Saturday, March 31, 2018

Raising pigs on pasture alone

One of the things that I get questions on from customers is what I feed my pigs.  A mixture of complete feed, produce from super markets, bread and other human food that is past its prime or there's been some sort of accident that makes it available to me.  (Accidents like spearing the side of a container of pumpkin pie filling with a forklift.  The pie filling is just pureed pumpkin, but they can't use it in the food production because it's punctured - but the pigs like it just fine. 
click on picture for more detail

There's a segment of the customers who are puzzled by that - why don't I raise my pigs on grass alone, like the guy in vermont?   Or on acorns like the farmers in spain?   It's happened often enough that I have a standard talk - "well, that guy in vermont who claims to raise pigs on pasture alone, I offered him $10,000 to raise pigs per his claimed standards, and he declined.  "

There's no question that you could raise pigs on forage alone; wild pigs manage to do that every year, and in warmer areas of the country they've been so successful that they have become pests and are basically hunted without restriction.  If that's true, why not raise my pigs on forage alone? 

The claim made was that you could keep 20 pigs on an acre of ground and have those 20 pigs grow from weaned pig size to market weight on the forage they got from that amount of ground alone. 

So lets put some numbers on that:  to grow from 40lb feeder pig size to finished pig size at 250lbs is 210lbs of weight gain.   In a heated barn with very good nutrition and no immune challenges like the common cold - that amount of weight gain would take 520lbs of feed (2.5 lbs of feed per pound of gain).   

There's a lot of research on what to feed pigs and their nutritional needs vary by the growth stage they are in, but in a general sense we can get close enough for discussion by using the calorie value of a pound of corn (1660) and a pound of soybeans (2030).  Pig feed is about 70% corn and 30% soybeans, so (.7 * 1660 + .3 * 2030 = ) 1771 calories per pound of feed.

To raise one pig from 40lbs to 250lbs takes a little under a million calories in perfect conditions - remember, these pigs are in temperature controlled barns and are protected from disease or anything else that would impede their growth. 

That's different than the environment when they are raised outdoors.  My experience with pigs raised on pasture is that they consume more feed; in the early parts of the year they're using the calories to keep themselves warm, in the later parts to keep themselves cool, and all of the time to fight off all of the small ailments that they're exposed to in nature.  Every time they get a sniffle it doesn't hurt them, but it does hurt the efficiency of gain. 

So for this hypothetical pasture I'd need to grow roughly 20 million calories worth of food at a minimum, with the real number probably being closer to 30, in order to meet the nutritional needs of the pigs. 

Lets take a look at how many calories per acre various crops produce

Corn:  15 million
Potatoes:  15 million
Rice:  11 million
Soybeans:  6 million
Wheat:  4 million
Broccoli:  2.5 million
Spinach:  1.7 million

To get 15 million calories of corn from an acre you can't keep the pigs in the same area.  The corn has to be planted, grow and mature in order to get the full calorie advantage.  That is not what the claim
is:  the claim is you can keep 20 pigs an acre and have them get all of the food they need from that acre while they live here.   Even if you reduced the number of pigs by half - 10 pigs per acre - you'd still need to have the entire acre covered with either corn or potatoes that grew unmolested and were harvested when maximum calories were available. 

That's why I don't believe the claims of having raised pigs on forage alone.  Not in the area described, and not at the speed claimed ("10% to 20% slower than on regular feed"). 

Now it's entirely possible to raise enough crops to feed pigs on your own.  I'm doing that on my farm now - I plant separate acreage with corn and harvest that corn to form the bulk of my pig feed.  My pigs are kept outdoors, on vegetation - mostly alfalfa, which they enjoy eating - and they're given a ration of last-years corn to grow on.   In the winter the pigs allowed out,but choose to spend most of their time in the barn, sheltered from the weather. 

What would it take to grow a pig on pasture forage alone? 

To raise 10 pigs on pasture you need an acre of corn somewhere to feed them, or you need to provide enough acreage so that each hog has multiple acres to forage from, as wild pigs often do.  And you'll get a result that is closer to wild pig than farm pig - a much leaner body, a much smaller body, and much less fat.   I am not aware of any commercial pig venture that is doing that now.  Even iberico pigs in spain are fed a grain ration: 



Monday, March 26, 2018

I can finally talk about this: Part 6, the trial

After the flurry of events beween Nov 13th and Nov 22nd things are quiet.  Dale ignores me, I ignore her.  The trial is set for March 21st 2018 and I wait.  On one hand I'd like to get this over - either way, guilty or not guilty - at least there would be some certainty.  

On March 21st I showed up at the courthouse at the scheduled time - 830 am, and the prosecutor and my attorney spent the next 3 hours arguing about everything; my attorney won some points, the prosecutor won some, from my lay point of view it was interesting.  more so because if I lost this case I could be going to jail, or be fined a large amount, or both.   They argue what can be admitted, and what can't.  there's a huge controversy about pictures with writing on them - they get tossed out.  
this evidence picture was ruled inadmissible because of the marks on it

Jury selection was voie dire; basically a set of open ended questions asked of potential jurors.  I'm scrutizing the faces and trying to figure out who will be sympathetic, or at least fair, to my arguments.  

One juror says "He's got four counts against him?  why are we wasting our time!  this should have been solved outside of court with a fine".  Another says "He should keep his animals on his property and if it happens twice it's his fault!" "I keep cattle and if he's got them running loose constantly its on him!"  

