Thursday, December 3, 2009

Free food for pigs - the condensed milk backstory

I've gotten several questions from people who are curious about how I rustle up free food for the pigs, so I'll tell the story of the condensed milk. 

The milk itself is pretty good stuff.  I was moving one of the barrels around and dented it; the dirt in the top of this scraped off the front loader bucket; the material is pure white, and the consistency of sour cream.  You can see in the picture that it stands up a little.  It's pretty thick. 

I got an email from Heath Putnam over at wooly pigs a couple of weeks ago; he'd been offered the pumpkin, but his herd is hours away from Seattle, and he referred them to me.  The fellow at the cold storage facility and I worked it out, and I picked up the pumpkin, but then I realized that if one cold storage facility had a problem disposing of food, other ones would, also. 

So I grabbed a phone book and started cold-calling cold storage facilities.  First, realize that when the food comes up for use by a pig farmer, something has happened that makes it unfit for human consumption -- and the LAST THING ON EARTH that a cold storage facility wants to admit is that sometimes food that they're handling goes bad.  So it's a little touchy when you first call them.  I finally figured out that if I talked to the front office I'd get absolutely nowhere.  "We do not have large quantities of food that we need to dispose of".  The guy I needed to talk to, I eventually realized, was the warehouse manager.  "Gosh, I wish that I had talked to you last week; i had to send 6 tons of cheese to the dump!"

He's the guy who's tasked with getting rid of stuff for customers.  Seattle happens to be a major import center, so a lot of food that is going in or out of the country passes through.  And international regulations change, sometimes drastically, and that generates quite a bit of waste from time to time. 

Each of these barrels weighs 600lbs.

The facility had been sitting on these barrels of milk for a while while their customer figured out what they wanted to do with it.  So for me to get the milk I talked first to the warehouse manager, who knew that they might be available, and then he talked to the customer, and the customer wanted me to sign a release (no human consumption, no liability, etc) and then when all that was done I went down to pick up the barrels. 

The problem I have is that I don't have a semi-truck to pick up the food, and this particular facility didn't have any easy way to load a flatbed trailer, so it took a while to figure out how to get the milk onto the trailer.  I ended up making two trips, with about 5 tons of milk per trip, which was the weight limit of my heaviest trailer. 

This is a 10' door that opens onto a busy street, which i have to block all 4 lanes of to fit my 8' trailer into.  we figured it out. 

So to summarize: 
1) Any facility that handles food in bulk is a good candidate.  Cold storage facilities have been working really well for me.  Grain loading facilities, bakeries, food distributors or manufacturers -- dairy plants or ice cream plants would be other likely places to talk to. 

2)  You have to be able to make it easier for them to give you the food than to dump it -- that can either be just getting rid of it faster than normal, or cheaper than normal.  The key is that you're competing with the dumpster, and the dumpster wins by default. 

3)  It's ok to charge something to take stuff away.  Figure out what the per-ton dump fees are in your area, and think about 1/2 of that rate as a starting point.  Diesel costs money, your time costs.  No reason not to get reimbursed for solving a problem. 

4)  Know the reason that they're discarding the food.  That load of 45 tons of soybeans?  They're an imported product, from china, and one reason that huge batches have been discarded is because they're treated with a pesticide that is not approved for human food.  I'll be checking that. 


Anonymous said...

I'm skeptical about the condensed milk and pumpkin making your pigs grow. It seem like insufficient nutrition.

Anyway, now that you've figured out how to feed the pigs cheap, how will you market all the pigs you can fatten? Selling pigs in ones and twos is one thing, but it doesn't scale.

Bruce King said...

As with any diet, having some balance is key. Some producers would say that all I have to do is feed hay to them in addition to the dairy, and that the resulting diet would be "90% forage". Sounds good, right?

Anonymous said...

Bruce, you're starting to sound like a broken record. I've read your posts on HT as well, get over it.

Bruce King said...

I think I'm entitled to needle people; it's part of the game.

Anonymous said...

pretty soon you can skip the pigs and just resell surplus food to pig farmers - middlemen rule the world :)