Thursday, November 19, 2009

$10,000 sugar mountain farm challenge

Walter Jefferies from Sugar Mountain Farm and I have been discussing feeding and raising pigs.  We have a disagreement.  He believes, and has stated publically many times that he has raised pigs on pasture without supplemental feeding.  That you can do this, and the result is a pig that gains weight only 10% slower than usual.

Walter has also suggested that you can do this with a stocking level of 20 pigs per acre. 

Each of the rules of this challenge are based on public messages Mr. Jefferies has posted in various locations promoting this idea that you can raise pigs on forage alone, at 20 per acre.

The $10,000 Sugar Mountain Farm Challenge

1) Sugar Mountain farms will supply 4 weaner pigs of his choice, each pig an average weight of 40lbs or less

2)  Sugar Mountain farms will supply hay of his choice to feed those pigs. 

3)  We put those pigs into a pen that is 1/5th of an acre in size and provide them shelter and water.  Has to be pasture -- not a sugar beet field.  Grass.    Similar in nature and fertility to the dirt at walters farm.  This size pasture per Sugar Mountain's reccomendations to other farmers about pen size and apparently his current practices. 

4)   That we feed those pigs .8 (8 tenths) of a pound of hay per day per cwt per Sugar mountain farms many published reccomendations and stated current practice and NO OTHER FOOD OF ANY SORT.   The pigs can forage whatever nutrition they want from the ground they are on - "pasture"

5)   That the pigs finish on a schedule that is 10% or less different than 4H guidelines for finished pigs or any other grow-out length as agreed to by both parties. 

6)  That the average finished weight of the four pigs be between 250 and 280lbs live weight at the end of this time. 

7)  Sugar Mountain farms can pick the start date of this challenge so that he can pick the most beneficial time of the year but at a time less than 1 year from the date of this post. 

8) That the pigs be kept at some other farm, agreeable to both Sugar Mountain and I.

9) That the pigs be weighed each month, and in the event of weight loss or lack of weight gain we deem the challenge to be over and Sugar mountain to have lost.   Each weighing to be published on the web. 

10)  I will put $10,000 into an escrow account held by an attorney at the commencement of this challenge, and will direct that attorney to award that money to Sugar Mountain farms in the event that he fufills all of these conditions.

11)  In the event that Sugar Mountain accepts this challenge and cannot meet all of these conditions, Sugar mountain agrees to host a banner at the top of each and every one of his websites for one year in legible text that states "I lost the sugar mountain challenge and the results can be seen here", and linked to any page I choose.


Emily said...

Sounds exciting. Is there any possibility that it could just be a difference in pasture fertility or content? I'll be tuned in for updates.

Walter Jeffries said...

No, Bruce. Once again you have distorted things I said and came up with your own special version. I never claimed the above numbers. Be a honest man and admit that you are distorting things and simply send me the $10,000.

On a related note, you seem to be attacking people left and right in an irrational manner these days. Are you feeling like you are under a lot of pressure and stress? Is there some major life event going on that could cause you to lose the farm and we're seeing this come out in these inappropriate bullying behaviors?


Sugar Mountain Farm
in the mountains of Vermont

Bruce King said...

Things that people should note about this response:
1) Personal attack.
2) No response to the challenge. Walter can not bring pigs to market with forage alone.
3) If it were merely a quibble about a parameter -- like the amount of hay per day, for instance, or the size of the pen, those could be worked out. No matter how much hay, or what size the pasture, it just won't work. Walter knows that, I know that. And now you do, too.

Draw your own conclusions, folks. Given the chance to earn $10,000 this is the choice he makes.

Jason said...

Bruce, why are you doing this? Seriously, what do you stand to gain from this argument? Is this a publicity stunt designed to drive more traffic to your website? Because I can't conceive of any other rational reason for such behavior. Do you really feel like you have to be the police of internet farm blogs? Why not just tell your story, and let the chips fall where they may? I think people are smart enough to make up their own minds.

I enjoy your blog because you write about the good and bad of farming, and I appreciate your analytical approach. I respect that about you. This name-calling, hostile, me-against-the-world tack, not so much.

Bruce King said...

