One of the first questions a new customer asks us is, “what do you feed your pigs?” Unlike ruminants, which survive on grass alone, pigs are omnivores and need a more varied diet. The simplest way for pigs to get their protein is to eat hog feed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but after years of working with them I’m certain that they enjoy a special menu from time to time. We’ve tried a number of “alternative” food sources, with varying degrees of success.
Our greatest accomplishment in this department has been in planting forages for our pigs several times per year. We leverage the predictable Oregon rains to irrigate our fields and grow annual crops of grains, legumes, and other forages. Later, we allow the pigs to self-harvest oats, peas, clover, radishes and whatever else is growing out there. When we open up a new area to them they are visibly excited, running and rooting for treats. But that lasts a few days and then they’re back to the feed trough, where we regularly offer them a no-corn, no-soy hog pellet that is made of wheat, peas, alfalfa, fish meal, and a vitamin/amino acid/probiotic mix to provide those essential nutrients they may not get anywhere else (kind of like iodized salt). We pick up our feed from Union Mills, less than five miles from the farm, in half-ton sacks that we reuse for years (some have been sewed up multiple times). So we have zero packaging waste on our pig food.
As a special treat, and as supply allows, we give our pigs other pre-consumer food waste that is suitable for them and sustainable for us. As with many things in livestock farming, creating efficient systems for handling material is the name of the game. We’ve tried a number of food waste sources over the years, including whey, fruit, day old bread, and brewer’s grains and stopped many of them because they were either:
Time consuming to prepare/unpackage
Difficult to transport
Of little nutritional value
Unpalatable to the pigs
At the moment, we’re picking up distiller’s grains from Stone Barn Brandyworks. We receive their spent whiskey grains, which look and smell like wet bread dough, in 275 gallon liquid totes, which we move to the field via tractor and set on a stack of pallets just outside the pig area, and drain into a trough that the pigs have access to at their leisure. This works for us because:
It’s physically easy for us to manage (no lifting)
Doesn’t involve any packaging, re-packing, re-hydrating, etc., and most importantly,
The pigs love it! Even with a full feed trough, if I forget to give them their “mash” they whine about it and chase me down the fence line until I remember and come back to fill up the mash trough. Unlimited breadsticks!
Even for pigs, variety is the spice of life. Part of the reason why our pork tastes different is because we take the time and spend the money to do things like seeding our fields regularly or driving into town to pick up a few hundred gallons of whiskey mash. This makes our pigs happy and keeps them active, which contributes to a better product. We hope you think so too.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!