Saturday, October 31, 2009

Our Pork Chops vs. Their Pork Chops Part I

Our two pigs remained in their woodland pigpen until I opened their gate last Monday evening. They both walked right out, up a small ramp and onto an open air trailer without so much as a nudge from me. However, in preparing for loading the pigs I had jumped across the fence into their pen to retrieve a feed pan. I simply ran and sailed right over the fence into the mud. I grabbed the feed pan and made the same leap back over the fence, but my boots were sucked back somewhat by the mud. Once airborn I noticed that the ground was much lower on the pigs' side of the fence. I realized that I was not going to clear the fence. As gravity pulled my 180 some pounds down my boots caught the fencef violently, my pant leg ripped open on the metal fence post, jabbing into my leg. I hit the muddy ground and many protruding tree roots with my ribs looking every bit like a world wrestling federation champ free-falling onto a hapless victim. Once I verifed that nothing was broken my only thought was "Dang! I sure am glad I'm hidden from view back here in the woods and no one saw me do that silly-assed dive over the fence." What I didn't know was that my dear wife was peering down at me from the screen room on our house at just that moment...apparently quite impressed with my pig loading skills. Later she said, "I had never seen anyone jump straight up in the air like that. I thought it must be some pig whispering leap to get them to go out the gate and onto the trailer."

All things considered, I was quite happy that the pigs were safely on the trailer. The day before we had just finished eating our first ever homemade donuts. If you've never tasted homemade donuts you are really missing out (picture below). I saved two glazed donuts and apple peelings to serve to the pigs as dessert after their final meal. Hams and Bacon had led quite good lives at our homestead, but I wanted to give them thanks for giving their lives so that we can eat this next year.

Tuesday morning Beth and I rose from bed extra early and drove the pigs to the local butcher in Lafayette. It was still dark out when they walked into the abbatoir and across the scales. One bystander's mouth dropped open when he saw how large the pigs were...he bet me that the one was a 300 pounder! The man weighing the pigs gave us the weigh slips. Hams weighed in at 275. Bacon weighed in at 245 (an average weight for a market pig is the 275 pounder is a heavy weight). They had started out life on our homestead at a mere 25 lbs each (see picture above) The total amount of actual pork, minus all of the inedibles, was a grand total of 370.8 pounds! That, my friends, is a lot of pork. We brought home the fresh pork cuts today. The hams, bacon slices, and other cuts that will be cured will take another week.

Although we have not fixed pork chops yet, we will soon. First on the menu will be a stir fry using small bites of pork steak along with greens, onions, and cabbage from our CSA basket. However, it was time to calculate just how much our pork chops cost us in dollars and cents. Here is how it came out:

Pigs $40 each = $80
Straw = $7.50
Nipple waterer = $5.00
Feed (1,300lbs) = $234.67
gas/hauling = $20
Butcher/processing = $326.91

Our pork chops cost us $1.82 per pound.

I cannot yet vouch for any taste differences between our pork chops and those that you can get at the local supermarket, but we have a hunch that our pork chops will compare with the natural raised pork chops from the farmers market. So when we compare our cost of $1.82 a pound with the $4.75 per pound price at the farmer's market, we do pretty well. But, pork chops can be had in our town for less, I found out. Much less! Payless has a "loss leader" on pork chops this week selling at a mere 97 cents a pound. These were their "mixed" chops...of mediocre quality. I know because I've had them before. Their better chops are selling at $1.69 a pound. Still less than ours cost us to raise, despite the fact that we had to provide daily care for our pigs, haul feed and water for five months, pay the butcher, while taking ownership for growing our own food. Now, Marsh supermarket, just down the road from Payless, is selling their good quality pork chops for $3.99 a pound which makes me feel better. More than double ours. Which makes me scratch my head a bit, too.

What gives? how can Payless sell pork chops for half the price that it takes me to raise mine from scratch? And, how can the good folks at the farmer's market command more than four times the amount that Payless gets for theirs?

