Monday, December 27, 2010

Sustainable: How many acres to produce 38 pigs every 4 months?

One of the biggest arguments I've had with other pig farmers, particularly those that want to claim the "pastured pork" term, is how much of their feed actually comes from their land, and how much they truck in. 

To be clear;  I see nothing wrong with feeding pigs, and with bringing that feed in.  I personally feed between 6 and 10 tons a week of produce to my pigs; that would otherwise go to the landfill; my pigs are a much better use of this good food than compost.  But I digress. 

I just ran across a blog entry where a farmer who's producing 38 hogs a quarter did the math on how much land, and what sorts of crops, they'd have to plant to make that work.  So if you're interested, you'll find that blog entry here.

But I'll cut to the chase:  To produce 38 pigs every 4 months he has to plant, cultivate, harvest and maintain 61 acres of fields.  Some are pasture, some are crops.  He goes into details about when he'd plant, and with what.    That's fertile, prime farmland. 

So to say that you can take 70 acres of marginally fertile mountain land, haphazardly seed it with random stuff and produce hundreds of pigs, and have each of those pigs get "90%" of their diet from that land...  uh huh.    It's a nice fantasy, a great marketing point.    But when you get out the pencil, it just doesn't stand up. 


Rob said...

Enlightening post. Out of curiosity, what would be a ballpark figure for annual yield of ruminant per acre of pasture?

Across The Creek Farm said...

i think it depends on the details. Feeding whey for instance, or the breed of pig and the type/quality/yield of the forages.

but i definitely get your point. thinking about pigs, I'm thinking pig per acre for our hillside holler land with it's rocky clay soil.

Robin said...

How funny. I just stumbled across that blog today and thought to myself..."I wonder if Bruce has ever mentioned them." :D

Bruce King said...

The guy who makes the claim about '90% pasture' claims that despite feeding thousands of gallons of milk waste and tens of tons of dairy waste and spent grain from a brewery that 90% of his pigs diet is pasture.
I believe that pigs get some value from land -- and the fewer the pigs per acre, the more value they get. But I think that claiming 90% is misleading the public, and that harms all pastured pig producers -- it builds an expecation in customers minds that it can be done, and in truth, it can't. At least not as described.

It's just nice that this blog supports my point.

Bruce King said...

I ran into that blog myself a few days ago. I like the guys take on raising pigs. he's raising red wattle hogs, a different heritage breed, and I'm curious to see if he'll make a go of it. 61 acres is a lot of field to take care of to produce 150 pigs a year.

But there's another question there, too. How can he pay for all of the equipment, planting, land and other expenses on sales of just 150 hogs a year?

sheila said...

I suspect the fiber part is grazed forage (which possibly amounts to 90% of the total volume in their diet). Then there is the trucked in cheese making and brewery waste (which is most likely 90% of the calories).

Also, don't forget this farm purchases many tons of hay for the winter as they don't do any haying and there is nothing growing in that climate in the winter.

It could really confuse someone that has never raised farm animals before. Hogs need a lot of high quality food and it would be sad if someone got the idea that they can eat a few weeds and thrive.

Bruce King said...

Sheila, I've asked him to clarify his "90%" - volume, calories, whatever, and he's refused. Even at 90% volume, I'm skeptical. At the time I challeged him he had 200 pigs on 10 acres. At 20 pigs an acre stocking rate, there's not much volume left, as shown by the pics on his blog.

sheila said...

yeah, I've often thought that if Cabot cheese goes out of business or decides to ship its waste stream elsewhere, this farm would be out of operation. I do enjoy reading his blog but I think it is a matter of buyer beware as far as where and what you take for farming information.

Even Joel Salatin clearly shows that his pigs that are outside foraging are really getting the majority of their diet (calories) from purchased grain. The Polyface chickens are raised the same way, pasture plus purchased grain. Ruminants can get most of their food from forage. Pigs and chickens are in a different category and would need some really high quality conditions to live off the land without supplements. Even early pioneers would let the pigs run loose in the woods all summer to forage on their own, then brought the hog in a month before butchering time to grain feed them for awhile. Without supplements the meat was gamey tasting and they got no lard for cooking.