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

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.

 

Demand is Up, but Pig Farming is Down?

In the 1960s there were over 50,000 pig farmers in Australia. Now there are fewer than 1,000. What happened to all these farms?

The average herd size used to be fewer than 20 sows. This made it easy for the pigs to be given enough space to move about. Essentially all the pigs were what we would class as free range.

Nowadays the average herd size is 170 sows and up to 97% of all Australian pork comes from factory farms.

Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork Limited says that modern pig farmers needed to “get big or get specialised to survive.”

Pig farming and dairy farming used to be under the same roof. A lot of the waste products from dairy farming, such as whey, could go to feeding pigs. Since then whey has been found to have other, more profitable uses, and so the practice of raising pigs alongside cows slowly disappeared.

Feeding pigs also became more expensive with the banning of swill. Any food waste that could have come into contact with meat is illegal to feed to pigs. Meat and mammalian material can contain viruses such as Foot and Mouth Disease or African Swine Fever. It is believed that an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001 was caused by feeding swill to pigs.

Another problem for farmers is the enormous costs involved in starting and running a pig farm. According to Mr Spencer, it costs about $6000 per sow to start a piggery, not including the costs of council approvals, meeting environmental laws, and labour.

Competition with imports also presents a challenge. A whopping 70 percent of the ham and bacon eaten in Australia is imported. This is due to a number of factors such as agricultural subsides in other countries, trading laws, as well as Australians’ insatiable hunger for pork.

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70% of ham and bacon consumed in Australia is imported

The average Australian consumes about 25 kg of pork products every year and demand is steadily growing at a rate of 182 grams per person, per year.

Look for my article on feral pig consumption if you want to see a possible solution to these problems.

 

– Robin

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

Outdoor Bred is NOT the Answer

pigs-and-sow-free-rangeThe piglets in that picture look pretty happy right? Why shouldn’t that happiness continue for their whole lives? There’s an argument that outdoor bred pork is more cruel than factory farmed. Pigs are intelligent animals with long term memories. After they’re taken and put into pens for the rest of their lives, they would remember what it used to be like. Horrible as it is, at least those born to those conditions would not know any other life. The ones that had that taste of freedom might be suffering even more.

Sow stall free and outdoor bred pork come from pigs that were kept indoors. The terms only describe the way that the mother sow lived, and say nothing of the life that the pig you are eating actually lived. In most cases these pigs were kept in factory farm conditions from the age of four weeks. And yet we pay a premium for this? This pork invariably costs more than factory farmed, but it’s almost the same product. This has to stop. Join me in boycotting these faux free range products.

If you care about animal rights and you want to be ethical, then buy real free range. Pigs deserve good lives. You’re already paying extra for outdoor bred so pay just that tiny bit more and put your money to good use.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook through the links at the right to keep updated, and spread the word to your friends. Make a change! Buy free range!

 

– Robin