I find it very interesting meeting and talking to pig farmers. They all seem to have their own ideas on how a pig should be kept, and I guess the inherent resilience of a pig, in some pretty tough conditions makes it easier for them to justify it. I even managed to visit a very old pig shed, which is no longer in use, that reminded me of the movie Snatch, and another farmer whose pigs were just about angry enough to have a place in Brick Top’s pig farm. He generously offered to sell me his most viscous sow, I very politely declined. In fact as I was leaving, I had to ask myself why I had even bought any weaners off of him, some deals you just don’t back out of.
This all came about, as I was contemplating the future, and income. The fact is that pigs are supposed to provide me with income, and in a rush of blood to the brain I decided I needed more pigs. Which of course I do, and after a quick scan on trade-me I found a local pig farmer. Local is really a relative term, in this case local means anywhere north of Auckland. So I found this guy who lives just over an hour away, and told him I would take 5 of his weaners which were out of a Large White sow, and a Duroc boar. I had heard good things about the large whites, but remained sceptical because they are a commercial breed, and have been bred to perform on a diet of commercial pig feed, which is not what my pigs are getting.
I turn up, and the farmer has the weaners separated, and there is this huge brown and black spotted sow chewing at the gate trying to get through. I asked “is this the mother?”
“Yeh, that’s her, she’s a bit grumpy” he said.
“I thought she was a Large White” I queried.
“Well obviously she’s not a purebred” the farmer replied. Indeed, she is not a purebred. I was then regaled with the tale of how he attempted to clean out her stall, while she was in the pen, it ended with her biting his leg, and him fending her off with a shovel. Ever since then, he hasn’t been able to trust her, and is trying to sell her. I think his sales pitch needs some work.
The reason I originally chose to breed Large Black pigs, was because most resources recommend them as doing well on low quality feed, as well as a very quite temperament. In the field so far, I think this is the right decision, while it’s hard to draw any conclusions about the performance of my 5 mongrel pigs of non purebred lineage, they are underperforming the Large Blacks and I regret buying them. However 5 weaners is not make or break investment, and the learning experience is a bonus. Not all the Large Black’s are performing equally, and in a month or so I will decide which I will keep for breeding, meanwhile I also need to source another breeder so I can mix bloodlines.
I am hoping to make an income without spending it all on imported feed, which is actually the new trend, when it comes to farming. I was inundated with pig food in the beginning. The neighbouring dairy farmers came over to introduce themselves, and offer me their waste milk. Everyone in the area seemed to know we were going to be keeping pigs, from the moment we arrived. It’s actually a great community, and everyone is very friendly. So to begin with we had more milk then the pigs could drink, then I found someone selling reject kiwifruit for 10c/kg so I picked up 350kgs, in addition to this I have a system with Wardys Fruit Emporium, who swaps me clean empty buckets, for buckets filled with all the trimmings from his veges. The feast came to an end when the dairy farmers stopped milking for the winter, and the possums ate all the kiwifruit. Wardy still gives me a couple of buckets every few days.
Generally speaking the pigs are doing fine on pasture. I did notice growth slowed right down, once we stopped getting milk, but that was expected. Most of the Large Blacks are doing well, with full bellies and a layer of fat, though a couple are not doing so well, and the mongrels have me a bit concerned, with the exception of one mongrel who looks like a kunekune. I’ll give them all some parasite control soon. I couldn’t believe it, the only parasite control I can get, has to be a bloody injection. Not a simple intra muscular injection either, but subcutaneous. You have to pinch the skin, get the needle into that fold of skin, and inject there. Pigs hate that kind of shit. I think I need some ear muffs. There are some organic ways of doing it, but because the pigs have come from an ideal breeding ground for parasites I’ll hit them all with some Ivermectin first. I have also given them a multimineral salt lick, and it looks like something is gnawing at it, whether its my pigs or not remains to be discovered. Time will tell, but for now things seem to be going according to plan.
Another source of income we are looking at, is beef, and for reasons that are becoming less clear we have decided to go with Wagyu beef. For those who don’t know, Wagyu is a Japanese breed of cow, originally bred as a cart animal, with a very quite temperament. Today though they are bred for their super marbled beef, if you were to go to a very high end resort where you could spend $100 on a steak, you would expect to find Wagyu or Kobe beef on the menu. I’ve never tasted it, but when we do finally butcher one, I’ll be sure to let you know. Originally I looked at Wagyu because the price of an animal is about quadruple the price of an Angus. For me, if I only have enough land to sell 10 cows per year, then I’d rather sell those that are worth the most per head.
I found the history fascinating and was lucky enough to spend some time with some breeders on Salvation Rd, who run a business called Heaven and Earth. The one offputting factor with Wagyu is the time involved, in NZ you can expect to take between 18-24 months getting a steer to market, with the Wagyu however you can double that timeframe. You can send them earlier, but the real value comes from the marbling of the meat, which gets literally off the charts (the old scores used to stop at 5, Wagyu goes 6,7 +) To get the high marbling requires an older animal, this is the same for most meats. They had recently killed a 5 year old bull, and you wouldn’t expect that to be anything special, but apparently the knife would just slide through it.
The fact that these cows take twice as long to get to market, changes the financial equation, it’s still slightly better then an average beefie, but a lot worse then it looked at first glance. I’m only going to get 4 in-calf cows, not exactly betting the farm, and at worst in 4 years I’ll still be able to have my own opinion on the taste of Wagyu beef.
Things are going well on the farm, we have cleaned the house, cleaned and stained the deck, put in new fencing, added more gravel to the driveway, made a start on a vege garden, and done some work on the kitchens. Still heaps to do though, more fences to go in, I have about 100 fruit trees coming in a couple of weeks (what was I thinking in February when I ordered them?) so I have a lot of holes to dig. In a couple of months I hope things will settle down a bit, but as Schopenhauer advised “keep busy.”