Traveling Pig Farmer

Sugar Mountain Farm from the Air in 2007

Someone sent me a link for an interesting article about a “Traveling Pig Farmer” up in western Newfoundland, Canada. (Or try this link.) The traveling part is that he takes a day each week to make deliveries of his meats. This is something we’ve been learning all about in our pig mobile.

Although there are differences I was also struck by the many similarities between what he is doing and what we’re doing here at Sugar Mountain Farm. We’re both raising pigs, farrow to finish and selling direct to customers and stores rather than deep into the commodity market. This bucks the trends in the ‘industry’ of specialization where one farm raises the sows, another the boars, another the F1 hybrid generation, another farrows sows to produce piglets, another raises them to grower size, etc. Most pig farmers now belong to the ‘company’ such that they do not even own the hogs they raise.

Here’s a quick comparison from my notes:

Traveling Pig Farmer Sugar Mountain Farm
Years in Pigs 12 5
Location Newfoundland, Canada Vermont, USA
Season Year Round Year Round
Sows 60 40
Boars ? 5 (fewer soon)
Weaner Sales ~340/yr, $75 each, 15 days 500/yr, $65-$85 each, 30 days
Hog Sales 300/yr, $260 each 150/yr, $300 each
Sausage 100 lbs/wk 50 lbs/wk
Deliveries Weekly, 10 hour days Bi-weekly, 10 hour days
Butchering On-Farm No
Secondary On-Farm No
People Family – 4 Family – 4
Breed York/Land/Tam/Hamp Mix? York/Berk/Tam/Hamp/GOS Mix?
Setup Confinement/Pens Pastured Open Sheds MIRG
Farrowing Crated Pasture/Hay
Feed Grain Based Pasture/Dairy/Veggie/Barley/Bakery
Iron Injections Natural Soil
Health Vaccination Closed Herd/Rotational Grazing

We’re both growing and changing so there are some inconsistencies in numbers as the farms expand and take on new projects. For example at one point the article said he sells 260 pigs a year but elsewhere it said he does six to seven per week which would be up to 364 a year. Thus all numbers are approximates and some are extrapolated from things in the article.

Ross, the Traveling Pig Farmer, is a bit further along the learning curve than we are. He’s got his own processing (slaughter & butchering) as well as secondary processing (sausage, curing, smoking?, etc) already going. I envy him that – we do a lot more driving because of this. Currently we use three local USDA inspected processors (slaughter & butcher), each of which is about an hour from us. We’re just starting to work with two other USDA inspected processors for making hot dogs and bacon. I really like Ross’s on-farm slaughter. It is better for the animal and thus better for the meat. I wish we could offer that but until we have our own USDA inspected slaughter facility on farm we can’t do that – it may be a few years…

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Interestingly they talked about there being a big market for pig tongue, especially pickled. That is something we’ve not sold at all. It accumulates and ends up going to our livestock guardian dogs right now. I guess the Canadians are a bit more adventerous in their culinary taste than our local customers. Although, I did have one person ask for it a month ago – right after I had fed the dogs. Shame on me.

One thing that did concern me from the article was Ross talked about having about 40% piglet mortalities. That is alarmingly high and something that I would want to look into. Having more survivors to finish would make a big difference on the farm.

The biggest difference between our operations is that our pigs are out on pasture and his are in confinement pens and crates. Another difference is he feeds conventional grain based feed (based on feed silos), likely a corn and soy mix. We feed primarily pasture/hay plus dairy consisting of whey from a local cheese maker, cheese trim from another, excess milk, spent barley from a near by micro-brewery, veggies from garden gleanings in the fall and the occasional expired bread from local bakeries. Because of his confinement operation Ross must give iron shots, vaccinations and probably worming shots to help improve the piglets’s odds. Out on pasture there is soil to eat and they get iron from that. Knock on wood, we’ve never had any disease and almost no worms. This is probably due to our having a fairly isolated and an essentially closed herd using managed rotational intensive grazing (MIRG)

It’s a good article so check it out if you can. It is in video format so you’ll need a fast connection and RealOne player or something similar to watch it. Thanks, Bill for sending the link!

Outdoors: 63°F/57°F Overcast, 1/2″ Rain
Farm House: 66°F/63°F filed forms for hot dog label
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/59°F ah gat a cowald…

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to Traveling Pig Farmer

  1. Lesley says:

    The biggest difference between our operations is that our pigs are out on pasture and his are in confinement pens and crates. Another difference is he feeds conventional grain based feed (based on feed silos), likely a corn and soy mix. We feed primarily pasture/hay plus dairy consisting of whey from a local cheese maker, cheese trim from another, excess milk, spent barley from a near by micro-brewery, veggies from garden gleanings in the fall and the occasional expired bread from local bakeries.

    As a concerned and conscientious consumer (and former vegetarian), this makes all the difference to me When I gave up meat eating in the eighties it was because I couldn’t in good conscience support cruel factory farming or big-agri methods. I want the flesh that enters my body to be flesh of an animal that was cared for by humane people, people who understand the animal’s needs.

    One thing that disturbs me is the slaughtering process. Few slaughterhouses are humane (or even sanitary) and I’d like to see this industry evolve better practices. I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on slaughterhouses.

  2. Anonymous says:

    As an MFO, (microsopic farm opperation) we tend to give the same care and respect to our animals as Walter does. we also slaughter here as well. Our critters , from the pigs down to the lowely chicken, get a good drink of wine before they leave this world its the least we can do considering what they are about to do.

  3. Lesley, I too am very concerned about the way slaughter houses operate. Some slaughterers are very conscientious and care about what they do. We are fortunate to work with only very small ones here in Vermont. I wish that on-farm slaughter were available and we are considering that some day we may jump through the hoops necessary to setup our own state or USDA inspected slaughter and butcher shop. It would be better for the animals not to make a highway trip, for them to be able to die here on the farm where they were born and lived their whole lives.

  4. jayessdub says:

    The numbers of weaners and hogs that you sell staggers me.

    I want very much to develop a similar business. Your numbers are very helpful.

    Thanks! (again!)

    • Looking back over that list five years later some things have changed and many things are similar. We’re up to about sixty sows and around 300 to 400 pigs on our pastures. Boars is ironically the exact same. Soon we to will have on-farm processing. Realize that we built up to this over a long period. Things don’t happen over night. It takes time to get infrastructure in place like fencing and winter shelter, terracing of the land, improvement of pastures, development of herd genetics, etc. Enjoy the process!

  5. Farmerbob1 says:

    I’m curious as to whether or not you have spoken to the other farmer directly, Walter, and if so, if either of you have made changes in your operations or plans based on your interactions.

    I know you can’t tell me for sure what the other farmer did, and it seems as if he uses some farming practices that you specifically avoid, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t get any ideas while speaking to them.

    Quite a few folks here say they are micro-farm operations, and ask your advice on things. It would be interesting to hear about ideas you get from other people!

    • Not spoken with. I don’t do phone. I tend to just use written communications. e.g., email, forums. There are many farmers I’ve kept in touch with, via email, over the decades and we learn back and forth. There are always things we each can learn from each other even if we all don’t follow the same practices. The Borg we are not.

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