Three Models of Sustainable Pig Farming
The obvious solution is to put the pigs in a place that you want to dig up anyway. This saves the cost of the machinery and time by putting the animals to work doing something they like to do anyway. Joel Salatin developed two ways to do this.
The first method is called the Pigerator. In the section on beef, we saw how the cows build up anaerobic compost over the winter. Every week or two while the cows are in the hay shed, the farmer will spread a layer of whole corn on the bedding before covering it with carbon. As the bedding pack ferments, the corn ferments, too, turning into juicy, alcoholic sour mash morsels of delight. Most animals love fermented feed, and pigs are no exception. The cows like corn and might sniff at it, but since it’s covered with carbon and their own manure, they pretty much leave it alone.
Once the cows go out for the spring, a group of lucky hogs gets access to the bedding pack. They smell that corn right away, and soon are up to their ears in compost. They will dig through three or four feet of bedding to get to the last piece of corn. All this labor costs nothing but the cost of the corn, which is partly converted into pork, anyway. There’s no benefits package for the pig employees, no on-the-job injuries, and the retirement package is: we eat them! It’s a pretty sweet deal. The pigs love it, too. They get warm, soft bedding to dig through, a roof overhead, and the best-tasting feed ever.
The Pigaerator is without question the best way to raise pigs. Sadly, it only lasts about three weeks a year. So, a summer model and a winter model are also needed.
The summer model that Joel developed is called the Tenderloin Taxi. It’s a rectangular pen of hog panels lashed together on skids. Inside, several pigs lounge under a tarpaulin roof with a feeder full of grain. The amount of grain in the feeder corresponds with the area of the pen, so that whenever the hogs run out of feed, the pen gets moved and the feeder refilled. This model works great for small-scale hog production, though it does tear up the turf it covers.
The pig pasture is Joel’s large-scale version of the Tenderloin Taxi. A pig pasture is created from scrubby land, like clear-cut forest or brushy hillside. A two-strand electric fence surrounds the area and divides it into paddocks, usually about one-quarter acre each. A group of twenty or thirty hogs occupies the paddock. They dig up rocks and roots and have a ball while eating out of a 1-ton feeder. When the feed is gone, the hogs and the feeder move to the next paddock and the feeder is refilled. Periodically, the farmer can come behind the pigs and collect all the loose rock and debris, and spread some grass seed, too. This uses the fertilizer left by the pigs, and gives them something else to eat next time around. That variety in the pigs’ diet is what makes our pork rose-colored and so delicious.
In the winter, it’s too cold to raise hogs outdoors. Even if you were crazy enough to try, the water lines would freeze and the animals would have nothing to drink. So, the third method of raising hogs in a hoop house covered with plastic. The greenhouse effect keeps it above freezing most of the time. In a fashion similar to the cows in the hay shed, the pigs get fresh carbon added to the bedding pack every week or so. They have plenty of room to run around and the bedding is soft and warm for them to lounge in. It’s warm and dry, but they are all very happy when spring comes and they get to go outside. Then we shovel out the bedding and spread it on the pasture.