Free Range Farming. How to Raise Happy, Healthy Pigs

I don’t expect many of my readers to be avid pig farmers, but I thought it would be interesting to outline a few of the things that are required for optimal pig happiness.

Grass-fed meats have become very trendy and popular of late, but pigs should not be included in this category. Unlike cows, who have multiple stomachs to get the most nutrients out of grass, pigs have only one stomach and require a protein and carbohydrate rich diet to stay healthy. They also consume about 5% of their bodyweight per day; several kilograms of food. Even though they love it, swill is not legally allowed to be fed to pigs any more. There is a high risk of disease transfer from contact with raw meat.

Pigs are naturally social animals, so they should not be kept isolated. A herd of about half a dozen pigs is enough to ensure they stay happy, but more can be included as long as enough space is provided. Pigs need room to run and play. They need to be mentally stimulate them, or else ‘pig vices’ can develop such as tail biting. (See my article on tail docking for more information). Providing a large space where they can dig and forage will ensure boredom is kept at bay and the pigs are well behaved.

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Three little free range pigs

A covered area with straw bedding is essential for the pigs to be able to sleep. They like to sleep together, using the collective body heat to stay warm, so there should be room to accommodate all the pigs at once. Mother sows will also need their own area to nest with their piglets.

None of these requirements seem too outlandish, so it’s a wonder there aren’t more free range farms in Australia. Hopefully this will change in the future if consumers start to be more conscious of their purchasing. Please buy ethical free range pork and contribute to a positive change in the Australian pork industry.

 

– Robin

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Tail Docking and Teeth Clipping. Unnecessary Cruelty.

The stress from factory farming causes unnatural behaviour in pigs. Pigs are intelligent animals that need mental stimulation. So in a cramped environment where there is nothing to do and all they see are other pigs, they develop what are known as ‘pig vices’. They bite one another on the tails. Not for any malicious purpose, just because they’re stressed and it’s something to do. It’s the only thing there is to do. Once this behaviour starts, it spreads quickly and can present risks of infection. So to curb any ‘pig vices’, the factory farms will tail dock and teeth clip.

Tail docking is carried out on piglets without anaesthetic. They are just held still and the tail is cut off with a pair of pliers. A horrifically cruel practice where the farmers carry out the very activity they are seeking to avoid. “Let’s cause a huge amount of pain to this piglet, so there’s no chance of it suffering a little bit of pain later on.” Yeah. That makes sense.

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Look at those cute little tails! Let’s leave them right where they are.

Teeth clipping is even more horrible. Again, without any anaesthetic, they use the same pliers to snip off the piglet’s teeth. Just pause for a moment and consider how horrible that sounds. And I’m totally serious. Just check this NSW government website if you don’t believe me. This is standard operating procedure for pig farms.

The teeth clipping is also supposedly to prevent sow’s teats from being bitten.

You might be thinking that these are necessary procedures because without them the pigs will injure each other. The thing is, these only happen in factory farms. It’s only in this environment where the pigs are so stressed as to resort to negative behaviours like biting each other.

Tail docking and teeth clipping aren’t done in free range and natural pig farms because they don’t need to. Pigs aren’t naturally violent towards each other. They’re social animals.

There’s really no justification for tail docking and teeth clipping. All that is needed to avoid ‘pig vices’ is a better environment for the pigs. Why not solve the overarching problem instead of just adding to it by mutilating the poor animals?

It’s just another reason to choose free range over factory farmed.

Choose free range and help make a change.

 

– Robin

One Simple Trick to get the Best Tasting Pork

Buy free range. It’s been scientifically proven.

That’s all there is to it. This isn’t one of those articles where you have to read for 10 minutes before they tell you the answer to the headline. I’m here to spread a message, not gather ad revenue. Read on if you’re interested. Go out and buy some free range pork if you’re not.

So not only is free range kinder to the animals, it’s also objectively a better quality product. As if we needed any more reasons to by free range. You really have to wonder why it’s not available in the major supermarkets.

Even if big shops haven’t realised it, there are certainly farmers that recognise the merits of farming free range. Some farmers go as far as to line their transport trucks with mattresses in order to ensure that the pigs have the most comfortable, stress-free ride to the slaughterhouse. Happy until the bitter end.

