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This winter we raised two hogs. We don't have too much land, and don't grow the grains that would be required for fully feeding them from products grown on our hobby farm.

My question is whether it is more sustainable to raise animals myself, or support local farms that raise more animals more efficiently. It seems like the economies of scale work up to a point when you balance humane treatment, pollution, and other factors. Where is that point?

For us, we were mostly using a commercial feed since the locally sourced feed available in our area (Scratch and Peck Feeds) was out of our price range. The pigs did fill a very good niche in our little system in that they ate anything that we didn't finish.

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In a case like yours you're probably better off composting the things you generate that you fed to the hogs and buying the meat from a good responsible local farmer. Even better buy from a CSA.

Since you weren't generating enough food for the hogs on site, you may want to consider a smaller animal(s) that eat most of the same waste. A dwarf/pygmy/mini hog may suit you better. Perhaps even better, chickens and goats require only a fraction of the caloric intake of a hog which means you can tailor the size of your flock to your waste output. They will each eat just about anything a hog will, and you don't have to mix it into slop! Then you're only buying a feed supplement, if that, instead of bulk feed. Plus chickens and goats give you food in-process, not just after slaughter.

  • We do raise chickens for eggs, but cannot do dairy goats due to time constraints. Is that what you meant by 'giving you food in-process'? It is our goal to go the dairy goat route eventually. – Noel Feb 26 '13 at 21:24
  • What is a 'CSA'? – gerrit Feb 28 '13 at 14:56
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    I thank you for this post I had never heard of a CSA but found out they are a great resource to link with local growers and others providing good food in sustainable ways. – user141 Feb 28 '13 at 15:25
  • Yes, non-meat animal foods (eggs, dairy) are exactly what I meant, Noel. – OCDtech Mar 1 '13 at 16:41
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    @gerrit, a 'CSA' stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it is a method of farming/commerce where the community takes on a shared risk for crop production. People pay up front for what they will get from the growing season. – Noel Mar 3 '13 at 21:29
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It depends on how you define "sustainable" and what your goals are.

If your intention is to provide meat for yourself and your family independent of community or industry, in other words "self-sustainability" then raising livestock yourself makes sense but you need to be prepared to provide feed for your animals independently as well as enough room to keep them.

If, on the other hand, you are more concerned with economic or ecological impact then buying from a local farm would be more sensible. The farmer becomes less dependent on outside business, your money indirectly benefits the local economy and there's less pollution from transporting the meat to a remote purchaser. All of these benefits your local community.

  • Good answer (I already did upvote), but let's not muddle the definition of the term sustainability any more than it already is. "Sustainability" is what you address in your final paragraph. Your second paragraph is about "self-sufficiency", and is very often a poor sustainability choice. – Nate Aug 2 '13 at 4:46

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