Sunday, November 2, 2008

Food and Fuel

Another small farmer did the math and wrote about his fuel use, explaining "Local Food DOES NOT Use Less Fossil Fuel!" He also got attacked for it, so he had to restate his case,

I wrote something similar before and got attacked for it in the same manner, so I sympathize with the guy. All he does is tell the truth (likely because he's bothered about his own fuel inefficiency) and he gets savaged for it.

He gets into some interesting issues involving pastured animals. Overall, I think he's quite realistic, except when it comes to keeping animals indoor during winter.

During winter, particularly in places that get very cold, sheltering animals reduces improves their feed conversion, because they don't have to burn feed to stay warm. Whether you use propare or a hoop building, heated shelter is better than the traditional system, explaining why modern farms are how they are.

People would like to think that raising animals outdoors in primitive systems is both the most humane, most efficient, most ecologically beneficial and they way to produce the best-tasting product. Commonsense says that it isn't likely to be the case.

If nothing else, the most humane, from the pig's point of view, would be to raise them indoors with their dam (mom), eating ice cream and fried chicken, until they all keeled over fat and happy from heart disease. Humans do this for their pets, but not their food animals.

Our ancestors raised animals the way they did because they didn't have the money or technology to do things the way we do now. All traditional systems are low-input and labor intensive. I believe that those systems are the most natural (yet inhumane) and can (under certain circumstances) produce some of the best product. But that doesn't preclude the possibility of a less-natural system producing a higher quality product.

There's reason to think that a lot of traditional food didn't taste that good. E.g. Hungarian sausage is so spicy because traditionally, they finished the pigs in swamps, resulting in swampy-tasting meat. They couldn't vacuum-pack the meat, so it got very dry by the time summer came. Nobody in his right mind would want to eat that stuff today. Some of today's traditional products taste a lot better than what our ancestor's ate, because we have the money to produce the best products, by any means necessary.


Anonymous said...

Heath, in your own case, you chose to locate your farm hundreds of miles from the market for your product. Since you lease the farm, you could move your animals closer to the market, and you have sort of done that by sending pigs to california and the midwest, but apparently don't care to.

You could be local, and use less fuel. You don't, and that's really a pity.

Heath Putnam said...

Bruceki -- Your comment, as usual, reflects a number of erroneous assumptions.

First off - I didn't send pigs to CA. Someone from CA bought some pigs, and he sent them there.

More importantly: moving my WA herd closer to Seattle wouldn't decrease the fuel bill. Right now the animals are close (30 minute drive) to where they get processed. If one moved the animals to Seattle, the fuel bill would be higher, because they'd have to get hauled further to get killed.

It is important to distinguish between people raising things like vegetables, which don't get processed, to those raising animals, which must get processed in a USDA facility (if their meat will be retailed).

If animals need to get slaughtered and processed under USDA inspection, all things being equal, locating the animals near the slaughter plant closest to the city where they'll be consumed is going to get the fuel bill the lowest.

If you were going to be consistent, you'd commend me on conserving fuel better and being more humane (in the sense of miles hauled) than those "local" farmers closer to Seattle.

Anonymous said...

There are USDA slaughter trailers in king, pierce and skagit counties. You could locate in any of those counties, Heath. USDA slaughterhouses aren't the only choice for retail meat sales.

As I said, you've chosen a setup the makes you less fuel efficient than you could be. That's too bad.

Heath Putnam said...

bruceki -- The USDA-inspected processing situation is worse in the counties that you mentioned than East of the Cascades.

What USDA-inspected slaughter is there in King County? What's the establishment number. I don't think there is any in King County.

Also, I heard that Kapowsin (Pierce County) is going to shut down. With the loss of that one plant, most or all of the small-scale slaughter capacity will be gone.

Moving the hogs to Kapowsin and relying on the one plant wouldn't work. Being East of the Cascades means there are a few options.

Last I checked, people from Vashon need to haul their animals to Kapowsin for killing, then haul their meat to another place for cutting. As the crow flies, they are very close to Seattle. In reality, they burn more gas to market their meat.

In my own case, I have to carefully select the herdsmen running my herd. The Mangalitsa is valuable and tricky to run. It is important to have a great herdsman, even if that means spending a bit more on fuel. As the only person with Mangalitsa genetics in the Western Hemisphere - indeed, the only commercially viable lard-type hog in the Western Hemisphere, it is important to run the herd properly, even if that means spending more fuel.

But nevertheless, I think I'm actually spending less fuel per pound sold than folks who produce closer to Seattle.

So please, tell me where in King County the pigs could go, where they'd be close to a slaughter unit. If that could work, it would be nice.

SueKay88 said...

I'm afraid Heath is correct. There are no USDA slaughter facilities in King County, not even mobile units. See the article at this link:

As far as I know, nothing has changed from the time the article was written. I attended a pig slaughter event a couple months ago in Port Orchard. Farmer George Meats has a mobile slaughter unit, but is not USDA inspected. There was talk there as well about forming a co-op to get together enough money to get a USDA mobile unit together, but as you can see it is quite expensive.

There is very little commercial pig raising that occurs in Western Washington, so resources are limited. Raising local sounds idyllic, but I think the practical considerations make it more difficult than it sounds.

I was wondering why the meat from Vashon was so expensive.

Anonymous said...

USDA slaughter trailer based in skagit county:

Pierce, King, Kitsap, Mason, Thurston and Lewis counties.

It is also legal to sell meat inspected under the WSDA standards at farmers markets, or whole or half animals at the farm gate.

There are plenty of opportunities to sell meat that has less miles on it than you choose to put on your animals.

Heath Putnam said...

Bruceki --

You wrote, "There are USDA slaughter trailers in king, pierce and skagit counties."

Where is the slaughter trailer in King and Pierce county? You used the present tense, implying this thing really exists. Please give me the establishment number of this trailer.

Your hypothetical trailer doesn't count. It doesn't exist yet, does it? Does it serve King County?

It would be nice to have the option of raising hogs in King County.

You wrote, "It is also legal to sell meat inspected under the WSDA standards at farmers markets, or whole or half animals at the farm gate."

When you write, "inspected under the WSDA standards", I'm confused. Last I heard, WSDA gave up and decided to just go with USDA inspection. What is the situation? Is there a separate state inspection system, like in the good old days?

Finally, why do you care so much about me and my pigs?

Anonymous said...

Had to laugh at your question, Heath. I've worked with many software guys and your arrogance and reasoning are pretty fun to tweak. I enjoy raising pigs myself, and I've got to say that your husbandry entries are some of the funniest I've run across.

Like being surprised that pigs bite, or that pigs that don't know you are protective, or deciding that keeping pigs still for a pregnancy test is too hard to contemplate, or claiming that pregnant pigs are not up to quality standards in one post and then selling pregnant pigs to your customers in another.

It's just good plain fun to poke holes in your balloon.

Sorry if you take it personally.

oh yea -- for pregnancy tests the pregtone works pretty well. And at $200, it's a little more than a pound of your product.

Anonymous said...

oh yea; the skagit trailer is available for other counties; it covers skagit, island and snohomish counties. I haven't called them about king, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Speaking of establishment numbers, what's the number of the place you have process your animals?