By James Tababa
Rico Ecunar was almost persuaded to follow his family’s tradition of becoming medical nurses. Still, he saw the potential to improve the swine production business that his parents had already started.
Ecunar is the 20 year-old owner of Pork and Greens, a sustainable swine production farm in Candelaria, Zambales. His parents started their backyard swine-raising business in 2010, stopping when African Swine Fever (ASF) hit Central Luzon in 2020, when all swine raisers in Zambales were forced to sell their pigs at lower prices and stop their production until further notice from the local government unit (LGU).
In 2021, the local government declared Zambales free from African Swine Fever. Ecunar continued the family business through the Kabataang Agribiz Competitive Grant Assistance Program, a yearly competition under the Department of Agriculture which aims to support the youth in establishing their agriculture based enterprises. Ecunar is one of the provincial winners of the program.
“I chose swine production because according to the PSA (Philippine Statistics Authority) data, the Philippine demand for pork will still depend on importation until 2025,” Ecunar said in Tagalog. “The demand [of pork] is high, but the ASF outbreak greatly reduced the local supply of pork.”
Ecunar seeks to improve the method of his parents’ swine production through a different technological and sustainable approach.
Attaining sustainable integrated farming
Ecunar’s enterprise is called Pork and Greens because it combines swine production, rice, sorghum, and vegetable farming. Furthermore, it aspires to be greener and more sustainable by converting waste into valuable materials. Planting additional feeding forages for pigs is also practiced to minimize the cost of commercial feeds.
“We try our best to utilize every waste from the swine production instead of becoming just an environmental pollutant. We convert the pig wastes to manure (dry) and liquid (as a spray) fertilizer. The fertilizers were applied on our rice, sorghum, and vegetable fields,” Ecunar said.
After each swine production cycle, waste is collected from a septic tank. The accumulated liquid and manure is a good source of phosphorus fertilizer that can be sprayed on the soil or mixed with irrigation water. Ecunar uses the liquid fertilizer as a foliar fertilizer and sprays it on sorghum just before flowering.
After the liquid manure is collected, the remaining waste from the septic tank is left to dry. The remaining dried waste is called manure fertilizer. Manure fertilizer is incorporated into the soil before planting rice. “Our rice harvest significantly increased because of the swine manure fertilizer. We usually harvest 50 cavans of rice, but now we harvest 80 to 100 cavans. Using manure fertilizer made us less reliant on inorganic fertilizer,” Ecunar said.
Production of biogas from sewage
In addition to converting waste into fertilizer, Ecunar converts wastes into biogas that can be used as household fuel for cooking.
Methane is a natural biogas by-product of animal waste. It is produced through the natural process of anaerobic bacterial fermentation and decomposition inside the septic tanks. Accumulated methane inside the septic tank is collected by installing a low-cost biogas digester above the septic tank.
“The conversion of animal waste into biogas is a simple process. It should be taught to all backyard [swine] raisers not only for proper waste management but also to reduce the emitted bad odor,” Ecunar said.
The odorless backyard swine production
One main problem of backyard swine production is the emission of foul odor. This is a form of air pollution that is a nuisance to neighbors and may cause a potential health risk.
“Unlike the popular belief that the foul odor is caused by the types and quality feeds that are fed to the pigs, the real cause is improper waste management and disposal’, Ecunar said.
Rice hull is frequently applied to the flooring to reduce the foul smell by absorbing excess moisture in the pig pens. But due to the increased demand for rice hulls by home gardeners during the pandemic, the price increased and became too expensive.
The use of rice is not enough to completely remove the foul odor, which is why research institutions recommend the addition of microorganisms and bio activators to hasten the decomposition.
Because of the increasing cost of rice hulls and the limited sources of bio activators, Ecunar adopted a system of odorless swine raising without the need for bio activators and lessened the use of rice hulls. This can be achieved by installing a septic tank for waste collection and with a biogas digester that stores the methane gas.
In addition, a small wallowing pond is also installed inside the pigpen. The pigs are trained to bathe in the wallowing pond and are also potty trained. “Pigs are smart. They wash when they feel dirty or hot. They are also clean animals, so they urinate and defecate only in certain areas,” Ecunar explained.
This method reduces the labor needed to maintain cleanliness and accessible collection of waste. This practice is the key to odorless swine production.
Ecunar’s mother pigs are a cross of Landrace and Large white. The crossbreed regularly produces a litter of 10 to 12 pigs.
To produce offspring, the mother pigs are artificially inseminated with Duroc or Pietrain breed. In his experience, this cross is best in attaining a high average daily gain and efficient feed conversion ratio. An efficient feed conversion ratio is desired to reduce the feeding cost needed for achieving the desired weight. The triple cross pig breed will attain the desired selling weight in less than four months.
The whole swine production takes 115 gestation days, 30 days from farrowing to weaning, and another four months to achieve market weight.
Forage crops for swine supplementary feeding
Sorghum is one of the forage crops planted for supplementary feeding to the pigs. “Sorghum can be ratooned (harvesting by cutting only the top portion of the plant and letting it grow again for another cropping season) for three cropping seasons. Sorghum has a similar protein content to corn. But unlike corn, sorghum is more drought tolerant. It also requires less labor,” Ecunar said.
Mulberries are also propagated around the vicinity through cuttings. Ecunar also constructed ponds to produce duckweed and azolla. These are cheap protein sources and easy to reproduce. Duckweed and azolla are fed as an additional supplement equal to 20 percent of the hogs’ recommended daily feeding requirement to attain their ideal weight faster.
Ecunar’s first clients are his friends, relatives, and folks within the locality. “I feel uncomfortable at first. But in business, if you have a goal, agripreneurs should not feel embarrassed when offering your products to customers,” he stated.
His products are live pigs sold in live weight. He also hires a professional butcher to slaughter the pigs and sell retail pork. To ensure that all the slaughtered meat will be sold immediately, he pre-sells it by posting on social media or contacting his regulars. Free delivery is also an enticing additional service that can be offered to increase the number of customers.
Social media is a handy tool in marketing his products. It widens the market of his business and promotes referrals. Ecuinar found most of his bulk buyers and regulars online.
The key is to maintain good-quality products. He does not sell pigs weighing less than 90 kilograms (live weight). The back fat thickness of the pork he sells is thin, and the meat is lean, which are desirable traits that most customers look for. This ensures that the customers are happy and satisfied with their purchase.
Ecunar also partnered with the local government unit and the regional office of the Department of Agriculture (DA). Being a partner of the LGU and DA, Ecunar is regularly invited to trade fairs where they can showcase their products. Vacuum-sealed fresh pork and pre-marinated pork are some of the products they offer during these trade fairs.
There is a great local demand for high-quality backyard pork. The need for pork is always here to stay. But Ecunar is limited by the amount of pork he produces with the production area that he has. He plans to double his production by adding 20 more heads.
Ecunar hopes that their farm can be an ATI learning site to help more of the youth establish their own swine production business. He is currently the president of the Young Farmers Club of the Philippines, Inc. – Zambales Chapter, where he helps the youth in Zambales with their business.
Photos courtesy of Rico Ecunar