Garbage into pork

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This is the latest from the Washington Post series.

 

I’ve always thought Rumpelstiltskin got a bad rap (and I’m on record). He’s the only one in that whole story who’s on the level. A miller tells the king that his daughter can turn straw into gold. The king locks the girl in a turret to see if she can. Rumplestiltskin shows up and saves the day, asking only for the first-born as payment.

The miller’s a liar, the girl’s a milquetoast, and the king’s a greedy pig. My man Rumpel simply believes, perfectly reasonably, that spinning straw into gold is worth a baby. For this, in some versions, he meets a gruesome death, while the liar, the milquetoast, and the greedy pig live happily ever after. That the only guy in the history of mankind who could turn straw into gold was vilified in a children’s fairy tale tells us a lot about the lure of alchemy.

I’ve never dabbled in alchemy (the only intellectual edge I can claim over Isaac Newton). I’m plenty greedy enough, but I’m convinced it would be a waste of time. My livestock, though, are alchemists of the first order.

I’ve marveled at the way chickens turn carrot tops and cucumber peels and old crusty rice into eggs. Pigs, though, are even better alchemists – on both sides of the equation. Not only can they use a wider variety of foods as raw materials, they consume much more volume. And what you get at the other end is one of the finest foods going. If there were a periodic table of the meats, pork would be gold.

Now, I like an egg as much as the next guy, but prosciutto, it’s not.

One of the arguments against eating meat is that it takes several pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork, and we’d be better off just eating the grain in the first place and skipping the middle man. And, for animals raised strictly on feed, that’s true, at least from an ecological standpoint.

The equation changes for pigs that eat other things. Like grass. Or the waste whey from dairy plants. Or garbage.

Most of what our pigs eat is standard-issue swine feed –we get ours from Poulin Grain, a family-owned mill in Vermont. But we’re supplementing, not just with the fish skins we get in quantity from the Naked Oyster, a local restaurant, but also from odds and ends and scraps of our garden and dinner table, and those of our friends.

Although I’m reluctant to feed pigs anything that people can eat, our pigs are so fond of bread that I’m willing to give them anything that goes stale. They’ve had the soggy remains of green salads, pasta leftovers that no one’s in the mood to eat, and anything that gets lost in the refrigerator long enough to be suspect. Last week, they ate all the bean vines we decommissioned, as well as the tops, skins, and trimmings of the 70 pounds of tomatoes I turned into sauce.

And it’s not just our garbage. Friends and family save their garbage and bring it over. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched your mother hand-feed tortilla chips to your pig.

Rumplestiltskin ain’t got not nothing on Tiny.

That’s mom, and Tiny

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Comments

  1. You know, one of my hens laid the first egg just Friday night. I thought it was pretty neat. And then I read your comparison of prosciutto to eggs. What is eggs in the morning, without bacon. I’d like a pig please.

  2. Brooke — Congratulations! I was ridiculously excited the day we got our first egg. (I even mentioned it in a story I wrote for the Washington Post a couple years back:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/01/AR2010060100792.html)

    But here’s the thing about raising chickens. Once you get a taste of barnyard alchemy, you do start thinking about bacon. I’ve been where you are.

  3. I know it’s too late now but maybe for next time…

    http://www.nwedible.com/2012/08/stop-throwing-away-free-tomato-sauce-making-sauce-from-tomato-skin.html

    I did that the last time I made salsa, which I can only make six pints at a time due to tomato ripening slowness, and out of the tomato “waste” I got two pints of tomato sauce! I have skins and things in the freezer now but my husband insist on drinking the juice I drain from the peeled chopped tomatoes overnight in the fridge as a bloody mary. I can’t really argue with his logic, enjoyment of a bloody mary made with fresh tomato juice from your own garden really does trump sauce in the middle of winter. So, I have frozen tomato parts waiting for my next salsa making event.

    If you have another big tomato event you can try it and then toss the skin leavings to the pigs.

    BTW, I am not associated with this blog in any way. It’s just another one I read for pleasure and glean what I can.

  4. I love how the pigs we raise take care of our scraps, but really dig how they will eat anything green in their pen. Grass, gone (we reseed every fall for next spring’s porkers). Low hanging tree leaves, gone (they will even push down alder and wild hazelnut saplings to get to the leaves). They find all the squirrel nut stashes (sounds like they’re chewing on rocks). And the best? Blackberry brambles, especially young tender shoots. Good pigs! 🙂

  5. Our chickens can be very persnickety, but the pigs will make use of nearly everything I can glean from the yard or fridge (except potatoes, onions, and citrus). It’s such a luxury to be freed from the guilt of wasted leftovers and licking my kids’ plates clean every evening (yuck).

    I used the pig measurement guidelines for weight estimation that you posted about earlier, Tamar. As novices, we must be overfeeding them, because they were already 150 lbs by my estimation. With 2.5 more months to go, it meant a nervous call to the abattoir to move the “date”.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about your experiences. It takes some of the nervousness out of first-timers such as myself.

  6. Very good. Our pigs and chickens eat grasses, clover, other forages and excess whey from butter and cheese making – no need for purchasing commercial hog feed or grain. They’re turning things we can’t eat into delicious, high quality protein and fat – meat – that we can thrive on. Solar powered pigs! The ultimate green eggs and ham.

    Keep on!

    Cheers,

    -Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
    in the mountains of Vermont
    http://SugarMtnFarm.com/

  7. Brenda — Thanks for an outstanding link! I love that idea. It does, however, present a dilemma. My pigs really love tomato skins and cores, and I really love tomato sauce …

    Rae — We’ve had exactly the same experience. The pen, once lush and green, is now denuded. What made it lush and green was primarily poison ivy, and I learned that pigs can eat it, brush up against it, or roll in it with no ill effects. And they have dug up every single nut in their 2200 square feet. Now that it’s acorn season, we give them a few more to work with.

    Christine — I’m as new to this as you are. It’s a combination of us newcomers sharing questions and mistakes and those veterans sharing experience and techniques that makes the Internet such a valuable resource.

    I’m not at all sure that 150 pounds means you’re overfeeding. Pigs have been bred to grow very, very fast. I think adjusting the abattoir date accordingly is the right way to go.

    Good luck, and please do keep me posted.

  8. I am so with you on Rumplestiltskin getting a bum rap!

  9. Accidental Mick says:

    Tamar,
    I give you fair warning that I am going to start nagging for your pig series of blogs to be published in book form – preferably with all the comments from you readers. Even though there is no chance of putting it into practise, I have learnt so much from you and from your friends that I am facinated by it all.

    The book would make a wonderfull Christmas present for several people I know.

    Would there be a copywrite problem with the Washington Post?

  10. Zak is out collecting acorns now! He is feeling quite industrious with his new assignment!

  11. Mick — It’s very gratifying to hear that you’d like to see all this in book form. Now, if I can get 100,000 other people to say the same, perhaps I’ll see if I can’t make that happen!

    Jen — It’s always good to know I’m putting other people’s children to good use!