Earlier this fall, Cassie Rideg scooped grain into an empty Hills Bros. coffee can and poured it into a makeshift pen for her 10 hungry piglets.
A few shared cans of grain a day is plenty for these piglets, smaller than a sack of potatoes. But a healthy adult hog eats about 8 pounds of food a day. That’s roughly 16 McDonald’s Big Macs. As the piglets grow, Rideg will need 80 pounds of food a day to feed her pigs.
To meet this demand, Rideg and other pig farmers in Missoula County have turned to restaurants, breweries and fruit tree owners for help. By collecting leftover food scraps, pig farmers are able to keep more coins in their piggy banks and raise better-tasting hogs.
For the past few months, Rideg, who owns Nine Mile Farm in Huson together with her husband, Mark, has partnered with Scotty’s Table and Caffé Dolce in Missoula to pick up leftover fruit, vegetable and bread scraps.
Separating meat, which can carry bacteria and viruses that can sicken pigs, from other food scraps is added work for kitchen staff, but restaurant owners say it’s worth it.
Scott Gill, owner of Scotty’s Table, said the Ridegs save him money by picking up the leftovers.
“We generate a lot of vegetable scraps,” Gill said. “We make sure customer plate scraps never reach the composite can. Then we know meat is never mixed in with the vegetables."
Dessa Dale, owner of Hawthorne Farms in Missoula, has taken a similar approach to finding feed for her eight pigs. By working with a dozen fruit tree owners in Missoula, Dale has gleaned the benefits of fallen fruit.
“People fill 5-gallon buckets and garbage cans for me to pick up every week,” Dale said. “It’s mostly apples, pears or peaches. And it’s seasonal.”
But every dollar not spent on pig feed is a dollar saved for Dale.
Missoula farmer John Stuhl, owner of Farmer John’s Sustainable Farming, has received barrels of apples and potatoes from the Montana Food Bank to help feed his 30 pigs. Last month, Stuhl found an even bigger free local feed source.
The craft brewery Draught Works recently partnered with Stuhl, allowing him to pick up leftover grain from the beermaking process. Draught Works has worked with local farmers since it opened in 2011 to get rid of grain, according to Kyle Sillars, the head brewer.
“Without local farmers picking up this grain, it’s a logistical nightmare,” Sillars said.
The grain, which holds a lot of nutritional after the brewing process, is ideal for farmers.
Recently, Stuhl pulled up to the back of Draught Works in his white GMC pick-up with a 30-foot flat-bed trailer. He slid more than a dozen 350-pound barrels of fermented, sour-smelling grain from the brewery loading dock onto his trailer and headed back to the farm.
With a small farm tractor, Stuhl emptied the barrels of grain into feeding troughs for his pigs. Then, he rinsed the barrels and returned them to the brewery. For Stuhl, these added steps are worth it.
“After just one month, my feed bill has dropped 40 percent,” Stuhl said. He invested the hundreds of dollars saved each month into his farm.
By partnering with restaurants and others to pick up food scraps, local pig farmers are going back to a way that farmers fed pigs before the popularity of feed stores and processed pig food.
It’s cheaper, and a pig fed with scraps tastes better, they say.
“At least we know where our food comes from,” Cassie Rideg said. “The smoked and cured bacon of one of our pigs is like nothing I’ve ever tasted from the grocery store.”