It has a lot to do with the cheap food policy promoted by the federal government and agribusiness corporations, cheap but wildly potent fossil fuels, and the dietary choices we each make. At this juncture, I'm going to taste our pork before extolling any further on these issues. Be back soon!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pigs Escape! or How I got my Pig Mojo Back

This past spring we decided to add to our managerie of useful animals that help feed us by bringing home two piglets to our forest garden homestead. The idea was to raise our own pigs for pork. We would give them a good life in a modest pen in the forest, next to our chickens. They've been eating scraps from our table and excess garden produce, but mostly standard corn and soybean mixture feed. I happened to be home in the afternoon and not at the office when I received a call from our son, "hey, [the neighbor boy] just called me and said he got off the school bus and he was greeted at his house by pigs in his yard." I thought this must be some kind of joke, because I had checked on OUR pigs just two hours previously and they were lounging in their pen without a care in the world. This certainly had to be someone else's pigs. Yeah, right! No one in several miles of our house has a pig. Isn't it strange how our brains go into denial when faced with known, but terrible facts.

I tried to keep my cool as I walked (in a marathon walking sort of way) down the hill from our house to the pig pen. No pigs. I carefully inspected the pen, as if I really expected the pigs to simply sprout back up out of the ground and reappear. The fence in one corner was mangled badly with deep rooted out areas beneath it. It seemed such a small opening for such large animals to fit through. Unbelievable! How did this happen! I began to feel a slight panic feeling. A strange horror film flitted through my mind's eye. The frames of the film blurred by...our almost fully grown pigs running pel-mel, but unknowingly, toward brutal death trying to cross the highway in front of our subdivision to reach the corn field on the other side. The film slowed down and I see my pigs colliding with a BMW. I zoom in. I see the BMW is driven by a vegan suit and tie wearing CEO who's brother happens to be the chair of the local zoning board. The film's trailer ends with "Man jailed for pig neglect, disturbing the peace, and maintaining a common nuisance of the farmyard variety". The short film fades with an interview clip of our most skeptical neighbor..."the chickens we eventually tolerated, but this! they should throw away the keys." Now fully in panic mode, I phoned my wife pleading for assistance if she wouldn't mind closing her shop to come and herd pigs. What better way to spend the lovely afternoon.

Now sweating and in full panic mode, I ran down to the neighbor's house where sure enough our pigs were casually inspecting a whole new world known as the neighbor's front yard (see photo above taken by neighbor boy). One problem is that this yard was a quarter of a mile from our house. I ran back home, jumped in the truck, hooked up a small trailer I had just bargain purchased a few weeks before and headed back down the road. "How will I get these pigs back" was all I could wonder. Two neighbor boys were gracious enough to help me try to herd these porcine escapees into the trailer. No way were they going near the trailer. At this juncture, let's put this into context. We live in a subdivision. A unique, old, very forested subdivision, but still a subdivision none-the-less. I have neighbors who do not appreciate our chickens...and the clock was reading about 4pm...pretty soon people would be arriving back home from work. It was hard not to feel panic at the prospect of these dignified professionals arriving home at the site of pigs running amok in their neighborhood. I thought, "what in holy hell am I going to do?"

Then the neighbor boys, who were meanwhile pulling out their phone cameras and snapping shots to text and send to friends, family, and the police, started herding the pigs down the road back to our place. I stared with some astonishment, and little by little we got the two pigs in a narrow strip of land, heavy with briers and poison ivy, that lay between the creek and the road. We gently urged them on, me whistling and cooing as they curiously rooted and sampled every species of plant as they went. Then at the half-way point back down the road to our house I got my pig mojo back (side story: I raised various breeds of pigs on my parents small farm from age 11 through age 18, winning many awards, including best showman....which involves a very high level of professional knack with steering a pig exactly where you want it to go with the grace normally given to the dance floor - you might think wow, when would that skill ever come in handy, but...) Here I was herding two escaped nearly fully grown porcines down a subdivision road. Carefully navigating the flight distance between me and the two pigs, at an angle which would slowly move them in the right trajectory back toward their pen, we were only 30 feet from the gate. Elizabeth arrived in the Rav...deftly swinging the car at an angle to the road to block any hasty retreat of these swine...for a split second the Toyota Rav was a black suburban with tinted windows. My wife an FBI agent dressed undercover in black leather, sliding the vehicle 180 degrees blocking any escape. A sting operation, making sure these pigs would serve out their days where they the pen! Meanwhile back at the ranch, the neighbor boy opened the gate, stepped aside, and sweet jesus both pigs languidly found their way back in to their lovely mud and straw covered pen.

They seemed relieved. I was overjoyed, but in shock. Pig mojo back. Ham and bacon preserved for future meals. Perhaps at least a couple neighbors none the aware. My wife said, "You are a pig whisperer," but wondered if the expense of the feed and the trouble to keep these pigs was worth it. I'll let you know in two weeks when we have pork chops covered with baked apples.