What is the Big Deal with Pasture/Forest Raised Pork?

Thanks for dropping by again.  It is nice to spend time chatting with you. 

We have had an interesting week on the farm.  The weather is giving us a glimmer of hope that spring is on its way.  It has been slightly above freezing for most of this week.  As the old saying goes;  if March comes in like a lamb it will go out like a lion.  It looks like that just may happen this year.  

We have unofficially started to calve this week.  The cows are not supposed to start calving until the beginning of April, but a couple decided they wanted to come extra early.  Two cows calved, but only one calf is alive.  I hope the rest of the cows will wait until it warms up a lot more before they calve.  

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Pigs have been on my mind a lot this week.  In order to raise the best possible meat we like to re-evaluate our farming practices once in a while.  Doing this allows us to determine if we are balanced in doing what is best for the animals and farm.

Why We Raise Pork

We raise pork because we like to eat all the good things that can come from it.  Things like bacon, hams, pork chops, sausages and the oh so coveted lard.

In the long ago past we would purchase a pig for butchering from a local, large scale, confinement hog operation.  We thought that we were purchasing meat that was healthier than what we were getting in the grocery store because it was local.  What we didn't realize when we first started this was that there was not difference at all.  When we went to pick up an animal for butchering we were allowed to go into the barn to pick out the one we wanted.  This was before "bio-security" was used as an excuse to keep consumers out of the barns. What a sickening experience that was.  There were pens that were absolutely stuffed with pigs.  If they wanted to move around they had to move as a group because there was not enough room to more as individuals.  The unpleasant smell was overpowering.  It is no wonder; they were living in their own feces.  They were in terribly unsanitary conditions.  When we came out of the barn we felt like we would never get that smell out of our nostrils.

When we were cooking this meat it always smelled like a hog ban.  The stench from their terrible living conditions must have permeated through their skin into the meat we were eating.  Every time we would eat this pork Larry would become sick to the stomach.  It actually took us a couple of years to figure out that the sickness was connected with the commercially raised meat.  When we finally made the connection we quit eating pork for quite a few years.

Missing Our Pork!

We missed our pork.  We started to hear about an "old fashioned" way of raising pigs on pasture.  We thought this might be the answer to getting better pork.  So as we quite often do we jumped right into raising our own to see if it would make a difference. I have to tell you, there was such a night and day difference it was almost unbelievable!

Choosing a Breed

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The first mama pigs we purchased were pink pigs from a conventional hog barn.  They did pretty good on our farm, but in the summer they would get sunburned ears so bad even with pasture shelters available.  So we kept searching for a better answer.  We finally found the "Berkshire" pig.  Berkshires are a heritage breed that are well suited to be raised outside on pasture or in the forest.  They are straight black with a white strip down their nose and white feet which means no sunburnt ears.  Overall their attitudes are quite good.  They are gentle and very easy to work with.  They are excellent foragers, utilizing pasture much better than the pigs that have been bred to grow fast in a commercial hog barn. 

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Feeding our heritage pasture/forest raised pigs

Because of this well-adapted foraging ability they can be fed a much more diverse diet thus  consuming far less grain.  They love to use their strong snouts to root for treasures underground.  These tasty treasures include the roots of grass and shrubs.  If we have a pasture that we want to cultivate we can use the pigs for this.  In the forest they will tear up the ground searching for the roots of shrubs like wild rose and bracted honeysuckle.  After we move them out of the forest we can go in and clean up the remaining sticks and plant these areas to productive perennial forages.    Our growing pigs enjoy skimmed milk from our milk cows on a regular basis.  The Berkshires are an extremely cold hardy pig.  In the winter they have access to well bedded shelters, but usually choose to burrow into their hay bales.

When we want to move them from pasture to pasture we just grab a pail of grain then lead them into a new area.  If it is a pasture that is a little farther away we put a little grain in the stock trailer.  They jump right in and we drive them to their new area.  With the use of portable electric fencing we were able to raise our pigs outside on clean pastures.  The fencing allowed us to move them around the farm to fresh, clean pastures.

Enjoying Pasture/Forest Raised Pork

Raising our own heritage, pasture/forest pork allows us to enjoying all the products that can be made with it.  Join us next week as we explore all the yummy things we make with our humanely treated, home-grown, pastured/forest raised, clean pork.

If you have any question please feel free to click the link below.  We will answer you questions to the best of our ability.