The main events these past three weeks have been piglets. They are amazingly cute. We’ve had three litters in the past three weeks, and I guess you win some, you lose some. The most recent, yesterday’s, was six wee ones from the first of our seven new sows (yup, we’re about to have a LOT more pigs!). Not a bad first go, but definitely smaller than the litter size we want. Two days ago, one of our older sows had a litter of 10. That’s the sort of litter size we like! And the first litter we had recently was Clementine’s: a measly litter of three, which is, quite simply, unacceptable from a breeding sow. Unfortunately, Clementine is the coolest sow we have; she’s got a wild personality, definitely the matriarch of the herd. She’s also our orange pig and is very pretty (as far as pigs go). But I guess this is why you don’t form relationships with farm animals. She’ll be the first that we’ll be sad to “send to the farm,” so to speak.
And now new pig pictures and hog heaven pictures… they are SO excited about the mud!! Fun fact: did you know pigs don’t sweat and their only way to keep cool is by staying in the shade or coating themselves in mud?
And now for mud!
That’s it for updates right now. A Meet Your Meat series: Eggs edition is below, but first, a quick word on Smithfield (while it’s China buyout is still on your mind).
I met a man a couple weeks ago (by pure chance), who’s contracted to grow hogs for Smithfield, and we started talking numbers. Well, want to know why Smithfield pork is so inexpensive? He makes 17 cents per pound on his animals. Granted, he’s the first stop after pigs are weaned and raises “nursery” pigs from 12 to 50 lbs but still! (Most hog producers specialize in either breeding, nursery pigs or growing out hogs for market).
He makes a comfortable living: $85,000 for each of his three hog houses. Thing is, he runs about 10,000 hogs through each, 2,000 at a time. That’s $8.50 per hog (assuming all those hogs survive and nothing goes wrong). Just thought I’d share that little tidbit: 2,000 hogs in a barn is hard to wrap my head around. And $8.50 per hog is so shocking to me (even for wee ones)! That’s how they keep prices low at supermarkets. Lots of volume, tight margins.
Meet Your Eggs!
Eggs have the most confusing labeling options possible, and it’s hard to know how birds are actually raised, when words like “free-range” are used for birds that spend most, and often, all of their lives indoors! That’s why we make it clear that our birds are “pasture-raised.” There are very few farmers that give their birds fresh grass at all times, so as with all other animal products, looking for the word “pastured” is the safest way to go if you’re looking for truly free-ranging animals (at least until that word becomes regulated too)!
What’s pastured mean to us? Pictures are below, but the short of it is this: fresh grass and bugs all the time! We’ve got an eggmobile, which Graham built on a hay wagon, and which we move daily the length of itself (so the fertilizer that the chickens produce through the night while safely roosting inside gets spread across our fields). We move the electric netting that’s around the eggmobile when it’s travelled from one end to the other, about every three or four days. Anyone with backyard chickens knows that if hens are confined to one spot, the grass turns to a dirt lot within a week! By moving our hens daily, they don’t have the time to scratch grass down to its roots, so they’re able to keep snacking on it and the bugs that live in it. The word “pastured” doesn’t say much about an animals diet (unless it’s a ruminant, like our sheep). Our chickens eat 100 pounds of food a day; they can’t find that much every day on a few acres of grass! The Word “pastured” has to do with animals being in as natural a setting as possible. What’s pastured mean to our hens? Health. What’s that mean for their eggs? They’re healthy too! With hard shells, thick whites, and bright orange yolks… oh, and with lots of flavor!
Pictures below: the blue hut is for our meat birds. The metal things on the eggmobile are nest boxes. That greenish bird is one of the sources of your blue and green eggs (she’s an americauna). And the last picture is of the roosts inside the eggmobile where our girls spend the night. That black and white bird is a cuckoo maran, which lays dark brown eggs.
So, what’s the deal with other labels? Here’s the low-down:
Cage-free- Birds live indoors their whole lives, but they’re not in individual cages. They’re typically in large pens or walking around a very large barn (with several thousand other laying hens). Welfare conditions vary; some large barns have lots of space/chicken. Many don’t.
Free-range- The legal requirement is that the birds get some sort of access to the outdoors, and there are no size requirments for that. In most cases, many chickens never actually find the door to go outside, and the outdoor space never changes to another spot, so it’s a dirt lot (or concrete, for that matter).
Organic – The birds get feed that is organic. They also have to be cage-free and have access to outdoors (in the same way as free-range) and no routine antibiotics are used. Why aren’t we organic? Well, let us know when you want to pay $7/dozen, and maybe that’ll change. Organic feed is very expensive and quite scarce! We don’t give any of our animals routine antibiotics though (or steroids or added hormones).
Vegetarian-fed – This one’s my pet peeve, because how is a vegetarian chicken a good thing? They’re supposed to eat bugs and worms! This labeling started because some large producers started feeding animal byproducts to their chickens (including chicken). But it just means they’re indoor birds who don’t get to eat bugs or worms… and who also aren’t being forced into cannibalism (you’d think that’d be a safe assumption, wouldn’t you?). No one feeds chicken byproducts to chickens anymore, regardless of whether a “vegetarian-fed” label is on there or not.
A last word on Pastured – Well, here’s the kicker, y’all: Pastured and pasture-raised have no legal requirements for labeling. So, when you start seeing “pasture-raised” on big brands, read the fine print. These descriptions are starting to go the way of “free-range.”
Interested in more? I found this interesting article, called “Pasture-Raised Risks Losing True Meaning” about large companies starting to use the “pasture-raised” term… and to Organic Valley, it means the same as the pasturing requirements for organic – that is, 120 days on grass per year plus 30% of the rest of the cows’ diet from hay or silage (which leaves 40% for grain feed)… that’s what Organic Valley requires to call their cows “pasture-raised” – interesting, ain’t it?