eat it enthusiastically.

Skim milk, buttermilk, whey – dairy waste of all kinds.  Particularly good is to keep a bucket of skim milk by the wood furnace where it will clabber overnight into a thick yogurt full of beneficial lactobacilli and nourishment.

Bakery waste.  Some kind soul in the city brings bags of waste from a gourmet bakery and gives them to the sisters at the monastery; what cannot be utilized there often ends up at our farm, where the pigs love it soaked in milk or warm water.  Chickens love it too.

Cooking water.  When we steam or boil anything – except pork – the water is saved and added to the swill bucket at the foot of the basement stairs.  Pasta water is starchy and full of calories, but the water from boiling corn or steaming green beans is not to be despised, being full of flavor as well as – so nutritionists who want us to eat our vegs raw will tell us – all the vitamins leached from the vegetables.

Hay.  Yes, hay.  Pigs like grass and will eat a good deal of the waste hay from the cows’ manger.

Weeds pulled from the pasture in a spare moment.  Wheelbarrow loads of weeds and vines and half-spoiled vegs from the garden.

That’s all that comes to mind at the moment, but it gives you the idea.

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Wednesday, September 5:

The young cabbages are set out and watered with the hose off the creek.  Constantly running water – free, and not drawn off the aquifer – is a blessing we feel every day.  Eight dozen cabbages and seven hundred row-feet of carrots, mostly Napolis, need lots of water, every day even, water we could not give them from the house well even if we wanted to burn electricity to do it.  We are properly grateful.   In October we will cover the winter vegetables with low hoops and row cover; in November, or December if the cold holds off, we will cover them again with high hoops of welded wire and six-mil poly twenty feet wide, making a high tunnel about five and a half feet tall and almost ten feet wide.

That’s a big tunnel, much bigger than last year’s, and we hope it works.  In a high wind it could be a disaster.

The big pile of waste wood at the foot of the hill, in the curve of North creek we call “the bonfire pit”, has been reduced to a thin layer of cinders edged by a few half-burned lengths of two-by-four.  It went up in flames thirty feet high, lighting the whole valley with tongues that tore loose from the parent fire and expired in showers of sparks.  The alchemists of the Middle Ages who classified all matter as either Earth, Air, Water, or Fire, can’t have been too far wrong;  at the Sow’s Ear fire is employed almost as often as the other three, multiple times a day.  In the kitchen, of course; and under the fifteen-gallon brass kettle out back where we cook swill for the pigs and chickens.  In the oil lanterns we carry down to light the way when we close up the ducks and chickens, and in candle lanterns on the porch for prayers.  In the grill to sear the good red meat that, with potatoes and fresh vegetables, refuels us after a day of hard work.  In the rock oven by the creek for hot dogs and marshmallows; and, as last night, for joy, and to clear the farm of those things, comparatively few, which cannot be recycled and for which we can no longer find a good use.

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Tuesday, February 7:

Saturday’s snow lingers only on the shady side of rail fences and fallen trees, or as a soft slump carpeting the north-facing slope of the south hill pasture.  Just by raising our eyes from the dishes we can trace the contour lines, black wanderings across a white ground, laid down across the face of the hill by the cows’ unerring instinct for the level path; like the lines on a topographical map these trails, by their close proximity one to the other, show the extreme steepness of our pasture.  No one except the farmer who had nowhere else would have attempted to use this place for animals; yet, having nowhere else, we find that it will indeed pasture our livestock, and they, and the grass species, are thriving.  We want it to be known that if we can do it here, it can be done almost anywhere.

Another trip to the mill to purchase feed for the pigs up at the neighbors’; by March, when we are planning to butcher, those pigs may be absolutely enormous.  By contrast the home pigs, which receive cooked slops, dairy waste, and bakery scraps, continue to grow at a steady, moderate pace.  The baby bull is again the subject of discussion:  the girls want to keep him in the bottom of the white barn, where they have been giving him a half-gallon of milk a day and making a pet of him, while Papa thinks he is ready to go out with the other animals and rustle grub for himself.  Baby Belle, the young cow who is supposed to replace Isabel this year, is an aggressive pasture mate, and the boys, in a move unusual to them, are backing up the girls. They will probably win this one.

As the days grow longer the chickens lay a few more eggs every day, and wander farther from their chicken house to scratch.

The fan on the furnace is finally working, and the house is now almost too warm.

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Sunday, January 15:

Our philosophical conviction that to raise his own food is one of Man’s inalienable rights, like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is reinforced by our practical conviction that it is possible to produce most of what one eats, on a small piece of indifferent ground, without costing more in cash than is realized in food value.  We believe that a man should be able to sow seed, graze ruminants, feed his garbage to swine and poultry, and produce thereby food of a quality not presently available to anyone except the paisano or the billionaire, by the investment of time, sweat, labor, and only as much cash as you might otherwise spend on lattes, imported beer, Netflix, new clothes, and comprehensive coverage on a nice car.  In other words, you ought to be able to do it.

We are trying to demonstrate that you can.

The pigs at the bottom of the hill – the slop pigs, as opposed to the grain-fed ones at Barry’s – are one part of that demonstration.  Unlike baby Jersey bulls, weanling pigs are not cheap.  Typically we pay about fifty dollars for each young animal — about a dollar a pound it works out to be.  Therefore, they are for us a substantial investment from the word go, and if we want a good return on our investment we must minimize further cash outlay per animal.  For ten years we have raised pigs on purchased grain; kept for five months, until they weigh about three hundred pounds, butchered and cured at home, they produce pork at a cost of somewhere between a dollar and a dollar-twenty a pound.  Hams, bacon, chops, loin, sausage, roasts and ribs, and not including many pounds of excellent lard, for less than half what the cheapest pork in the stores would cost, and chemical-free at that.

Undeniably, a worthwhile exercise.  Yet we were dissatisfied with a process which required the constant addition of purchased inputs, and were at the same time certain these inputs could be reduced, perhaps even rendered unnecessary.  So for the last two years we have kept pigs on our own place, as well as the ones at the neighbors’, feeding the home swine table, kitchen, and garden scraps, from our own household and from a friendly restaurant in town, and all the buttermilk and whey naturally generated by a family with a milk cow.  Result:  the three pigs purchased this fall, have, so far, used about six bags of supplementary feed.  This in contrast to the conventionally fed pigs up the hill, which, I can say without consulting the records (it’s almost bedtime), are well above fifty bags.  Pig feed is presently about twelve dollars a fifty-pound sack.  At least five hundred dollars less outlay, so far.

Peasant farming for the man of modest means.

We’re out to prove you can do it.

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