Let Pigs Eat Waste: Spice Acres to Reduce Landfill Waste and Lower Food Costs by Using Non-Meat Waste from Local Restaurants
Let them eat waste: Non compostable food waste feeding program to heritage breed hogs.
Our pig feeding program at Spice Acres has taken many turns and taught us many lessons. Over the past two years we have had mixed results of the effectiveness of our scrap feeding program. The pigs on farm were very healthy and happy and even became more docile and affectionate towards the farm staff and myself due to the frequency of high flavor foods that they were able to enjoy.
Our food system in this country obviously creates a massive amount of waste and in turn becomes methane gasses in our landfills. One of our primary objectives was to capture this food waste and use it as animal feed in order to save this product from a landfill. We have a composting program that captures the majority of our vegetable scraps and is collected by Rust Belt Riders and taken to local urban gardens. Our non-compostable food waste (NCFW) was the begging of something new. As we started to see the potential in FCR (food conversion rate) with pigs we knew that there was a need for another layer of separation in our waste handling.
Over the past two years we have saved over 11,000# of NCFW from a local landfill and used it as the feed base for raising 3,220# of pork.
Free choice scrap feeding was how we began the program. We would feed a daily ration of Non-GMO grain to our hogs and then dump a bucket of NCFW in the field and let them eat what they chose when they chose to. This presented a few challenges:
1.) ignoring of some of the low flavor scraps such as spent Brewers grain, vegetable stock mirepoix (rough cut vegetable mix)
2.) rushing and even fighting over high fat NCFW such as waffles, biscuits and polenta
3.) high concentrations of sodium rich foods at one time (a bucket half full of cornmeal tostadas and tortilla chips)
Chopping mixing and wetting of the food scraps along with their daily grain rations seemed to be a good solution to picky eating as well as a more predictable way of measuring protein and fat content of daily rations. Mixing of the rations along with NCFW was also a good way of spreading out high sodium scraps into a larger batch of feed to avoid future problems as pigs are very sensitive to sodium intake. This approach did however have several challenges. These obstacles included:
- High labor factor and lots of heavy lifting by a person as we are not mechanized in this way
- Freezing of feed in the winter in very cold conditions
- Freezing of water sources in very cold conditions
- Waste of effort as we could not measure the positive or negative changes in the pigs’ health or the end result in the quality of the meat.
After these methods were fully evaluated, time and labor and risk of injury due to excessive heavy lifting we are back to a modified version of free choice feeding. We are throwing scraps in the pasture to distract the pigs and give ourselves space to work. We then take grain and scraps separately and target feed the hogs so that they turn up the ground where we need invasive plants as well as shrubs and stumps removed. By spreading out the NCFS we are lessening the concentrations of sodium as well and promoting pasture clearing.
The quality of the meat that we are creating is very good. It is different however from mass produced pork fed heavily on soybeans and corn. Our pork has been wetter than other pork produced on exclusively grain. The fat is less firm. And the meat seems to have a higher moisture content. This is not detrimental to any of our culinary applications however it does pose a challenge to our charcuterie program. As the craft of charcuterie is contingent upon the predictable loss of moisture in a predictable and consistent timeline we have found that our sausages and hams have taken longer to cure and dry down. This is expected but not ideal.
When making fresh sausage products our process remains the same as with our other pork farmers’ products. The meat does seem to be a bit more wet and perhaps cook up a bit faster and tend to dry out quicker than normal. Defensive temperature cooking became a solution to this and we were taking our chops to slightly less cooked to retain moisture. We are also brining almost all chops in order to introduce flavor but also create a consistently moist cooked pork chop across the board regardless of the difference between our pork and that of New Creations Farm, which produces the majority of our pork outside of what we produce ourselves.
In closing we have found that pigs are great at clearing land as long as you follow them with a brush hog and tiller. We have also found that pigs are excellent ways of handling kitchen waste. All of the issues we thought we could solve with pigs were true: soil management, invasive plant species removal, and waste food trapping. However, this is one of the most labor intensive ways to create slightly inferior pork we could have hoped to find. I am an environmentally-focused business owner and it pains me to come to these conclusions. Our $300.00 profit is before we take into account the cost of fencing, water warmers, vet bills and other medicines that we used throughout the year. We definitely lost money on this project but it was a great way to get better at waste management. We will continue our hog operation on Spice Acres and continue looking for a more economical way to use our NCFW as a livestock feed.
9570 Riverview Rd.
Brecksville, OH 44141
Office Phone: 4406239990