No Smell, No Fly, Zero Run-Off Piggeries
by Jackie Prell
The first thing you should know about Neena Roumell and Atto Assi’s piggery, as the title suggests, is that their piggery has no smell, no flies, and zero run-off. That’s zero with a Z. In contrast to the thousands of CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) across the nation that are becoming an environmental disaster, this is the most eco-friendly piggery imaginable. And Neena and Atto wouldn’t have it any other way. They are deeply committed to protecting the water table, the land, and producing good, healthy food.
Atto was trained and worked as a petroleum engineer on the Ivory Coast of Africa and Romania and Neena, who was originally from Chicago, as a scientific writer. They moved to Mountain View, Hawaii, 7 years ago, because Atto wanted to use his training to grow oil crops, a crop which works with Hawaii’s sub-tropical climate. They planted 3500 oil palms on their 18 acres, which will produce their first crop soon. The oil palm seeds will be crushed and turned into bio-fuel and the leftover, high-protein cake fed to their pigs. Atto is the only licensed oil extractor on the island and the facility he built is already in use, making bio-fuel from waste restaurant oil. He may eventually produce up to 240 gallons of bio-fuel a day. Atto also designs smaller systems that can produce 50 gallons of fuel a day. Atto got his palm seedlings from Dr. Bill Steiner, who was then the dean of the College of Agriculture at UH Hilo. Dr. Steiner’s ongoing passion project is helping the islands become fuel-independent by growing fuel crops.
Neena and Atto became inspired to raise pigs after visiting Mike DuPonte’s piggery. Mike, who is the UH College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources Animal Specialist, set up his model piggery 5 years ago, specifically to get FDA/Dept. of Health approval. His piggery has been a showcase for people interested in Korean Natural Farming (KNF) animal husbandry methods. Just ten years ago there were 25,000 pigs being raised in Hawaii, but has this number has dropped to 6,500 pigs today because of the high price of imported feedstock and stricter DOH standards. Hawaii is facing a protein shortage and currently imports 85% of its pork as well as a similar percentage of its food.
Neena and Atto’s operation can hold 400 pigs, half market-size pigs and half wean-off. The baby pigs are kept with the mothers for 6 weeks and they raise a mix of breeds: Yorkshire, Landrace, and Dorocs. Once the palms are producing there are plans to expand the operation. For now, the pigs are fed a mixed diet of macadamia nuts, (when they’re available), sweet potato, banana, papaya, grain, and “honohono” grass, which is 14% protein and the pigs favorite food. The macadamia nuts are high in minerals and good for metabolic growth. These pigs never get “slop” and have a superior taste. A local supermarket markets Neena and Atto’s antibiotic and pesticide-free pork as “green” pork, which sells for $40 per lb.
Designing and planning for their feedstock and utilizing it as fuel to run their tractor, generator and other equipment has set Atto and Neena up for their future success. They are completely off-grid and their oil extractor runs off an extensive electric solar system.
Their piggery is built to Korean Natural Farming and DOH standards, with a cement floor and a vented roof, which allows the heat from the microbial activity to be carried up and out. The sides of the building are open, to help with air flow, and the overhang on the roof is large enough to keep the rain out. Keeping the pigs’ bedding dry is key to maintaining a happy microbial, aerobic environment. Their water comes from nipples placed in each pen.
The pigs bedding is 4’ deep and placed on top of the cement in layers. The bottom layer is bio-char, the next is logs, at least 2” diameter. These logs can be as large as you like, and can be touching. Next green waste is added to fill it up. The green waste is sprinkled with IMO #4, one pound for every 50 square feet. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) diluted at a 1:1000 ratio, is sprayed several times over the first few weeks. A slight yeasty smell indicates the microbes have been activated and the pen is ready for use. Fermented plant juice, another common KNF input is sometimes added to the LAB. The microbial activity kicks in within a few weeks and then the pigs are introduced. The lactic acid is beneficial for the pigs and reduces any smell by neutralizing and digesting the pigs excrement. The pigs love the deep litter for digging in and are contented and non-stressed. Their litter never needs to be cleaned out, but rather needs to be added to every few months as it is tramped down and chewed up. Lactic acid is sprayed every few weeks or as needed. Heavy logs can be placed on top of the litter for the pigs rooting pleasure and to facilitate microbial activity.
If you would like to learn more about Korean Natural Farming animal husbandry, which works with pigs, chickens, and cows, Hawaii Farmers Union United – East Hawaii Chapter is sponsoring a 3 day symposium, Oct. 1, 2 and 3, 2015. For more information about this and to learn how to sign up go to their Hawaii Farmer Union United – East Hawaii Chapter’s Facebook page. This event will feature farm tours, hands-on, learning classes, as well as presentations by experienced farmers and experts. Neena and Atto will be there and another farmer who has been permitted for a 20,000 head KNF chicken farm on Oahu.
*Lactic Acid Bacteria Recipe
To make lactic acid bacteria, first wash a cup of rice and save the water. Fill a jar with 20 cm of rice wash water, cover with a paper to keep insects out, and set in a dark spot for a week, preferably in an opaque container. It will start to give off a sour smell when done. Next, pour off the rice water and add to milk, ideally raw milk, at a ratio of 10 parts milk, one part rice water. The lactic acid bacteria will grow vigorously in the milk. In 5-7 days the milk will have separated into the milk solids and whey. Starch, protein and fat will float on the top of the liquid, which remains at the bottom. Remove the floating ‘curds’ and save the liquid: this is the lactic acid bacteria. It can be stored in the refrigerator or mixed with equal parts brown sugar and then stored at room temperature.