Thursday, March 31, 2011

A question I didn't get from email

A question I didn't get from email, but wished that I had: 

"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.

Pig Diet
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.
Animal care
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.

 I pick up trailer and truckloads of these fruits and vegetables every week, and I have Andrea unpack and inspect each container.  Here she's cutting open the sides of the boxes and using a rake to pull the fruits and vegetables out of the side.  As you can see, the produce is in pretty darned good condition when we get it. 
 We get basically everything you'll find in your average large supermarket.  In this load we got 3,000lbs of cantaloupes, 300lbs of grapes, 400lbs of citrus (grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, lemons) and another 4 tons of everything else. 
 We go through every box because we want to 1) make sure that we've removed anything harmful from the load (including plastic containers and bags) and 2) to inspect the food to make sure that it's appropriate for the pigs.  
Once the food is unpacked, we scoop it up with the tractor and feed it to the pigs by dumping it into their paddocks.  The pigs dig through it, mix what they don't eat with the mud, trample it, and generally work it into the ground.  What doesn't get eaten does get composted, and that composting action is faster because of the pigs activities., 

Once the pigs are done eating what they like, what's left over is what they will not eat:  They will not eat citrus fruits of any sort, nor will they eat raw potatoes or onions.   So the picture above is a mix of wood chips, mud, and the uneaten food.   You can't see the onions and potatoes, but believe me, they're in there.  Oranges and grapefruit float, potatoes and onions sink. 

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. 

The smell
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
 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)

That is what is locally known as a "big gun" -- it's a high pressure hose and nozzle that is spraying liquid manure and urine out over a field.  You can smell these suckers from miles away, and if you look carefully, there's a pretty good spray coming off that baby!   Just the sort of thing you'd like to run through on a hot summer day, right?  Pure, concentrated manure.  Smells like an SOB.  This one is about a mile from my farm.   I took this picture from a half-mile away, and i could smell it. 

I'd have a much easier time farming if the ground froze up.  Snow is pretty, and ice isn't mud.  My mud season is from mid-october until late may every year, and during that 6 month span my life is really tough.  I actually hope for the ground to freeze because life gets so much easier when it does. 
  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.  

Animal care
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. 


Simply Kathy H said...

Hi, no I am not Peggy. But stumbled upon this site through a twitter link and was really interested in the whole operation.
Thanks whole heartedly for explaining how you raise the pigs. I didn't know this, and found it interesting to say the least.
Thanks for all you have done and are doing. I know all about the "big guns" that you have shown here. They are nasty!
There will always be those who will complain about the treatment of animals. I am surprised I haven't gotten complaints from my neighbors, as I have several parrots in my home. And the noise can get overwhelming at times. As well as I am sure that the care of my birds isn't to the level some would like it to be. My parrots, like your pigs are happy and loved. So as long as there is no true abuse hang in there. As I am sure since you have explained this all on a public forum a great farmer, keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Bruce, You should really consider using a term other than pasture when describing your farm. You do not have a pasture and by the looks of it you won't have one for a long time. Why don't you admit that the land you farm should be used for livestock seasonally at best? Your farm contributes to erosion and nutrient run-off. Your husbandry practices are very poor. Your farm is an eyesore. You don't appear to know what you are doing. You dump feed into the mud for your pigs. I believe that only luck has kept your pigs from having a serious health issues, if indeed they haven't had issues already. Would you buy pigs from someone that kept there farm in such a state as yours?
You explain that there was a lot of rain this year. Is that a valid excuse? You farm in a wetland in an area known for having some of the most rainy weather in the country.

Bruce King said...

Kathy, thanks for the note. You're right; no matter what you do there's always someone.

Bruce King said...

Anon: I do use a term different than pasture when describing my farm: Sacrifice paddock. You can look it up, or you can read the blog entry that I wrote explaining my practice.

With respect to erosion and nutrients -- I disagree. There's a vegetative buffer around the perimeter of my farm, and I have the unusual advantage that I'm the lowest spot in the valley. There's no runoff -- in fact, its more like there's run-IN. One of the reasons I have puddles is that the water comes here to soak into the ground, and I'm fine with that.

eyesore, husbandry; I guess there's nothing that I do right.

Will you accept my apology? Clearly I've sinned, and you're here to put me right. Thank you for your input.

And where is your farm?

Trish said...

Oh dear, anonymous up above does seem to have it out for you. Perhaps that person is a vegan. Perhaps that person prefers to eat pigs grown in feedlot confinement operations.

This person must be a real expert, as must every other commenter who says you don't know what you're doing. I bet they spend a lot of time playing Farmville on Facebook.

Thanks for explaining what you do. You are really fortunate to get all those fruits and vegetables. Your pigs eat better than many Americans. Actually I think a lot of Americans would be a little healthier if they too ate some dirt once in a while and boosted their immune systems.

I know you built some platforms for your sheep once to keep them up out of the mud. Have you tried that for pigs at all?

Nancy Olympia WA said...

Hey Bruce -
Your explaination is great but it won't help to change the opinion of anonymous (PENNY) since she clearly thinks she's right and you're wrong.

Your pigs do eat better than I. Fresh produce is out of my budget because I choose to spend my limited income on quality grain-free food for my dogs & cats, quality hay and feed for my horses, chickens and ducks.

Bruce - keep on keep on.
Anonymous - stick to Farmville said...

Perhaps this is a good lesson for P-E-N-N-Y that while she does indeed have the right to question, in doing so she brings question onto herself. Certainly would've been best to contact Bruce in person or privately.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

Well written Bruce.

I grew up on a farm, and our animals weren't fed near as well as yours.

I also think your transparency and politeness is the best way to keep anonymous posters from making any type of impact on your farm.. I like the comment that told the anon poster to stick to farmville.

The Fickle Ewe said...

Bravo Bruce! I know the sight of an unhealthy-unhappy pig and it's not yours.