And remember that my original post was about farm blogs that promote things that don't work?


Bruce King said...

Jason, I don't think I've called names at any time in any discussion I've had here on this subject or in any forum about this subject.

People I have talked to have gotten angry, and other folks have called names, but I have not.

Walter won't believe this, but I respect Walter a great deal as a person, I like his approach to farming, and I do wish the best for him and his family. I have have never ever attacked him personally. Never.

But I have been critical of ideas and the promotion of practices that seem harmful or misleading or claims of results that seem to be impossible.

There's a big, wide, huge distance between the discussion of an idea and a personal attack. I've never crossed that line with Walter.

Please do take the time to correct me if I'm wrong. It's all in writing here, and if I personally attacked Walter, I'd like to know because that's a big mistake in my book that I'd feel obligated to correct.

sheila said...

Those would be some darned hungry, if not starved piglets. I think you'd be cited for cruelty to animals. Hay/pasture alone won't work for young pigs. They need more energy. People would take pity on the poor things and be driving by and throwing them their McDonald's breakfast sandwiches and cheeseburgers.

Anonymous said...

Bruce, can you put up a iink to the quote of 20 pigs per acre on forage alone and being able able to bring them to market within 10% of normal?

Anonymous said...

I follow both of your blogs and appreciate both of you for sharing your knowledge of farming. Walter has never to my knowledge pushed a purely pasture based feed program. He has always supplemented his pigs with various high calorie foods and a constant supply of whey. Hmmm, what is really going on? Time to shake hands and get back to farming! Mike

Anonymous said...


Point #3 is the most devastating: "If it were merely a quibble about a parameter -- like the amount of hay per day, for instance, or the size of the pen, those could be worked out. No matter how much hay, or what size the pasture, it just won't work. Walter knows that, I know that. And now you do, too."

That's what gets me. What challenge would Walter accept? Let's see him define an acceptable challenge, and make the $10,000.

Bruce King said...


Walter has made the claim that he can bring pigs to market on pasture in at least three places.

Quote 1:
"Most farms feed their pigs commercial grains and many people have the mistaken notion that pigs can't survive or thrive on pasture alone. Yes, they do grow a little slower (about 10%) but if you give them an extra few weeks they still get to the same size..."
You will find that quote in the interview posted here:

He repeats this claim on November 10th of this year, in the comments section of my posting. Here's the quote:

"By the way, we have successfully raised three different batches of pigs 100% on pasture with no whey, no grain, no hog feed, nothing else, just pasture."

You will find that quote in the commments section of this post:

He made this statement a third time recently, quote:
"We've raised three batches of pigs 100% on pasture. They took a couple of months extra to reach market weight and were leaner with less marbling and less back fat. Adding dairy to that mix brings the growth rate up and the time to market size about the same as if they were fed grain."

You'll find that quote in the comments section of this post:

200 pigs on 10 acres of pasture:
" As to how much land for a pig, we currently have about 200 pigs of varying ages on about 10 acres divided into paddocks."

You'll find that post here:

I was inferring that since he's raising multiple batches of pigs that this was done on his land and at the stocking rates he describes, I don't think that it would work no matter what the stocking rate is. You could give each pig 1/2 an acre, for instance, and it wouldn't make much of a difference.

Is that sufficient backup?

Bruce King said...

Sheila -- I agree with you. I think they'd start losing weight the first week.

Wild pigs grow fine on pasture alone, but they often have a range that is measured ACRES PER PIG, not pigs per acre. Their growth rate is slower than for a comparable commercial pig, and not just 10% slower. Double or triple the time to any meaningful weight, and generally speaking, it's in a climate that is much more hospitable than the mountains in Vermont. Think Texas, Florida, Louisiana.

Anonymous said...

Sugar Mtn also says:
Note that in addition to the pasture our pigs also get whey from cheese and butter making at the rate of about 2.5 gallons per hundred weight per day, some cheese trim, excess milk, cottage cheese, the occasional bread, occasional spent barley and excess from our gardens. Thus they are not getting 100% of their food from the 10 acres of pasture. If I only had the pasture I would probably only have about 25% to 50% as many pigs on it.

Don't forget to include the whole quote, in context.

