Healthy Pastured Pork
In this section you will note that I have put quotations around the term “pastured pork.” This is because this term is usually used as a euphemism – not many farmers actually allow their pigs to live outside on pasture, but it sounds good! In actuality, the pigs are usually fed GMO grain. While the pigs may be outdoors, it is usually in a feedlot-type operation. They are not healthy, nor are they healthy for you.
In my quest to find the best breed of pig and the right methodology for raising pastured pork I visited numerous farms and drove over 5,000 miles.
In Pennsylvania I found two doctors, a husband/wife team who raise pigs that are a cross of three heritage breeds (Old Berkshire, Old Duroc and Kune Kune), not a breed that a confinement operator raises.Their animals graze on pasture for most of their nutrition. My first impression of their farm with 46 sows (breeding females) out on pasture, grazing like small cows, was that there was no odor.
The first question I ask when I visit a “pastured pork” operation is how many pounds of grain do they feed per pig per day. The aforementioned doctors were quick to answer “one pound per day”.
Most operators do not know the amount of feed they use on a daily basis; they just fill a hopper and the pigs have free access to the feed all the time. When pushed for a number, they usually say 6-10 pounds per pig per day. When a pig is given a choice between grazing for its food or “hogging” it down at a feed trough, it will pick feed trough – complete with GMO grains and antibiotics. Our pigs are fed 2 pounds of non-GMO grain per day and no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Most “pastured pork” operations have created an outdoor feedlot. The pigs do not get their calories from a pasture to any significant extent; they basically live in a mud lot and eat GMO grain. The concept of pasture rotation is not often found and the implementation even less.
Here at Abundant Green Pastures Ranch our pigs are raised in a healthy and holistic manner.
My pigs get 80% of their calories from pasture and 20% from non-GMO grain. Industry standard is 8-10 pounds of GMO grain per day in confinement and on antibiotics. Each of our sows, when farrowing (having babies) have their own pastured paddock, water supply and farrowing hut. Each paddock with a sow and her babies has an automated feeder programmed to provide one pound of feed per pig in the morning and one pound per pig in the afternoon. We use no antibiotics – there is no need for them.
The second question I ask of the farmers I visit is how many sows they have of their own.
One thing I have learned in my extensive research on beef cattle was the importance of genetics, and the same applies to pigs.
How many sows a pastured pork producer has tells me a lot about his genetics. Most so called “pastured pork” operations purchase feeder pigs from a farmer who uses confinement methods and the purchaser of the baby pigs has no control over:
What the mother ate during, before and after her pregnancy and while she was nursing
What type of food the piglets were given prior to sale to the “pastured pig” operator
What the genetic makeup is of both the boar (father) and sow (mother) pig
What type of conditions they were raised in
What antibiotics were given to the boar, sow and piglets, either through injection or in the food
How old they were when they were weaned
Anything else done to them prior to the sale to the so called “pastured pig” operator
As with my cattle, I raise a closed herd (no outside genetics are brought in) of pigs. They too have been carefully selected to flourish by rooting on pasture and tree nuts. We know exactly how much non-GMO grain they are being fed per day by using a calibrated feeding system. Unlike the typical “pastured pork” operation, my pigs are raised on the ranch from birth so I have 100% control over every aspect of their lives. This necessitates the need to castrate the male pigs at about four weeks of age to eliminate “boar taint” in the meat. We have developed a unique trailer to assist in this task in which the baby pigs have access to feed but the larger pigs do not. When the babies are inside eating, we close the door to prevent their escape and set about our task. Needless to say, the females get a pass! Within the confines of the trailer the piglets are easy to catch and do not get upset. We have an operating table and iodine for incisions. A hood is placed over their head and front legs to both constrain them and calm them. The whole procedure takes about 60 seconds from the time caught to release and they run off like nothing happened. Now they graze with their litter mates and we do not have off taste in the males’ meat or unplanned pregnancies.