This little piggy

July 4th seems worlds away from the current winter holiday season, but that’s when we started our quest for a freezer full of pork. We just this week picked up our pig-and-a-half from the butcher, and haven’t had a chance to sample any yet.

1.5 pigs don’t quite fill this 7 cubic foot chest freezer.

What we do have are numbers – expenses, feed consumption, knackers fees, and net weight in our freezer. We thought it would be helpful to share this data.

Based on our experience with Patty Pig in 2010, we planned to buy our weaner pigs in mid-June and have them slaughtered in the first half of November. The idea was to make good use of garden goodies, windfall apples, and growing pasture while not having to deal with the logistics of livestock in the rainy/cold season. We also didn’t want to spend more than $100 per piglet. Enter Craigslist. piglets

BB&Q were born in May and would be ready July 4th weekend. This was a couple weeks later than we planned, which doesn’t seem like much, and ended up making a big difference. But they were purebred Berkshires and we wanted to see how they worked out. Another local quirk in the summer pig market is ‘fair time’. Kids buy weaner pigs in time to raise for the county fair in August, which can cause a purchasing bottleneck. Supplies are down, prices are up. So we planned on a mid-November slaughter.

BB&Q settled in to their pig digs, and did a great job clearing a brushy area we are converting to grass. We pre-sold half of one of them (thanks Rebecca!) and stopped in at Keizer to get copies of their butcher instructions in advance. They scheduled the slaughter appointment even though it was still early, recommending we do so next time as soon as we buy our weaners. Uh oh! Who knew so many people in the area would be raising their own meat this summer…..

BB&Q enjoying the fruits of our labors.
BB&Q enjoying the fruits of our labors.

As the date with freezer camp grew nigh, we checked with Keizer to confirm the appointment. Yep. There was a backup. Our piggies were on the schedule for Dec. 4th, three weeks later than planned. Three weeks isn’t so bad, you might think, but feed prices went up by a dollar or more per bag since July, and we then had to plan for rain and freezing weather. Not only did our original expense estimates go cattywampus, we had to invoke the dreaded extension-cord/heat-tape protocol. The rainy season commenced right on time, and no matter how we opened their pen to new ground and stuffed their hut with straw, it got muddy. Luckily we only had a couple of freezes, and luckily the piggies seemed to cope just fine. But it was an added burden given our tight schedules and attempt to stick to a financial outline. MeasuringPig
But the day came, and the pigs went, and now we are replete with pork. One factor that can’t be quantified is the happiness of BB&Q while they lived here. We cared for them, talked to them, gave them treats, and scratched their tummies. They had short lives, but, we hope, good ones.

Look at that piggy smile!
Look at that piggy smile!

Now for the hard cold facts.

  • Cost of weaners – $200
  • Cost of feed (776 lbs.) – $500
  • Cost of slaughter/butcher – $414
  • Pig 1 hanging weight – 174 lbs.
  • Pig 2 hanging weight – 185 lbs.
  • Gross cost per pound – $3.10

Most livestock slaughter/butcher fees are based on hanging weight, the weight of a carcass after on-farm processing and before being broken down into ‘retail’ cuts. We sold half of a pig, based on hanging weight, for a flat fee of $4.00 lb. This included the butcher’s fee to process the meat, called cut & wrap, plus any smoke & curing needed for ham & bacon. Keizer Meats charges $0.58 lb. for this. There was also an on-farm slaughter fee of $62 per animal that we calculated into our price. In hindsight, we should have charged more, but when we made out initial guesstimate, we had no idea feed prices would go up so much, or that slaughter delays would make caring for the pigs such a pain.

This is a key aspect of ‘growing your own’. Animals and plants are living things. They don’t care about economic crises, droughts, or fair-time bottlenecks. So embarking on the journey of raising livestock and crops has to include a lot of wiggle room. That’s just the way it is. Crops fail, critters die. That’s why Seven Trees is a diversified subsistence farm. We always have something to fall back on. To fill our pantry. To feed our critters. To generate surplus for sale.

So taking all that into account….

  • Expense recapture from sale of 92 lb. 1/2-pig – $368
  • Gross cost for 246 lbs. hanging weight 1.5 pigs – $746
  • Per lb. cost – $2.80

Not too shabby, you might say. But some weight is lost in the butchering process. We got back the bones & fat, and kept the heart, tongue and liver at slaughter time. I weighed all this after we brought it home to get the ‘retail’ price for our freezer full of pork.

  • Freezer weight of 1.5 pigs (incl. bones, fat & offal) – 223 lbs.
  • Per lb. cost – $3.34

So there you have it. We got to raise our own Berkshire pigs on good food in a fresh air setting. They helped clear land for us. We got to share some of our bounty with another person at a decent rate. We learned more about raising pigs and how to do it better next time. And we got a freezer full of meat. All for a net cost of lots & lots of labor and care, and $3.34 per pound.

Or you can have this… Pigs confined in metal and concrete pens

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4 thoughts on “This little piggy”

    1. We finally got to try pork chops the other morning & thought they were very tasty. Having ham & eggs for breakfast this morning 🙂

      Hopefully the expense breakdown of our pig-venture is helpful in planning your own in the future, or at least being able to pick & choose farmers and butchers. Things never quite go as planned, but usually work out fine in the end.
      -Joanna

      1. Yes, I am back to pristine primal cuisine to try and battle the inflammation and weight I seem to cling to. That means lots of meat and veggies so I better go look through the garden and dig up a few more carrots and parsnips for this weeks meals.

        Your breakdown of expenses was very helpful. I am terrible when it comes to keeping track of expenses but after reading your break down I am inspired to pay more attention to what I am spending so I can see if feeding ourselves pans out. Even if it is a little more expensive it certainly is better than eating from (and supporting) those factory farms.
        We may not get to the pig raising this coming year but will certainly get the chickens going.

        I am looking forward to reading more posts on how your chicken and egg experiments work out.

  1. The WSDA has updated their custom meat pages. Here’s some nice charts showing slaughter vs. freezer weights – http://agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/CustomMeats/ProcessingPercentage.aspx

    It is tough to track and assign a monetary value to intangibles like quality of critters’ lives, the experience of growing your own, knowing what your meat animals ate, etc. I think the rough estimate for the retail value of the steers we raised was $5/lb. and they were ‘rugged’ little steaks. But it was an experience/expense we don’t regret. We’ve learned that beef is better bought from someone else, and if it costs that much per pound, it’s a good deal.

    Pigs are a pretty good value. Lots of work, lots of variables, but they are only around for 4 months, so it’s easy to make sure they are eating things we want to turn into meat. When I see cheap craigslist ads, I always wonder just what those pigs are eating to make it cost effective for the farmer to sell so cheap.

    Chickens….oh chickens….
    I can’t imagine not having a flock, even if we lived in town. But to have a good sized flock that pays for itself and doesn’t wreck the infrastructure takes some juggling. Adding the Olive-eggers to the mix will be a fun experiment. I’ll be sharing our year-end flock info soon. I keep a spreadsheet that tracks production, expenses and income, and it’s always fun to see how the year’s work adds up.

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