Lee said...

I've always liked your site because you are a "show me the numbers" sort of guy. The environmental / organic / free range / homesteading communities are particularly guilty of marginalizing themselves through unsubstantiated claims.

That said, wagers don't make good business sense (see your previous post), and even with a foregone conclusion the risk to you ($10k) is not worth the reward (someone admitting a mistake). Policing the internet is a thankless job.

Bruce King said...

Lee, I agree, it is thankless. It's not a matter of business here, but of principle. If you're going to make a claim about some practice, be prepared to prove it, particularly if you're going to tell newbies to do that practice.

The worst thing you can do to a new farmer is to tell them some fairy tale and then have them lose their shirt based on your advice. The vast majority of what he says is accurate and good advice. It's the edges that are a little tattered, and newbies don't have any way to tell will work and what will not.

My feed bill is more than $10k a year -- so if he had shown me some way to do this, it would have been the same as paying part of my feed bill one year in advance, with the prospect of not paying for feed again, so I'd be whole in less than a year in that respect.

No big deal.

Bruce King said...

Anon -- I've always provided both the quote and the link to the original so that people can look at the context and make their own decision.

I don't think I misquoted the statements that Walter has made about raising pigs 100% on pasture with no supplemental feed in any way. Do you?

john said...

I just wanted to comment ans say that I have followed walter's blog for many years and also feel that he is a serious discredit to the farming community. He openly attack any type of commercial feeding operation of hogs that use grain, even if that grain is grown on the farm. He preaches his sustainable agriculture as being more "correct", sustainable and earth loving. But lets look at the facts, If the milk processor down the road goes out of business, he's in serious trouble. that's not my idea of sustainable.

Walter is just a run of themill hog producer, not better or worse than all the rest. He use whey instead of a grain ration.

But to sell his product at a premium, he makes it seem he is doing something special and those of us like myself are doing it wrong.

He's a self promoter, it seems here that bruce is also a self promoter...that's part of business. The difference is that walter is not telling the truth.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've read your blog for over a year now. But there seems to be a pattern establishing of you spending excessive amounts of your own (and your readers) time in nannying other small scale independent farmers. A bit too much misdirected machismo for my tastes...let us know when you get back to the business of farming.

Bruce King said...

John: I agree with you. He's done a lot of talking about stuff, but when you look closely at the actual practices, it's a different story.

Walter could just say "yea, most of the pigs diet is dairy" and that'd be that. But it wouldn't sell as many pigs, and it wouldn't be as good a story that way, in my opinion.

I do like his slaughterhouse project, and I think that it's a nice direction to go. But I'm curious if that's going to force him to buy feed to grow his pigs. The free dairy is very nice -- wish I had some of that -- but I'm guessing there's only so much of it. if he grows by another 30% he may need more food than that supplies. I'm curious how he'll announce that.

"Well, here at sugar mountain, we, ah, well..."

No hard feelings here, Walter. Hope there's none on your side.

Anonymous said...

mathass here

Borlaug knew that to get farmers to adopt innovations, you had to have them do tests in their own fields, and benefit. Farmers can't afford to take risks with their livelihood just because someone else says they should do something different.

Hence, I wouldn't believe Walter (Sugar Mountain Farm) unless he undertook the challenge and showed he could finish pigs just on forage.

Walter is a farmer. You have to figure he's gotten burned and learned things the hard way - so he's got to understand that in order for any farmer to believe in his pig raising method, we need to see some proof.

One problem: Walter has said (apparently) conflicting things about how he feeds his pigs. I'd hope that he'd clarify what he can do (with pasture) that is substantially different/better than other farmers, and try to win the wager.

One thing I find odd: he attacks his current processor on his blog, but it isn't like he's got his own processing up. So he's potentially going to piss off his processor, and that guy can retaliate easily, if he's so inclined. If nothing else, Walter is a potential future competitor. That seems reckless to me; if I was loaning Walter money, I'd feel nervous, because if that processor just tells Walter to process his hogs elsewhere, that potentially screws with his cashflow.

Bruce King said...

