Friday, August 30, 2013

Bacon Time is Nigh

Our trio of piglets, Baykin, Proscuitto and Porkchop (aka Chopz), are rapidly approaching their date with the abattoir. I find myself eager, relieved and a little sad too, but mostly, relieved.

Back when they were still cuteish.

These three little piggies joined the Boggy Hollow crew back in mid-March, just eight weeks old and weighing in at about 30 pounds each. Ever since that moment, it seems to have been their primary mission in life to eat us out of house and home. We have no real way of knowing what they weigh now until the deed is done and their hanging weight is pronounced, but if they're not at least 200-pounds each, I'm a monkey's uncle. Specifically, a sad, angry, idiot-who-spent-her-last-dime-on-pig-food, variety of monkey's uncle.

The ideal weight and age for harvesting a hog is 225-270 pounds, more or less, and at around 6 months of age. These three are nearly 8 months old, and hopefully 225 or better each, so the time has most definitely arrived for them to move on.

Even if they're short on weight, there are others issues in play that make this the right time to harvest. At the top of our list is that Winter is coming.

Can I get a what-what for my Game of Thrones peeps?

More specifically, mud season is on it's way back, and slogging 40+ pounds of feed per day through shin-deep liquid clay mud has limited appeal.

Secondly, the pigs are eating an outrageous amount of food these days. Their rations have been increased to one 40# bag of rolled barley per day, all of our (and our friends') windfall apples (5ish pounds more or less per day?) and anything coming out of the garden that is past it's prime/less than perfect, such as blimp-sized zucchini, mouse-nibbled cantaloupe, corn stovers and aphid-ravaged kale, plus their daily ration of our fresh, raw, goats milk. In the past, we've supplemented their rations with bakery outlet bread products, but the failure of many grain crops this year and last has made laying hands on previously unwanted leftovers nearly impossible most months. 

I'm competing with cattle ranchers, chicken farmers and food banks for the day-old and otherwise not-fit-for-sale (often utterly perfect), increasingly scarce calories, and so, with "terminal" stock that is near harvest anyway, I gladly bow out of the fray. 

Lastly - flavorful, clean, humanely raised pork (and all meat for that matter) is expensive. Our family of four eats about one pound of meat/protein per evening meal, at an average cost of $8 per pound. That figure factors in that we've been eating a fair amount of grass-finished ground beef (at around 5.99/lb) and occasionally a nicer cut of beef, lamb or pork (up to 10.99/lb or so) with our own wild-caught seafood (salmon, crab) sprinkled in the mix to spread things out. Conservatively, that puts our monthly meat budget at around $240 per month, for just a single 4-ounce serving per person, per day. The pigs are presently eating one $13 bag of barley per day. Alas, the time to pay the piper has arrived.

At 7 1/2 months old, they still look kinda cute, right? After you nearly lose a few fingers to their eager maws, maybe not so much. Their charm fades pretty quickly after that...

The bottom line is, it's time for us to stop feeding the pigs, and time for them to start feeding us.

With any luck, our 1 piggy (the other 2 are going to our Mamas) will yield us enough pork to put beautiful, high quality meat on our table until this time next year. Whether or not we'll find ourselves raising and harvesting our own pigs at this time next year depends completely on how this pork tastes, and how the numbers shake out when all is said and done.

I do offer my thanks to these odd little (huge) critters for the nutrition and sustenance that they will provide for my family, and for the experience that we've had with them this Spring and Summer. Our critters help us grow as farmers and as people. They teach us so much. 

Many thanks, mis puercos.

Update 9/21/13 - The butcher shop called, the piggies' hanging weights were 170, 170 & 207 pounds. Using my marginal math skills, at a total cost of about $1300 (initial purchase price, feed, kill fee), divided by the estimated final "wrapped" weight (70% of hanging weight - 547 x .7= 383lbs) equals roughly 3.39/pound. Not a huge win, financially, but when compared to the average cost of the cheapest cut per pound of organic/non-CAFO pork that is commercially available, (which is usually the ground, unseasoned pork), we'll enjoy a savings of about $3.40 per pound. On the "nicer" cuts, the savings go up.

Speaking strictly financially, this was a worthwhile endeavor for us. We'll be keeping just one of the pigs for ourselves, the 207-pounder. The other two are destined for the freezers of our parental units.

So, based upon my voodoo math - 207lbs x .7 = 144.9 (the "wrapped weight"), times our cost of $3.39/lb = $491.21. Our year's supply of pork will have cost us $491 instead of $983 - a $492 savings. :)