Tuesday, January 8, 2019

pet pigs and/or eating boars or older sows

Story and question from email:  

Hi Bruce, 
The summer before last my husband and I bought two pigs from you that 6 months later we butchered.  (Great pigs.)  We also left with 4 baby piglets that needed bottle feeding. I volunteered to take them so my summer camp kids could help raise them. (They loved them). You thought they would most likely not make it since they didn't get colostrum from their mother who had abandoned them. Well, two did die but two survived and they are now giant pigs. A male and a female. Friendly pigs that now I don't know what to do with them. The boy never got castrated, and the female doesn't seem to be pregnant. I am wondering what to do. If you have any advice or may know someone who would want them? A breeding pair? I don't have the proper set up for them anymore. They have plowed the extent of my pasture, using an electric fence and now in the barnyard..they have outgrown the barn space. I am told they are too old to butcher and that uncastrated male meat should not be eaten. Sorry to bother you I know you are busy but any advice would be appreciated.

So there's two possible questions here: (a) what do I do with a pig that I've become attached to and can't see slaughtered or  (b) is it ok to eat boars or older sows?  

There's nothing wrong with the meat from older pigs; it tends to be tougher than the meat from younger pigs, but cooked low and slow or braised and it'll be as tender as you want it to be.  Crock pots, pressure cookers, or just slow roasting will get you to the degree of tenderness you want in your pork.  Older animals will tend to have a higher amount of fat, and for things like salami or other charcuterie may actually work better than a younger pig that isn't as fat.  A good salami is about 30% fat in my opinion.  

The meat from boars can be eaten; the concern is with boar taint, which is an unpleasant smell which can be present in the fat of uncastrated male pigs.  But there's a couple of things you should know.  1) not everyone can smell or detect boar taint - I had one boar processed that I could not eat because of it, but my brother happily at it - I can smell it, he can't.  About 20% of the population can detect boar taint, and the other 80% cannot.  

  And not all boars have detectable taint.  The easy way to test this is at slaughter time - you slice off some of the fat and fry it up.  If you smell frying fat and no unpleasant odor either you can't smell boar taint or there isn't any in that particular animal.  

If there is boar taint you can use that pork in highly spiced sausages.  Chorizo or pepperoni being popular choices.  

With respect to keeping a pig that you're attached to, a full-sized sow or boar will maintain weight on 6lbs of feed per day.  They'll want more, but my feed price is about $0.19/lb, and so it costs about $1.20/day to feed a full-grown pig, about $36/month.  So that's the price of your very large pet.  

With that said, there are several pigs that have died of old age on my farm because I couldn't bring myself to shoot them.  Each had a particular story, and each lived a long and happy life.  


Monday, January 7, 2019

Holiday traditions - Moldova

Part of the business I do on my farm are people who want to have a pig and process it in the way that their tradition and culture has done for ages.   One of those groups that I serve is the the Moldovan community that lives in and around Seattle.  

What they like the best is a relatively large pig; 300lbs or so, with a good amount of back fat.  They aren't particularly picky on color, and do like to choose the pig that they are going to process, and see it live.  

It's often a little bit of a problem to make sure that they get a pig that they are happy with - I'm asking them on the phone what size pig, they're consulting (pig purchases are often a group endeavor, with 3 or 4 families splitting the pig) and it's a bit of a parlimentary process, and no matter what they tell me on the phone, they almost never pick a pig like the one that they describe.  So I smile, and talk slowly, and don't take careful notes; I know that the final decision will be made on the day they come to the farm.  

I bought a digital scale with a cage around it to help with their choice; after a decade of this I've got a pretty good eye for pig.  I can tell a pigs weight, plus or minus 5 pounds, consistently, but the customers are always skeptical, and so what I do now is ask what size pig they're after, find a pig that weight, and then put it on the scale to show them the weight.  

Some of the folks are skeptical about my scale, too, so I usually ask the person who is closest in weight to the pig that they're after to step on the scale and they usually see that it's pretty accurate, and then we put the pig on and discuss.  

So we put the first pig on the scale, and it's almost always too small.  There's a discussion about this, which I'm excluded from because I don't speak the language, but I can get a feel for each faction.  There's the "fatter is better" there's the "cost is most important" and then there's the "it's the holidays, lets get the best pig!" and the discussions are usually pretty good natured. 

So I show them the pigs they have a choice of, and they pick one, and I tell them that I need payment up front for the pig - after it's shot, there's no going back! - and after we've settled the pig is killed and stuck and they proceed to process it.  

They almost always bring a bottle of something to drink; whisky, schnapps, wine - it's the holidays, and this is a celebration for them.  they'll be eating well tonight, with friends and family, and another year past.  The older people show the younger people and I'm guessing that there's always the story about the really hard work that they used to do.  You know the deal - when we walked to school it was uphill both ways, in the snow!  that sort of story.  

After they've got the pig scraped they'll cut it up, and eat a bit of the back fat, with salt, directly off the fresh pig, and this is an important part of the ritual of the holiday pig.  I'm not a big fan of fat back, but heck, with a shot or two of whiskey, all things are possible!

It has become a part of my own holiday tradition now, and come november I'm looking at the herd and setting aside a few great pigs for these families.  

Happy holidays to everyone, and here's to a prosperous 2019 for you and yours!



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What makes it harder to farm?

I got a call today from a man that I've done business with for the last 6 years.  He asked me if I'd heard anything, any rumors, and I said no, I hadn't, and asked him about what. 

"Well, the corporate headquarters decided that they are going to close the feed mill on highway 20, and you've been a bulk customer of that mill, and as of June you'll have to do something else for your feed". 

Apparently they will give a couple of weeks of pay for every year of service, which must be cold comfort for those guys working at the mill who are 55 or older; I see plenty of folks who get this sort of layoff and then take a substantial pay cut on their next job.  For the corporation it's pretty easy math; no more health care costs, lower employee salary cost, and more profits for the shareholders.  That's all that matters, right? 

The closing of this mill was a surprise.  That mill makes more than 100 tons a day of feed for the local market, which gives it roughly $33k a day in sales, or $600k a month; in the pig farmer area I know of at least 3 pig farmers who are going to have to find another feed source for their complete ration. 

I've just brought in 500 pigs, and I had plans to bring in another 500 a little later this year.  For me this is sort of like saying "hey, the only hardware store in your county is going out of business, so if you need hammers, or nails or whatever, you can drive 10 hours to get them.  Sorry about that!

I asked about the plans and there was some vague answer about relocating the mill to eastern oregon somewhere, or stockton california (more than 1,000 miles away), and that for bagged feed that they'd be running trucks up here to supply the 100 tons of bagged feed that they were currently selling, but there wasn't a solution for bulk feed as I need it. 

I'm glad that he called now, because I'm just about to start planting corn, and it looks like I'm going to plant a lot of corn.   I have been working towards growing and manufacturing my own feed - vertical integration - for years now, and I guess it's time that I started planting farm-scale crops. 

farm-scale:  Enough grain crops so that I have sufficient supply for 1 year or more of operation of my farm.  I'll do corn first, and then figure out minerals and protein later.  I can actually get concentrate that is designed to be added to corn to make a complete ration for pigs, and I guess I'm going there sooner than I thought.