One question that I do have is if being on pasture affects the grow-out rate of the pigs, and if so, how much and in what direction? I've thought about doing that experiment this summer -- put some pigs into a standard pen, and some on the field, weigh both sets over the grow out on a regular basis -- weekly, say, and the weight the food given to them, so you know exactly how much feed goes in, and how much weight comes out, and how fast it happens. Compare the results. One of my projects is to build a corral/loading dock/squeeze chute system so I can handle my pigs in groups safely, and I was going to build a scale into the design anyways.

Walters got a big, fairly uncritical audience; there's a good chance that he can get 50 people to loan him $2k each, or something similar. The thing that he'll have to watch is that he doesn't run afoul of some securities law in doing so, but that's a matter of getting some good legal advice and just dotting your Is and crossing your Ts in my opinion. Pretty simple stuff.
Losing his current processor would be annoying to him, I suspect, but not fatal. Drive farther to another processor. Given that he's driving the pigs in with a van, not a trailer, I can't imagine his volume is very high. 150 pigs would be 13 a month, and I'm not sure that he's making 8 trips a month to the butcher. Suspect a lot of his product goes out farm kill.

I can tell you I've had similar problems to the ones he describes with processors in my area. There are some that I won't use, and some that I'll use as a last resort, and two that I reccomend. But I'm partially at the mercy of the customer -- if they want me to use a particular processor, it is their pig/sheep/cow.

Angie B said...

I know this is late to comment but I have read a few of Walters posts in the past and in all the ones that I have read he does indeed mention he supplements them with scraps and products from his other farm animals. I believe what you are jumping on is the phrase he used " no supplemental feed" I won;t speak for the man but I believe he likely meant no supplemental feed in the sense of commercial grain/hog feed. I don't know you are your blog much - nor do I follow Walters blog really but it seems you may be just trying to brush over what he has described in entirety on most ( all the ones I have read) with regards to feeding his hogs.

We in fact raise our pigs similarly on our farm and yes it takes longer to reach butchering weight and yes we supplement them with milk from our goats as well as eggs from our fowl with additional fruit/ veggie scraps here and there. They do indeed forage and eat quite a bit on pasture and seem to do quite well. We do not by commercial feed/ grain. Our pigs are not malnourished or suffering... They are happy - although somewhat leaner, healthy hogs.

Best Regards, Ang

Bruce King said...

Hi Angie; always ok to comment on a post. Walter has claimed that he has raised pigs feeding them nothing but hay and stocking at 10 pigs per acre.
He's made this claim at least 30 times. To be clear; I'm not talking about him raising pigs on pasture and giving them butter and whey and cottage cheese and other stuff - he's claimed that they were given no food at all of any sort. And that those pigs fattened up to market weights within 10% of the normal growout time.

So this challenge was to have him prove it.

What Walter does, as most pig farmers do, is offer food to his pigs. Walter feeds thousands of gallons of whey, a by-product of cheese making, as well as other dairy products (butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese). Most of the weight his pigs put on, and I believe that the number is 90% or more - is from that food, not from the sparse vegetation on his rocky mountainside farm.
He makes quite a few claims about pigs, but when you actually put him on the spot and ask him to prove it, the story changes.

Speaking to that; Walter does go back and edit his blog entries, so many of the most controversial entries aren't the same text now as they were back when they were written. Many blog authors do, but it messes up the context. What you read now isn't what he said then.

Unknown said...

I had read that in Missouri along time ago (50 years or more) they would take a heard of mulefoot pigs to an island on the mo river & leave the pigs to forage & they would come back when the water receded in the fall to get them to butcher. What do u think?

Bruce King said...

The difference between turning pigs loose on a river-bottom island where you have many acres per pig to forage on, and thin, mountain soil with a short growing season and 10 pigs per acre is quite a bit. Ranged pigs do gain weight, but they're usually very lean and much smaller than the american consumer expects.

He's been claiming for years that his pigs came out at market weights within 10% of the time it takes when you provide them with feed, and that's just not possible. Walters pigs are fed huge amounts of dairy products and that's where their weight gain comes from.

If it were possible, he'd have taken my $10,000 challenge.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the quick & informative reply! We are just starting out with mulefoots & Tamworths & was reading about how different people do it and came across your post! Thank you again!