South Field Greenhouse Ark

South Field Greenhouse Ark

The Ark is a much emptier place now in the summer. It’s a temperate, shaded space of about 38’x96′ with the lovely deep bedding pack of wood chips but I only occasionally find pigs in it. Eventually I want to put on the translucent greenhouse plastic but there is no rush.

While they do have free access to 75% of the space inside they are more interested in being out in the pastures where they can graze and find shade under the trees and brush. This is an even lower density than winter to say the least.

Our pastures are savanna style with areas of open ground covered with forages and then brush and wooded areas scattered around the margins and in the middles for shade. It is piggy heaven.

When we built the Ark I had wondered if the pigs would want to use it in the warm months. It stays pleasant since it is open at both ends but they find more interesting fare out on the pastures where food is just a step away. This is good as my ultimate plan is that the pigs will get to use the open greenhouses during the winter months and then during our relatively cool summer months I’ll get to use the greenhouses for growing plants. Come fall I’ll rotate the pigs back in. This way the plants will use up the nutrients and then the pigs will eat the plants. A nicely balanced cycle.

Outside of the Ark on the South Field Plateau I planted pumpkins, sunflowers, amaranth, oats, clover, turnips, beets, broccoli, cucumbers and alfalfa which have come in nicely. It has been a poor year for one of my plantings of sunflowers – we got an ill timed rain – but some other things are doing very well.

Corn was a complete bust. I usually try and grow a small patch but of the 120 plants only four came up. I think the rest of the seed rotted in the soil as we had a cool spell. I don’t grow much in the way of corn because it grows so poorly here but it is nice to have a few ears for our own table. Not this year.

The pasture forages have done very well including the brassicas. Pick and choose what does well and always plant a variety. That is the lesson Mother teaches.

Outdoors: 77°F/54°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 70°F/66°F

Daily Spark: Warning on emulsifing grinder: Keep your remaining fingers out of the chopper.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to South Field Greenhouse Ark

  1. Jarad says:

    I love how you do everything you do Walter and Family! Your whole familys attention to detail and to the care of your land and your animals and everything is really wonderful to see. I have a question. I have read you talk about growing slowly and not getting too big but how big do you need to be to do what you do and how big do you want to be? What covers expensesand what do you want to do?

    • There’s a lot of dedication and push from everyone in our family that makes it happen. We are a very good team. Everyone works hard and works well together towards the same goals.

      As to how big we need to be… To cover our operating expenses and provide an income for our family we need to do a little over two pigs a week. We do many times that plus we do roaster pigs from about May to New Years and live weaner pigs in the spring. The steady standing order sales from local stores and restaurants year round covers our costs plus and then the rest is our cream. Minimizing our expenses helps. Vertical integration such as producing our own piglets, growing feed (pasture, pumpkins, sunflowers, apples, sunchokes, etc) and soon the on-farm butchering all help. There will always be some outside costs.

      One of the interesting things about the butcher shop is it doesn’t actually take many pigs per week to justify the cost of construction and operations. What it does take is consistent weekly production – this is a small detail that often gets missed when I hear people discuss meat processing facilities. It is not monthly volume or annual volume that matters. Butchers need farmers bringing livestock to them every week year round. To justify our own butcher shop we need to produce year round, processing and delivering to customers every week – which we do and have done for a long time. If we were slaughtering pigs ever month or less it would not be worth building the butcher shop and we would not be able to get USDA inspection status even if we did ten times the volume once per month. The USDA inspection people explained that it just doesn’t work. On the other hand, by slaughtering every week it is very worth having our butcher shop. Additionally, the weekly schedule is what keeps our pastured pork on store shelves and restaurant menus. That regular frequent rotation is important both on the production and the distribution sides of the equation. Long before we started building the butcher shop we first established that regular weekly sales volume and the production to support it. Now that moves us forward on the next step.

      As to how big we’ll get… Not very big – we’re not looking to dominate the Vermont market, the New England market, the US market or the world market. Bigger is not better and there is room in the market for a lot of small farmers. In fact, the entire system is more resilient and society is better off with many small producers than a few big ones. We want to be big enough to cover all of our expenses, provide a good income for all of us and sufficient extra money to do interesting projects we all together and things we each want to do individually. The farm is a business, a tool, to enable us do what we want to do. Besides farming we also do other things such as dancing, music, writing, art, cartooning and more. We can, and will, pickup new projects in the future. Some will be related to farming and others unrelated. We all enjoy creating things. I would say that is the biggest common thread in our endeavors. Creating things, improving things, gaining skills, exercising those skills. Doing interesting things. Some of those things take money such as buying raw materials or tools. The farm provides a workbench for doing interesting things and earns money that can go into other interesting projects.

      But you wanted a short answer: to put a number on it, ten pigs a week of regular cutter pigs – what are called finisher pigs – and then the seasonal roaster pigs plus occasional higher surges like in the fall is what I expect to do on a regular basis. We’re very close to that. It’s enough to keep us busy and to produce the income we want but doesn’t overwork us. It easily justifies the cost of the butcher shop and bringing processing on-farm as well as saving us days a week of our time and a very long drive. If we wanted to we could easily do 40 pigs a week, but I expect that is a lot more work than any of us actually want to do. With some slight modifications to the layout of the butcher shop to turn it from batch mode to continuous production it could do a lot more than that because of the careful layout and planning. That would require hiring a lot of employees and I don’t think any of us want to be managers. The upper limit of the butcher shop is an amazing 1,200 pigs per month which would be about 280 pigs per week with continuous production. That would be over 62,000 pigs a year. I would need to buy several times more land for pasturing. That’s a scary lot of pork and I think we would deeply saturate our local market at that production level. At that point we would be our own competition and that is never good. That doesn’t sound like fun. For more thoughts on this see the article Butchering Capacity.

  2. Peter says:

    re: Corn…I’m sure the guys at Johnny’s and/or Baker Creek would have some cold-tolerate corn varieties you can test for them.

  3. Bob says:

    Are you planning to replace the temporary cover on the big greenhouse (aka “Ark”) before the coming winter? Or were you happy enough with that cover to keep it another winter?

  4. Bob says:

    Hi again Walter,

    This summer I am planning to put up a hoophouse for pigs and other animals for winter shelter. The company from which I plan to order (Multi Shelter Solutions in Ontario) provides the options of white 6 ml double plastic, clear 6 ml double plastic and white tarp. They say the white options are normally used for their animal shelters and clear for plants. However, I recall reading on your blog that you believe the pigs prefer the bright sun and that the sun provides anti-bacterial action on their bedding. Now that you have had two winters’ experience with your greenhouse, if you were ordering cover for it, would you go with clear or white?

    thank you

    • I like more light inside, especially during the winter which is when the pigs use the hoop houses. The 6 mil double plastic only lasts four years from what I have read. The heavy white sort of transparent tarp is supposed to last 15 years from what I have read. Currently I have a billboard tarp on our Ark because we put the Ark up in the middle of the winter and it was too cold to put on the double 6 mil plastic that I wanted to put on. This makes the interior darker than I like. It is definitely nicer on the south end where the winter sun comes in a long distance. Maybe this year I’ll put on the translucent 6 mil. The ultimate would be kalwall fiberglass greenhouse panels or even better twin-wall polycarbonate panels. Our greenhouse can take that but the cost is very high. My father has a greenhouse with the twin-wall on that is more than 30 years old and still in great condition. So the twin-wall polycarbonate, while expensive, lasts a long time and is probably the best possible option. Of clear or white, I would say the clear is better in terms of light, UV, etc and it is less expensive immediately but won’t last as long.

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