Unlike sheep and cows, pigs cannot live on grass alone. As omnivores, they need a higher-calorie, higher-protein diet than grass can provide, which is why most pigs today are raised on a grain and soy mixture to grow them big, fast. Prior to the rise of large-scale animal feeding operations, pigs’ wide range of tastes made them ideal waste processors on diversified farms and garden plots; much of the food that we throw out in the kitchen or scrape from our plates is perfectly suited to their palates.
That’s why last year, rather than purchasing feed for the pigs at Stone Barns Center, our livestock team decided to see how we could tap into local waste streams to feed them. Now our pigs chow down each day on delights such as kitchen scraps from Blue Hill at Stone Barns (about 1,000 pounds per week), apple pomace from Thompson’s Cider Mill, pumpkins from local farms and dairy past its sell-by date from a local grocery store—as well as discarded plant material from our fields and greenhouse. Captain Lawrence Brewing Company supplies us with a large and important portion of the pigs’ diet: spent brewer’s grain, which we ferment with molasses to preserve it and make it easier for the pigs to digest.
Our pigs have a chance to find their own food, too. Because their natural habitat is forest, we want to keep them there as much as possible. But pigs’ intense interest in rooting and their high-nitrogen manure can be damaging if they’re not moved frequently. The solution? Pinwheel paddocks.
We select a spot in the woods to cover with bedding and create a pen, with large paddocks stretching out around the pen in every direction, like the spokes of a wheel. The pigs can be shut into their pen at night to prevent them from straying too far afield, but they are let into a fresh spoke-paddock during the day, giving them room to roam and root. The pigs’ foraging also helps clear out invasive species so that we can replant native perennials.
Meanwhile, we’re producing higher-quality meat from our pigs, while spending less money to feed them. Our labor costs are a little more per week than they used to be, but the savings we see on feed more than make up for it—and we get to turn what used to be “waste” in our community back into food.
By partnering with others in our region, we help them manage their waste, improve pig nutrition, cut down on expenses, provide a more delicious product to our customers—and offer a model of what a more sustainable regional food system should look like.
Published on October 30, 2017