Real pastured pork producers
Photo of Michael and Alex Hicks at Extraordinary Pork by Alan Benson.
Less than 5% of the pork raised in Australia comes from genuinely pasture-raised pigs and it's worth checking that the pastured pork you're buying is actually what it says it is.
Unique benefits of pasture-raised, heritage-breed pork:
- Mobile shelters so pigs are frequently moved to fresh pastures providing a more diverse and interesting life experience.
- Larger territories in which to range and express natural instincts.
- The pigs sent to market live their entire lives outside - not just a few weeks.
- Diets augmented by seasonal and location-specific minerals, nutrients, protein and fibre from food foraged in the pastures.
- Slow-growing genetics, lots of exercise, less stress, a varied diet and living outside from birth produces deeper flavoured, sweeter pork.
Food labelling can be quite confusing and sometimes counter-intuitive, particularly the terms used to describe the way livestock are raised. For example, any reasonable person with a basic grasp of the English language would read the terms 'bred free range' or 'outdoor bred pork' and assume that pig was born and lived life free and unfettered, gambolling outside in a field somewhere. Not so.
In 'bred-free range' or 'outdoor bred pork' systems, only the breeding pigs have free access to outside areas, not the pigs that become pork. Their progeny, the pigs designated for market sale, are born outside and spend three weeks or so with the breeding sow before being weaned and placed inside eco shelters until they're ready for market. So the pork from these pigs is born or 'bred' outdoors but lives at least 80% of it's life indoors. The advantage of this enclosed system to the farmer is greater control, scale, speed to market and product predictability. But the pig itself is disconnected from the landscape.
By contrast, the term 'pasture-raised' means that all pigs (breeding sows and boars, piglets, weaners, the lot) live outside, free to range and forage on, um, pasture - or woodland or whatever natural terrain is available and suitable.
Farmers choosing to pasture raise livestock are also invariably farming according to regenerative principles - applying practices designed to restore degraded soil biodiversity and rebuild organic matter, thereby drawing down carbon and retaining water in the soil. Improved soil health promotes universal resilience and fertility and offers all living things in the landscape, including the pigs, the opportunity to reach their genetic potential.
Compared to intensive farming, this approach is labour-intensive and requires the farmer to pay close attention to and become expert in reading the entire landscape. For example, in regenerative systems, animal shelters are mobile and livestock are frequently and regularly moved to fresh territory to allow the landscape to recover and keep the animals healthy. Stock levels are determined by the landscape and what it can sustainably carry without baring the earth. If the season is tough, the farmer de-stocks because the priority is soil and animal health, not volume at any cost.
So there's a big difference between an 'outdoor bred' pig and a 'pasture-raised' pig and it's not for everyone.
But if you're a well-intentioned consumer wanting to spend your money on products that match your value system, it can be quite tricky to unpack the marketing hype and get to the truth.
Terms like 'pastured', 'grass-fed', 'sustainable', 'natural', 'free range', 'goodness', 'nutritious', 'animal welfare' and 'organic' are seductive but largely meaningless unless they're grounded in substantiated facts.
Take, for example, the award-winning Berkshire/Landrace pigs raised by pig farmer, John Singh at his piggery near Byron Bay. Mr Singh has successfully run a shed-based operation for many years and sells his pigs to a number of butchers across the Eastern states. He describes his product, Byron Bay Pork, as 'All Natural Pure Pork, HGP Free, Antibiotic Free, Heritage Breed', all of which appears to be factually correct.
As you can see from this photo of Mr Singh with his pigs from 'The Land' newspaper in May 2020, the pigs are housed in fixed eco shelters and Mr Singh makes no claim to do otherwise.
Which makes it even more curious that, locally, the pork from Mr Singh's pigs is currently being marketed with the following descriptors.
Clearly these pigs are not roaming around on pasture.
What does this actually mean? Is there such a thing as 'unnaturally' grown? Is there a secret laboratory where artificial, 'unnatural' pig facsimiles are being raised in petri dishes?
"...the result of a unique and regenerative existence"
Mr Singh's shed is infinitely preferable to a conventional, intensive, concrete shed. But anyone who can keep a straight face and maintain that it offers 'a unique and regenerative existence' should immediately go into either politics or comedy. A fine future awaits them.
If you think you're being told porkies about the 'pastured' pork on offer, we recommend asking a few specific questions.
- Where is the farm these pigs came from?
- Are the sheds fixed or mobile?
- Are the herds moved to fresh pasture regularly?
- Where can I see photos of the pigs on this farm?
If the product is the real deal then the person selling it to you will enthusiastically answer your questions and much more besides.
Pasture-raised pork from regeneratively-managed farms
Naturally, we'll take this opportunity to crow about the whole, genuinely pasture-raised, heritage breed pigs we source from regeneratively-managed farms. A few of them are Delicious Produce Award Gold Medallists and all are producing excellent pork and doing valuable work to improve the landscape.
In addition, they are all open and transparent about their management practice and welcome any opportunity to explain what, how and why they farm as they do.
- Bundarra Berkshires, Barham, NSW - Berkshires
- Extraordinary Pork, Eumungerie, NSW - Berkshires
- McIvor Farm Foods, Tooborac, Vic - Berkshires
- Near River Produce, Hollisdale, NSW - Berkshires
- Pillar Rock pastured pork, Binaway, NSW - mixed breeds
- OxHill Organics pigs, Wauchope, NSW - Tamworth
- Saulsbury Berkshire pigs, Frogmore, NSW - Berkshire
- Spring Grove, Casino - English Large Blacks
- Stockinpiggle, Stockinbingle, NSW - Hampshires
- Wallendbeen Park, Wallendbeen, NSW - Berkshire/Duroc
Below are some photos from these farms. From the top: Stockinpiggle piglets (photo by Jason), Oxhill Farm herd, Bundarra piglets (photo by Bundarra), Saulsbury Berkshire boar and young pigs at Wallendbeen Park.
Have a lovely week.