EAST MADISON — Eight little pigs now reside at the Somerset County Jail.

Tucked in a shed on open land behind the jail, the Yorkshire pigs will be raised through the summer to help feed the estimated 165 inmates next winter.

“The idea has been brewing for awhile,” Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster said. “We’re always looking at ways to reduce costs.”

Lancaster said corrections Officer Ryan Moore came up with the idea that would provide meat for the jail population while offering some vocational training and outdoor activity for inmates to discourage recidivism. Four or five inmates will be involved in the program once the pigs start maturing.

Inmate Steve Booker, 27, of Skowhegan said he works about two hours a day feeding and watering the pigs and freshening their bedding.

“Every other day I try to give them a little milk,” he said. “It’s really enjoyable; it gets me out of the cell. I always have a security escort with me. Every day I try to fluff the bedding of hay so they can root in it and stay warm.”

The pigs are fed cow’s milk and leftovers from the jail’s mess hall mixed with corn silage from the Williams farm in Anson, Moore said. Hay for the bedding comes from a farm on East Madison Road across from the jail.

“The cow’s milk really packs on the weight,” Moore said. “Grain isn’t necessary; we’re grinding all this for hamburger. We’re not making ham, we’re not making pork chops.”

The 12-by-8-foot pig pen itself is a mobile unit built by inmates using a “pig tractor” model from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The pen will be moved from spot to spot, allowing the swine to turn over the soil underneath with their powerful snouts while fertilizing the land at the same time.

“We want to work at enriching the land that’s down back, so that at some point we can expand on our garden and put the minerals back into the land,” Lancaster said. “If we can do farming organically, everyone is better off.”

Inmates started a 2-acre garden in 2010 to help supplement the jail’s $260,000 food budget. That year they raised about 1,500 pounds of potatoes along with onions, beans and peppers. The garden since has expanded to about 5 acres.

Lancaster said the pigs will be raised to a weight of 250-300 pounds and then butchered in the fall, strictly for bulk sausage.

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

dharlow@centralmaine.com