Now I’ve been throwing out wild as yet unsubstantiated claims about better taste. How to prove that? Surely taste is entirely subjective. After all, there is the horrible practice in some Asian countries of torturing animals to death because they believe it improves the taste. Let’s look at this from a scientific perspective. The reason that free range ham, pork and bacon tastes so much better is due to glycogen that is present in the pig’s muscles. Muscle glycogen enhances the texture, flavour and colour of the meat. Hormones that get released due to fright and stress during a pig’s life cause a breakdown of muscle glycogen, lightening the colour of the meat as well as making it more acidic and less flavoursome.

The light coloured meat is more difficult for farmers to sell and is frequently discarded, meaning these animals suffered for nothing!

 

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This is glycogen. No wonder it tastes so good, just look at all those delicious glucose molecules branching out!

A pig raised on a natural diet, and given enough space for it to exercise will result in a better, more natural tasting meat. This is the sort of meat that people were enjoying for thousands of years before factory farming became the norm.

Judge for yourself. Buy some free range pork if you haven’t already and see what a difference it makes. I bet you won’t want to go back.

 

Check out the following links if you need more proof:

 

– Robin

Image credit: Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2).DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762.

 

26 Million Free Range Pigs. So Why Aren’t We Eating Them?

There are more feral pigs in Australia than there are people. Estimates sit at about 26 million pigs, and they’re breeding faster than they can be culled.

Feral pigs exemplify free range. These pigs live off the grid. They’re dangerous, wild animals that cause untold levels of destruction to native animals and the environment. In Queensland alone, feral pigs cause approximately $100 million worth of damage every year to the agricultural industry.

They’re also edible.

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Delicious

There is the potential for a massive meat industry, sitting right at our fingertips. In order to start a pig farm, it costs about $6000 per sow. So if you want 1,000 sows that’s $6 million just to get started. It’ll be a long time before the money is made back, what with raising, feeding and housing all the pigs before slaughtering. All that feral pigs require is a marksman and a bullet.

Now this may sound horrible and inhumane, but in actual fact it’s much more ethical than pig farming. The feral pigs had the best life they could imagine. They got to roam free, mate with whatever pigs they chose, eat whatever and whenever they wanted, then suddenly, without warning, it was over. This is a natural life. This is how predation works in the wild. Keeping pigs in unnatural factory farms is infinitely more cruel than hunting feral pigs.

Not only is it more humane, it solves the problem of environmental damage. This is all around the best option.

This industry does already exist, but it’s not nearly as big as it needs to be. A number of problems need to be overcome for it to expand.

Wild pigs are incredibly aggressive and their tusks are sharp enough to kill a man. They are also intelligent, and they stand still to hide from helicopters that carry hunters.

Trapping is one solution, and one that has proved useful in Florida, the feral pig capital of America. There are companies that will pay good money for live pigs trapped by hunters. They must be sold alive because a USDA inspector must oversee the slaughter for the meat to be legally sold.

If we can create an industry like this in Australia, then people in rural areas, who would be shooting these pigs normally, can start trapping them instead. This will lead to less factory farming, less environmental damage, less native animal extinction, and the growth of a massive export industry. Seems like a pretty good idea right?

 

– Robin

What is Free Range? Nobody knows…

A model code of practice exists for pigs raised indoors in Australia. It specifies that pigs weighing 120kg require less than one square metre each. This is atrocious! Such a tiny space for such a large animal. You wouldn’t keep a kitten confined to such a small area for any length of time.

There aren’t any guidelines for outdoor pigs, which is even more concerning because theoretically farmers could stock them in paddocks even more densely than the indoor pigs and still call them free range.

We as consumers have to blindly trust the labels that are put on pork products, assuming that what we are buying is as humane as we expect. Oftentimes this is not the case. In 2015 the ACCC found a number of Australian companies guilty of making false free range claims on their products. Worse still, some had been doing so for almost 15 years!!!

That was 15 years of us paying a premium for the same unethical product. The term “outdoor bred” now has to include “raised indoors on straw”, but this still makes it seem as though being raised indoors was a nice thing for the pigs.

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A label to look out for

Be careful when you’re shopping for pork and bacon. Make sure you’re getting proper free range from a company that isn’t trying to mislead us. Currently there isn’t really any way to tell from the labels whether the meat is truly free range or not, so I’ve found a few companies that we can trust.

  • Dawson Valley Free Range
  • Happy Valley Free Range Pty Ltd
  • Mayfield Farm Produce

If you buy pork supplied by any of these farms, you can be assured that you’re getting a quality product. We know that free range tastes better than factory farmed, so it’s important to make sure you’re paying the premium for a premium meat.

 

– Robin