There are so many reasons to eat pasture raised pork. I'll expand on that in future posts but chances are, if you're here, you get it. You recognize the tremendous health benefits of consuming animals that are raised naturally. We pride ourselves in raising what we feel are the healthiest pigs possible. And they live pretty happy lives with us too, as important to us as the final product.
Today I am sharing with you our pig farming practices. This will give you an idea about how and why we raise these wonderful pigs the way we do. Better yet, come out and see for yourself. We'd love to have you for a tour.
What do they eat?
Did you know that pigs love to eat grass? It's true. When given the opportunity to express their 'pigness' they can thrive on pasture. Also, pigs are not meant to be vegetarians. They love to dig in the dirt and devour any source of protein that they come across. Along with the grass, we have been working hard to naturally improve our soil and vegetation with the use of cover crops. These include rye grass, turnips, clover and collards. These carefully selected crops actually add essential nutrients back into the soil. And the pigs absolutely love them. The healthier our soil and the better our vegetation, the tastier the pork will end up so we expect our products to improve with every passing year.
Along with pasture we feed our pigs a daily (ahem...twice a day) ration of a non-GMO, corn-free, soy-free feed. This feed is chock full of minerals and vitamins that the pigs thrive on. Conventionally raised pigs are fed a diet heavy in GMO corn and soy to get the fat fast. Our hogs are raised on grass and healthy proteins, not pumped full of corn and soy which aren't good for the pigs and in-turn aren't much good for us either. This means our pigs take 10+ months to fully mature. Quality takes time and it's worth waiting for.
Our pigs also enjoy veggie scraps from our kitchen as well as past prime produce from our local farmers market. They absolutely love the veggies and I think it's great to give them a variety of things to snack on. Doesn't that help keep life interesting?
Rotational grazing program
The backbone of our sustainable, regenerative practices here at the farm center on rotational grazing for all species. We rotate our animals to a new, clean area every 1-2 weeks depending on land use. This is the most important thing we do here and honestly, the most time consuming and labor intensive task. But it's definitely worth it.
Rotational grazing helps us naturally avoid parasites by keeping our animals moving to clean pasture often. This ensures that the animals are eating clean grasses while giving the "lived in" areas time to rest.
This system also helps to prevent over-use of our soils. This means that the animals, in this case pigs, are able to till, dig, eat and play in the area but we don't let it get too bare. The grasses and vegetation are able to regenerate some before the animals are in that area again. We've seen overtime that the areas where the pigs were in have come back green, lush and full of vegetation varieties. This is all because of the pigs. They till, aerate, plow and fertilize our soil naturally. Moving them to fresh areas often means that we're spreading the good stuff (poop) evenly across our pastures. The more organic matter we can get into our soils the more the animals will benefit with high quality vegetation.
Another benefit of rotational grazing is to prevent boredom and makes their lives fun! All animals, our pigs especially, love being moved to a new area. They zip around smelling, digging and tasting all the new vegetation. And then they fall asleep in a pile, snoozing away in the sunshine. They are designed to explore, dig, wallow, run and play. Our intensive grazing programs let's them do just that for their entire lives. Happy pigs y'all.
Heritage breeds we love
Our first two pigs were Hampshire/Berkshire crosses. You can see them in some photos on our website. I refer to them as our gateway pigs. We loved raising them and then we were hooked! They are black and white. Known for their fast growth and hybrid vigor, we loved these pigs but found that their light skin made it difficult to manage them in this Texas sun. Basically, they were very prone to getting sunburned in the summer. A great breed but not great for our specific needs.
We've since switched to Red Wattles and Red Wattle/Large Black crosses. The Red Wattle breed was once thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in the wild in north east Texas in the 1970's. This heritage breed is making a comeback and we're so excited to be raising them. You can see in the photo below that they have distinctive "wattles" under their chins. No known purpose but a fun trait of the breed. They are large, healthy, muscular, friendly and fun pigs to work with. This breed does take a bit longer to mature but let me tell you, the wait is worth it. We've been so pleased with the flavor of the Red Wattle.
Show me the piglets!
We're currently starting our own breeding program with a few of our favorite pigs. This will allow us to raise our pigs from birth day to butcher day ourselves. We will have more control over the traits and health of the pigs and can improve our herd overtime. This is a big step for our small farm but I'm hopeful that it will allow us to provide the best pork possible and on a more consistent basis to meet demand. Plus, baby piglets!? Irresistibly adorable. I need some in my life.
I hope that this gives you a good idea of what we do with our our beloved pigs here at the farm. I truly believe that our pigs are able to live out their lives as God intended. Healthy, happy and able to do what He designed them for. If you're interested in meeting our pigs in person please contact us for a tour. And bring carrots. The pigs love carrots.