"Hey Bruce, your pig paddocks are pretty muddy, and there's a fair number of oranges that aren't eaten and appear to be rotting away, and I hate the smell of rotting fruits and vegetables. I'll figure that there's some reasoning behind what you're doing -- want to fill me in? Penny"
Glad that you asked, Penny; I'm going to do a summary here, and then give you a guided tour in picture form through the process, explaining why I do each thing I do. I'm glad that you're interested in animal husbandry and welfare. I am, too. That's why I raise animals. I want to make sure that they've got the best experience they can have while they're here, and I try my best to accommodate their needs, even when they are very different from the common perception.
I feed my pigs a diet that consists of forage or forage equivalent (hay in the winter, grass in the summer), fruits and vegetables that are pre-consumer waste (Fruits and vegetables that are discarded from produce departments in various stores) and store-bought feed. Your question is about the fruits and vegetable portion of their diet, so I'll go into depth on that.
This year has been very tough on my farm. We've had a large amount of rain, in unusually heavy concentrations. That means we've had days were we have had 5" of rain, followed by 2" of rain, followed by 3", and so on. My farm is in the bottom of a river valley, and there is basically no drainage, so I've got mud. Boy have I got mud.
Having this sort of weather, and operating a pastured pig operation, means that I have had to work extra hard at offering a dry, warm place for pigs to sleep. I do this is a couple of ways, and sometimes, especially when I've gotten 5" of rain in a 24 hour period, it's impossible. But I keep plugging at it, and by and large I've kept the animals healthy and happy.
The pigs diet
On a blog that I read, Farm Folly, wrote an entry earlier this month about the cost of raising his own pork, and reached several conclusions based on that experience. One of them is that grain-fed pork is a luxury -- you feed 6 calories in feed for every calorie of pork consumed, and that it takes vast amounts of food to raise a pig to market weight. (35,000 eggs!) . You'll find the blog entry here.
I mention that here because my goal in operating a farm is to produce good food from what would otherwise be wasted. That means I have animals like sheep that graze, and use the grass, and that I'd like to use as little grain as possible to raise my pigs. That's where the produce comes in. I use food that was originally for human consumption, but for one reason or the other was discarded before it was sold.
Citrus, when it rots, has a particular odor. If you've ever walked through a citrus grove during harvest time, you've smelled it. It's a weird, sweet, rancid orange smell. The pigs don't seem to mind the smell, and those oranges have to go somewhere, so they go into my soil.
I understand that you don't like the smell, but lets take a minute and look at the alternative for this waste stream: Cedar Grove Compost
Cedar grove is the company that handles the composting of organic materials for several cities in my area. Over the years there have been many complaints about a nauseating odor in the north Everett and marysville area both, and recently this company was fined $169,000 for odor violations, for a smell that could apparently be smelled miles away from their facility. I think I'm a better choice.
The county road goes along the front of my farm, and I'm feeding my pigs right there, within 30 feet of that county road. If you walked a hundred feet away I'd guess that you'd have a hard time smelling anything, and certainly 500' away you'd smell nothing out of the ordinary, and you didn't complain about a manure or animal smell; that's because I use hundreds of cubic yards of wood chips every week to make a proper, balanced planting soil. Manure is nitrogen, wood chips are carbon, and the combination makes great soil. No manure smell, no ammonia smell, just the smell of plain old composting, and only if you're close.
Lets talk about farming smells for a couple of minutes
People have complained about farming smells before -- you're not the only one. In fact, in snohomish county, they've finally made a law that says that anyone that buys property within 1300' of farmland must sign a waiver that spells out that you may indeed by offended by farming odors, and I quote:
"Your real property is within, adjacent to, or within thirteen hundred feet of
designated farmland; therefore, you may be subject to inconveniences or
discomforts arising from agricultural activities, INCLUDING BUT NOT
LIMITED TO NOISE, ODORS, FUMES, DUST, SMOKE, THE OPERATION
OF MACHINERY OF ANY KIND (INCLUDING AIRCRAFT), THE STORAGE
AND DISPOSAL OF MANURE, THE APPLICATION BY SPRAYING OR
OTHERWISE OF CHEMICAL OR ORGANIC FERTILIZERS, SOIL AMENDMENTS,
HERBICIDES AND PESTICIDES, HOURS OF OPERATION, AND
OTHER AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITIES."
So one way to look at it is that if you're less than 1300' from my farm, well, sorry. Go somewhere else. Hate to be that blunt, but I can't raise pigs in your neighborhood, but you can sure walk your dog there, and maybe that's the best solution if you're offended by rotting oranges.
And you can thank your lucky stars that you haven't run across one of these yet. This would probably kill you: (click on picture for larger version)
I provide mounds of fresh wood chips as they're delivered to the pigs, both in their shelters and in piles, so that they can choose to sleep inside or out. Fresh wood chips compost, and that composting action provides quite a bit of heat for the pigs. The piles steam,and the pigs like laying on the warm chips.
The bigger the pig, the less interested they are in staying completely dry. A big sow or boar has enough fat that they could lay on an iceberg and be comfortable.
The picture above is a good example of what I'm talking about. The smaller pigs, with less fat and a smaller surface to mass ratio (cool engineering term that basically means that they're not as thick as the bigger pigs) prefer fresh chips to sleep on. The bigger sow is indifferent. Her size gives her a rank in the herd higher than the smaller pigs to the left, but she's chosen to snooze in the shade of that calf dome that she's flipped on end.
In the picture above it looks like there's streams on the left side. Those are actually paths that the pigs make, and maintain, by walking to and from various points of interest in the pasture. All of the pigs will use the precise same path for months, and this churns the dirt there into mud.
And that brings me to the final topic, animal care. My goal in my operation is to allow the pigs to have all of the social, cultural and physical needs met. In a practical sense, this means that it's my job to offer them an environment where they can choose for themselves what they want to do. that means that I offer a dry spot, a wet spot, a spot with cover from the sun, and one without. I allow them to eat what they prefer, or crave, figuring that if there is a deficiency in their diets that they can correct it, and I think I do all of that.
What a pig wants, and what people think that a pig wants, can be completely different. I can offer a dry, warm shelter and be amazed that the entire herd of pigs will choose not to use it. I've learned that the pigs do have preferences, and that those preferences often surprise people who don't raise pigs.
I hope that covers the basics questions, and I'm happy to answer any questions you have about my practices.