Notes from the Pasture Pork Conference in Greensboro Feb 12th, 2015

This will be a long post, as there was lots of information from this conference. As usual, this will just be my notes and thoughts, not necessarily something that will be great reading.

There is an accompanying book full of flyers, handouts, etc, that will be stored in the “classes” folder in the farm records file cabinet.

The first slaughter plant in the US was in Massachusetts. Something I need to tell my yankee wife.

After the revolutionary war, pigs moved from a  concentration along the East coast to the Ohio valley. The movement was because whiskey production moved to the Ohio valley and pigs were used to consume the spent grains from making whiskey and beer.

After the War of Northern Aggression (Civil war to you folks not from around here) pig concentrations moved to Illinois and Iowa, again following booze production and milk production. Pigs follow booze, dairy, and whey. They consume by-products of production.

The US government for about 100 years has recommended that farmers do not put pigs on dirt due to disease. Pigs can be in open areas, but not in denuded areas.

In 1920, 80% of farms slaughtered pigs on farm for family use. The main diseases in pigs were hog cholera, tuberculosis, hog flu, trichinosis, and general GI respiratory ailments. Despite the negatives, CAFOs have been part of elimination of many hog diseases in the last 100 years.

In 1921 the price for a market hog was six cents per pound. Adjusted for today’s dollars that is seventy three cents per pound. The actual market price today is fifty three cents per pound meaning a farmer today selling market hogs is making less money than in 1921.

The move indoors to CAFOs happened in the 1960s. Economics, swine health, and more efficient feeding were the drivers. After this introduction, there were two recommend systems for hogs, CAFOs and pastured pork. Having pigs on denuded dirt lots is considered bad.

1968-1990, there was a generational shift in pork production. Pastured pork nearly went extinct and the modern farmers lost the knowledge of how to do it correctly and profitably. The US government began a program to reintroduce pastured pork, to keep the knowledge alive. In 1988, the USDA wanted to be more sustainable. They picked the least sustainable production system they could come up with to try and improve. Their choice was swine CAFOs.

CAFOs are at least 50% more efficient than any small scale production system. There has to be over 5000 sows before a CAFO begins to make any financial sense.

For a USDA sustainable farm model that was proposed in 1988 there were certain criteria that had to be met.

  • the system had to work for 300 sows and for only 30 sows. It had to be scalable. Much like Joel Salatin professes with his systems, it has to be scalable both up and down.
  • The farm must be outdoors. There could be no waste lagoon, no foul odor.
  • The footprint, when you factor in all the land use for incoming grain and support systems for a CAFO, was 3 sows per acre. The sustainable model had to replicate that footprint. It also had to use the same labor per sow as a CAFO.
  • The farm should be a positive role in the community, and should add to the overall community.
  • The end product should be healthy and safe meat.
  • Finally the farm must be economically competitive.

One thing that was recommended was to never put pigs back to back in a paddock. Always give a paddock time off between groups of pigs.

The English style/Quonset hut style farrowing house was recommended over traditional farrowing huts because the rounded shape resulted in much less piglet deaths.

Johnston County Hams in Smithfield will cure farmers hams so that we can sell country hams ourselves on farm.

NC Natural Hog Producers Association presented at the conference and told about their association. It appears to be for much larger farms than we are. It’s a co-op and Acre Station does their processing. They were getting $1.30 per pound carcass weight.

Breakout sessions

Agplan.umn.edu was a site that was recommended for farmers to develop their own business plan for free.

Farmlogs.com was recommended. It seemed to be geared towards row crop farmers, but it did track rain fall by field, apparently automatically. Having our entire farm on there and having rain fall tracked may have some use.

Web Soil Survey from USDA was recommended if we want to know more about our soil types. It apparently has a bit of a learning curve but provides really good data.

4H livestock record app was recommended as a possible app for farmers to track livestock records. It’s an iPhone or iPad app.

Tractorpal was another app that was recommended for keeping track of farm equipment. It tracks things like serial numbers, last service, etc. Since it’s an app, you can have all your information with you when you go to the dealership.

Google docs was heavily recommended by the presenter because of it’s flexibility and because it was free. He demonstrated how to utilize simple forms in Google Docs to make something similar to an app for your phone so you can enter records right on your phone that will populate a spreadsheet automatically.

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Dan is a dad, a husband, a business owner, a pilot, a sailor, a scuba diver, a machinist, a gunsmith, a welder, a woodworker, a day laborer, a teacher, a mentor and a writer. The short form of all the previous is he's a farmer.

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