I'm not very hopeful at this point.  I notice from the juror questionnaire that one of the jurors works at the local chicken farm as a manager - he gets a check.  The guy who understands the difference between 'beyond a  reasonable doubt' and  'a preponderance of evidence' gets a check.  The other 4 jurors and an alternate are ciphers to me.  I don't know what they'll think, or do.  I hope that they'll listen to my attorney and I think that I only need one to get a hung jury, and that makes me feel better. but I'm worried

The jury seated, Ms. Shelton goes on the stand.  questions by prosecutor:  (all dialogue paraphrased)  "I took those pictures, they show pigs in the road, i live nearby, i've told him his pigs are out".  My attorney questions:  "i have made dozens of complaints about mr. king.  i did turn him in for the building permit.  i used to own
the property he now owns.  i own the road.  i own the land.  he has no right to use the road.  i have a permit that allows that.  i've tried to get him arrested on trespass.  this has been going on for years"

during this there's a whole bunch of objections by my attorney and by the prosecutor.  the poor jury is standing up and going into the jury room every 10 minutes so the issues can be hashed out without them hearing what they are.  my attorney is objecting to ms. shelton saying they're my pigs; she doesn't know that as a fact, etc. 

I watch the jury and hope that we're not losing them in this.  I can't really watch their faces because i have to turn and look at them to do so and I don't want to seem like i'm staring at them.  I want to stare at them.  i want to read their minds.  

office davis from animal control gets up and says "yes, i've inspected bruces fences and he's spent thousands of dollars on them".  

The court adjourns for the evening and I go home to a sleepless night.  

The next morning we bring officer davis back to the stand, ask a couple of questions about his involvement in the case "i didn't take any of the pictures, I didn't see any of the animals, I didn't look at most of mr. kings fence" and the prosecutor rests.  

I offer a witness who talks about the fence, and then i'm on the stand.   I answer my attorneys questions carefully; my attorney is terrified that I'm going to do something that will convict me, and i'm too.  I answer clearly, with YES or NO as much as possible.  i draw a picture of my fencing.  I talk about the activity on the farm that month - deliveries, employees, contractors, customers, everyone opening and closing gates.  I talk about the 6 week delay in my learning about the incidents and how that makes it impossible for me to fix any problem.  i say she could come and knock on my door, honk her horn or call me but she doesn't do any of that.  she wants me to pay a fine, she wants to hurt me.  

the closing arguments are direct:  Find mr. King guilty.  this is not a trial about ms. shelton its
about pigs out.  Convict him!   Ms Shelton has an axe to grind, and the prosecution has never
even proven they're his pigs.  She let those pigs out, she's causing these problems, she'll do anything to get Mr. King even turning herself in for violations she committed in an effort to harm my client!
Of course the pigs are Mr. Kings - no one else in the area has pigs.  Jury duty doesn't mean you don't have common sense - you do.  convict Mr. King

It's a little surreal to hear your own case being argued.  this was a first for me. 

We are all done with testimony by noon.  The judge declares lunch, and tells the jury to begin their deliberation at 1:15.  The jury files out, and I'm told to stay within 15 minutes of the court for the rest of the day.  I go home, and sit and stare at my tv but i'm not registering.  I have no idea how the jury is going to rule.  

1:30pm i get a call from my attorney.  They have a verdict.  I'm crushed.   They barely had enough time to work  through the jury instructions.  Hung juries take a long time to happen.  I know its not a hung jury. 

I drive to the courthouse picturing myself wearing an orange jumpsuit and picking up litter along the freeway.   I wonder what the fine will be.  I'm wondering if they convicted me of one count and let me off on the others, or if I got all counts.  I grit my teeth and walk through the courthouse security, and I rise from the defendants seat and watch the jury as they enter.  

The jury won't meet my eyes.  I'm cooked.  

Not guilty on all counts.  


I can finally talk about this part 5: What are you doing with that bale of hay?


A couple of days after Dales son got her cows off of my property she took this photo and sent it into animal control with a witness statement as part of a complaint.  It shows a cow outside her fence and gate, eating some hay from a bale that is on a red handtruck.   as per usual I didn't find out about this complaint until weeks after the fact. 

The picture was taken after dark, in a wind and hailstorm.   You farmers out there:  Do you wait until after dark in the hail to do your chores?  She's retired.  No job.  Was home all day as near as I can tell.

Dale claims that she was out feeding her cows and this cow happened to be there at the same time, and that the bale of hay that the cow is eating she was going to feed to her cows.
this is a diagram of the area - the blue "cow here" is where the cow is pictured.  the red line is the shortest distance between her hay storage and where the cows are fed.  The orange line is where she claims to have been feeding the cows. 
I don't know of any farmer who waits until the hail and wind to feed their animals after dark.  I also don't know of any farmer who would choose to go through two locked gates (red and green in the diagram) every day to feed the cows.  I do know that you can lead a cow around with a bale of hay, particularly if that hay is something that cows really like, like alfalfa.

On the morning of January 22nd I woke up to find her cows in my grapes again.   Here's a summary of the video:
  I watch as dale brings down the same handtruck as in the 19th photo, opens my fence, herds her two cows out, and down the driveway, and closes up my fence.  You want to know how I think that cow got in front of her gate?  Dale just demonstrated it for me, on video.   I ask her here what she wants out of all of this.  She can't answer.  I don't think she knows. 

She notes that there's alfalfa from the area of my fence she opens to her gate.  I'm sure there is.  I couldn't tell you when it was put there, but in my opinion it was put there by her on the evening of the 19th when she was luring my cow through the fence she opened.

Shelton cows out 2nd time, opens fence and herds them through from bruce king on Vimeo.

Next:  The trial