Michael Y. Park's recent post about the rising costs of food got me thinking about the rising costs of raising food. It is becoming increasingly more costly to raise the food that our nation eats, but the prices some farmers are paid isn't increasing at the same rate. For example, when my dad was raising hogs full-time in the early 90's feed was roughly (this is purely from memory) $5 for 50 lbs of mixed pig feed. Today, I pay between $9 and $10 for a similar mixed feed. The feed prices have about doubled from when my dad was raising hogs twenty years ago, but the supermarket prices of those pork chops haven't reflected the changes in the cost of production.
We raise our pigs on a very small scale, but if you are interested in what it takes to raise them from birth to finish, read on.
-It will take roughly 5 to 6 months to raise a pig from birth to a finish weight of around 250 pounds.
-A pig will eat an average of 6 to 8 pounds of feed per day. In our case the feed is an unmedicated mixed ration of corn and soybeans.
-After four to six weeks of feeding from its mother, an average pig will eat roughly between 700 and 900 pounds of food (depending on many factors) until finish weight.
-Let's say that I feed my pigs 6 pounds per day for 120 days. (They spent the first 30 days with their mother.) If that is the case, I can easily spend about $130 per pig just for feed! Of course, large scale pig farmers buy their grain in larger quantities than I do so they have a break there.
-It does take more than feed to raise a healthy pig though. Among other things, you also need to factor in a farmer's time, the infrastructure, and water.
Those are some pretty interesting numbers, but they are just numbers. In the real world things don't always work like the averages. On our farm we don't feed our animals any hormones or other things that would enhance their growth, and they are also allowed to gain a portion of their nutrients from the pasture. The combination of those two things, although positives in our book, means that our pigs also may take a little longer to grow up to finish weight.
When we are shopping at the grocery store, or directly from the farmer, it is important that we remember just what goes into the food we eat. It does hurt when we see more of our money going out the door, but food is a pretty important part of life.
Ethan Book grew up in a small Iowa town and attended the University of Northern Iowa . Along with his wife and two young children, Ethan oversees a growing herd of registered Dexter cattle and a flock of laying hens, and is expanding his operation on a small family farm in Southern Iowa. Ethan's blog, The Beginning Farmer, helps promote small-scale farming and sustainable agriculture. Ethan is also a youth pastor and a member of the American Dexter Cattle Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa.
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