Piglets, Partitions, Pastured Efficiency

Some of Petra Pig’s new piglets.

Piglets have begun popping out here at Sugar Mountain Farm. The first arrivals were farrowed in the new house end shed. The sows appear to have waited until after that especially bitter cold spell we had. The weather predictions are for more mild temperatures soon.


On the tiny cottage I got the partition walls up between the kitchen and bathroom and between the bedroom and commons room on the east side. I also worked up the design for the scaffolding of the kid’s loft in the front half of the cottage. Holly and I then brought in lumber to begin warming for cutting tomorrow. Working with frozen wood is not worth it.

In the photo above if you look to the left you can see a stack of concrete partition blocks in front of the kitchen window. That is an approximate representation of how the counter will be. We plan to make the counters a little lower than the counters in our current kitchen in the old farm house which are uncomfortably high for children. Even Holly and I often work on the table when cooking, especially if doing bread, chopping veggies or the like. I think we’ll appreciate the slightly shorter counters.

In other news, Big-Ag doesn’t like losing business. One of their new pushes is to show that organic production and traditional farming are wasteful of resources. They make these claims by distorting statistics, interweaving half truths and claiming that factory farms (ugh!) are a better use of the land and resources because they use less land and are so concentrated and closed in. Of course, they leave out the horrendous smells from factory farms, pollution, over crowding, disease fermenting, environmental problems, bad working conditions, etc.

On the PasturedPoultry discussion list someone mentioned a research paper that refutes the Big-Ag’s ludicrous claims. I was very interested to see this. Among other things he shows that “Organic farms require 30% less energy per bushel of corn.”. While I agree with his low opinion of modern conventional agriculture I am not impressed by his statements:

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“Meat, milk and other livestock products are far less energy efficient. Chickens are the most efficient animals in converting fossil energy to food energy, requiring four kilocalories for every kilocalorie of food produced, about the same as tomatoes. But pigs and dairy cattle deliver one kilocalorie of food energy for 14 kilocalories, and beef cattle are even worse at 40 kilocalories of energy inputs for every food kilocalorie.”

What he fails to take into account is that livestock can use resources that are not otherwise useful for us to consume. A great deal of the landscape, both here in the USA and in the rest of the world, is not suitable for tillage. We can not grow crops well on our northern mountain pastures. The soil is too thin and rocky. The slopes are too steep. Tilling the soil would be highly destructive. On the other hand these pastures are perfect for raising pastured pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, chickens, etc. We feed no commercial feed yet we produce tens of thousands of pounds of healthy naturally grown pork, chicken, lamb, eggs, etc. The best use of our mountain pastures is raising livestock and lumber. They do that very well with minimal inputs from mechanization or petroleum.

If the animals can utilize resources that are not otherwise useful then they are a better choice than doing nothing or even worse, doing the wrong thing like cropping the wrong land. For example, the local organic butter and cheese company produces several thousand gallons of whey every week. For them that is a waste product left over from the milk separation process of making butter and cheese. They bring the whey for our herd of pigs which thrive on it in addition to the pasture. This whey is too small a quantity for the company to do dehydration on and sell the dry whey – an energy intensive process. If they did not have farmers like us they would have to dump this excellent source of protein and other nutrients into a septic pit and that is expensive as well as restricted. The pigs make excellent use of this resource and turn it into high quality gourmet meat for us and our customers.

Another example is a different local cheese cooperative that has trim from the production of their Vermont Cheddar cheese. The trim scraps would otherwise get hauled to the landfill but farmers like us take them and use the excess for animal feed raising pigs and poultry. Again, a ‘waste’ is turned into high quality food.

Yet another example is the outdated bread from the local bakery. This is a quality multi-grain bread and we turn it into even higher quality pork, chicken and eggs. Land filling nutrients like that is a waste. Using them is a positive savings in the equation. We’re keeping them out of the waste stream, saving on feed and producing good food.

Recently the local large Shaw’s supermarket chain approached us about taking the produce excess (out dated, trim, leaves, etc) from their stores. In this case I didn’t take them up on it but hopefully they’ll be able to work out a win-win situation with some other farmer.

Narrow views like Cornell University Professor Dr. David Pimentel’s report fail to take into account the reality of the situation. You don’t have to feed grain to livestock. A lot of people pasture cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and other animals. A growing number are pasturing pigs as well. We aren’t using 40KCal to produce 1KCal of food like he claims. He’s using the wrong assumptions equations for his inputs. We’re using resources that would otherwise go to waste to produce food. The food we produce costs less than the 1KCal produced giving us a greater than 100% efficiency. Add to that efficiency the great savings on feed, savings on petroleum and keeping quality proteins, lipids, sugars and other nutrients out of the waste stream. It’s a big win from small farms.

