Raising pigs on pot raises eyebrows
By STEVE BROWN
SNOHOMISH, Wash. -- Jeremy and Susannah Gross are amused by reactions they've heard to their pigs' nutrition program, which includes marijuana leftovers and mash from making vodka.
"Some folks on Facebook have said we're raising our animals on drugs and booze," Susannah Gross said. "I have to laugh."
What began as an experiment in flavor has become a sensation revolving around Bucking Boar Farm. The Grosses have heard all the marijuana-related jokes, and they're not above joining in, lovingly referring to their "pot pigs."
Mostly, though, they are playing it straight. It's a business, after all.
The Bucking Boar is not an organic farm, but the Grosses departed from the conventional path in January 2012, when they teamed up with Al and Mo Heck, who operate a nearby vodka distillery, Project V.
The Hecks mill wheat from their family's farm and cook up what Mo Heck called "bad hefeweizen." The yeast eats all the sugars to start the vodka. The remaining mash is 8 percent protein.
After nutrition tests on the mash, the Grosses blended it with a custom mix grain to balance it, "and it's superior to what we were getting before," Susannah Gross said.
The farmers haul the mash away for the distiller, she said. As a result, "It cut our feed bill down to a third of the cost."
Jeremy Gross said he and butcher William von Schneidau at BB Ranch then cooked up the idea of including the waste products from medicinal marijuana along the lines of what worked so well with the vodka mash.
Matt McAlman, who owns Top Shelf Organic, a commercial marijuana dispensary delivery service in Seattle, started donating the byproduct to Bucking Boar.
"We're working with multiple growing co-ops around the city, getting others in the industry to donate," he said. "It's a good, green step forward. It uses 100 percent of the plant; otherwise they'd have to compost or burn it. It helps everybody, and it makes the pigs healthier."
He said what cannabis remains after processing blocks the stress hormone in "every animal on Earth."
"(The processors) take 98 percent of the THC (tetrahydracannabinol) out and put it into pill form for people who don't want to smoke," Jeremy Gross said. "What's left still has some stress-relieving and blood-pressure-reducing qualities."
The addition of the ground-up marijuana roots, stems and fan leaves to the ration has had little effect on the pigs, he said, adding that all they do is sleep and eat anyway.
McAlman said in the first trial, comparing two pigs with otherwise identical rations, the one also consuming the pot byproduct went to market 20 pounds heavier.
The pasture-raised pigs' meat is red and laced with fat, Jeremy Gross said, instead of "a gray piece of meat with a big slab of fat on the side. You don't need a lot of salt and pepper to get it down your throat."
The addition of the marijuana makes the meat more savory, he said, "a bit of an alfalfa flavor, but not gamy."
"It tastes like the best pork chop you've ever had," McAlman said.
For the Grosses, like most farmers, an off-farm job helps pay the bills. Jeremy Gross works 40 to 50 hours a week doing sheet-metal construction in Seattle. "There's no money in it (the farming), so you've really gotta like it," he said.
The Grosses themselves don't use marijuana -- "That's far behind us," he said. "But I want to be up front of it. I'm researching the qualities of the cannabinoids, thinking they might improve the handling of farm animals, especially in transport."