Piggies

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the pigs have grown well this summer.  In fact, they’ve grown quite a bit faster than the pigs we’ve raised in the past.  There are several possible reasons.  They are Tamworth-Berkshire crosses, and Tamworths are reported to be especially well-suited for pasture.  The pasture has thrived in this weather and they’ve had an abundance of clover and other things upon which to feast.  But pastured pigs only get about 10% of their nutrition from pasture.   Their weight gain is still dependent upon supplemental feed.  This year we switched to an all non-GMO feed.  Maybe the fact that they’ve been spared any GMOs has been a benefit.

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In any event, it’s time to start thinking about getting them processed.  We sold out of last year’s pork months ago, and I finished off the last of our sausage about the same time.  So there are lots of folks (including me) looking forward to once again having pork from our farm.

There are differences of opinion as to the optimum slaughter weight.  When I was a kid hogs were slaughtered once it was cold, usually in late November. By that time they usually weighed well over 400 pounds.  These days almost all processing is done inside, so the time of year doesn’t matter.  The general consensus now seems to be that the optimum slaughter weight is 215-250 pounds.  While part of the reason is that there is less fat in the meat, the more significant reason is that the feed to weight conversion ratio declines significantly at that point.  It takes more feed to fatten a hog once it tops 200 pounds and that affects profitability of course.

I have a friend who still processes his own hogs and makes his own sausage.  He prefers the pigs to weigh at least 450 pounds.

We’re not going to be very scientific about it this year.  We have about 300 pounds of feed still on hand.  When that’s gone, we’ll take them to the processor.  Last year we took them in December and they weighed about 325 pounds.  They’ll likely be in that range this year, but a couple of months earlier.

Last year we took them to a USDA-inspected facility, for the first time.  In prior years we just used a local processor.  But in order to be able to sell cuts legally, the law requires that the pigs be delivered live to a USDA-inspected facility for slaughter and processing.  For us that means hauling them to a place in North Carolina, about an hour away.  It also means less business for our neighbor, whose facility is just five minutes away from us.  Worst of all, it means we don’t have control over how they’re killed.  In the past, I took care of that.  As much as I hated it, I wanted to assure that they never experienced stress or fear.  But we’re not legally allowed to do that if we sell to the public.  Although plenty of folks continue to sell pork off their farms which doesn’t have the USDA stamp of approval, as they have for generations, we decided last year to play it by the government book and will do so again this year.

We’re going to turn one hog into whole-hog sausage, using everything for sausage except the ribs and tenderloin.  We’ll do roasts, chops and other cuts (including more sausage) from the second one.

I regret that we didn’t raise more of them this year.  My plan was to raise four, but at the last minute I decided to stay with two.  Assuming we sell out as quickly as I expect we will, we’ll probably raise 4-6 next year.

Once they’re gone we’ll open up their paddock to the goats.  It’s been a great season for pastures and there should be enough browse for them to mean we won’t need to use much hay this year.

So we’ll just enjoy their company a bit longer, looking forward to starting over again next spring.