Outdoors: 13°F/1°F Partially Sunny, Windy
Farm House: 58°F/45°F seven logs
Tiny Cottage: 45°F/35°F Partition block up, lumber in

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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4 Responses to Piglets, Partitions, Pastured Efficiency

  1. Mark V. says:

    Walter I do not think these sorts of ivory tower profs tend to really understand real farming. They go and they visit some farms and write their prerquisited number of yearly papers. What they do not see is the people doing things differently and often better. You comments about the whay and cheese and bread and I know before you have also meantioned milk are very important. A lot of small farmers do do it your way. They are recycling before things are bad. Bravo to you and those like you.

  2. Hi Walter –
    Cornell University, Ohio State University and others, often receive Grants from Agri Business and Special Interests Groups who have a serious financial stake in keeping the status quo static and who are looking to expand their markets. Monsanto and Purina are the two that come to my mind.

    The Local Food Movement, the 100 Mile Diet and other sustainable agricultural systems are making large Agri Business very nervous.
    It is inconceivable to some in traditional academia and to other groups and agencies (code for USDA), that Petro Farming is not an efficient use of natural resources and will most likely collapse within our lifetimes.
    I know that Gene Logsdon takes OSU to the whipping post every so often over just this type of thing.

    Your Cottage Counters

    I thought it was interesting that you have chosen to LOWER your counters. When I did my kitchen I RAISED my counter because it made more sense for me and the way I cook. The great thing about designing your own living space is that you get what works best for you. No one size fits all here.

    You new piglets are adorable and it looks like mom is doing a wonderful job.

  3. Being short I like the shorter counter. Although I am growing. Another quarter inch up in the last two years. Ironically, Holly’s shrinking. When we met almost 20 years ago she was 4″ taller than I but now we are the same height. Will is growing faster than me though and I think will soon catch up with us both.

  4. dale coberly says:

    walter, comment referred from angrybear. if this is bad manners just tell me. i think the SS issue is important.

    Walter,
    It would be better if people could take care of themselves and their families. But since the invention of industrial states, economic forces are like plagues and famines. Nothing the individual can really do much about (doesn’t mean you can’t do better than your neihbor by working harder and smarter, but you can both get wiped out by forces beyond your control.
    This was happening in a big way in the 1930’s and one answer to it was Social Security.

    If you can stay with me, and this site doesn’t go down I’ll try to address each of your points, which, I am sorry to say, do show that you have been misinformed. No shame to that. The professional liars have been working on it for over seventy years.

    One place to start. Look at your statement from Social Security, where it says something like “In 2045 SS will only be able to pay 75% of promised benefits. If you do the arithmetic, you will see that this means a tax raise of 33% would allow SS to pay 100% of benefits. But this is 33% of 6.2%, or about a 2.1% of payroll raise. For the average worker making about 37,000 dollars per year this would mean a tax raise of 15 dollars per week. This is not money that would disappear into a government black hole. It is money that same worker would get back just by living the 6 extra years he is expected to live longer than you and me.

    But if you are a paid liar, you can take this fifteen bucks a week and multiply it by 200 million taxpayers for 75 years and call it a “12 Trillion Dollar Unfunded Deficit!”

    The only reason it is unfunded is that it is better to wait until it is needed. Prefunding creates problems like what to do with the trust fund. And Bruce Webb is predicting that so far from running out of money in 2045, it looks like the Trust Fund may never run out of money….and this is a bad thing…. which i’ll try to explain next time, though it would be better if you asked Bruce.

    You may object to the fact that I only counted the employees share. Go ahead and add in the employers share if you like, but recognize that this is money the employee would be unlikely to see otherwise. And you may be making more than 37,000 per year and think, say, that an extra 2% of 100,000 dollars is real money that you could invest better somewhere else. Probably you could. Most peoplel can’t. And I am sure that it is mathematically and economically not possible that EVERYONE could at the same time.

    But set that aside. Just notice that the “crisis” is not anything like as bad as you have been led to believe.

    I think if you go through all the economics you would find that it’s cheaper to let people pay for their own social security than to hope they will take care of themselves and then you have to pay welfare for those who don’t.

    The borrowing from the Trust Fund is no different than borrowing from any bank. But again, this takes a long time to explain. And is impossible to explain to some people who keep getting confused, i think, over the power of the government to just print money. It can, but it won’t because inflation is bad for governments too.

    The only problem is the one you identified: the people will let the politicians kill it. That will be the greatest theft ever perpetrated.

    you have my email if you want to talk more. or i’ll check back here.

    thanks.
    coberly@peak.org

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