We are very fond of the way we raise pigs at J&L Green Farm! Unlike the cows or chickens, the pigs are born and bred on our farm. This means that they are on our farm from the day they’re born to the day they are harvested. On this page, we wanted to share with you a little bit about what makes our pork so special.
Raising Pigs In the Forest and on Pasture
Since we started our farm in 2009, we have established a repertoire for the way we raise our heritage-breed pigs. We have kept a closed herd for over seven years, breeding our pigs by selecting ones that show certain desirable traits, such as strong mothering instincts and good adaptation to growing and foraging in their natural environment. This careful breeding technique has allowed us to develop a pig that is highly sought after, even among sustainable farmers, many of whom choose to buy piglets from us to raise on their farms. Since the pigs were our first enterprise, we have invested time and resources into developing a seamless process of raising them. Our farm has now grown to be one of the largest outdoor pasture-based farrow to finish farms in the state of Virginia!
After the pigs are born, they stay with their mothers till they are 8 weeks old, then they are weaned. The groups of pigs live on pastures for a few months, moving to a new area about once a week, and then we rotate them in the forest in the last third of their life. They are usually harvested at around 8 months or when they have reached a weight of about 300 lbs. At harvest time we build a corral where the hogs are in the woods and load them onto a trailer. For many pigs this is their first time on a trailer! All our hogs are processed at T & E Meats in Harrisonburg, VA.
Since we can utilize lot of land with pigs that can’t be used for any other agricultural purpose, the pigs can benefit from rotating to a fresh piece of land in the forest or on pasture every 7-10 days. Hence, the land is only touched a maximum of twice a year. The pigs’ favorite spots to forage are in brines and brambles which often have a goldmine of edible goodies hidden in the mess!
What Makes Our Process of Raising Pigs Different
Pigs are naturally very social animals, and they are also highly susceptible to external stress. Conventional farms raise their pigs in confinement; and needless to say, the pigs they raise are stressed, often exhibiting abnormally aggressive behavior. Confined feeding operations contribute to chronically sick pigs, requiring a consistent dose of antibiotics laced into their feed. The overuse of antibiotics contributes to developing antibiotic-resistance pathogens, and can lead to a host of health issues, many of which are discussed in this paper from the scientific magazine Environmental Health Perspectives. The antibiotics double-up as way to fatten the pigs quickly in conjunction with the type of feed which is often comprised of genetically-modified corn and soy, and synthetic nutrients added in. Most sows (mother pigs) in confinement farms live their lives in tiny gestation and farrowing crates. Often so small the sow can’t even turn around. Beneath the barns in which the pigs live are large pits filled with manure, which is drained into giant lagoons that pollute the environment (Union of Concerned Scientists).
The pigs on our farm are a stark contrast in comparison: they lead a stress-free life and are raised together from infancy. They are bred carefully to accentuate traits that are highly compatible with their natural environment. They are never given antibiotics in their feed on a regular basis. Our pigs are fed a natural, sustainable diet of discarded apples from local orchards (August to April), discarded peanuts from regional peanut mills, and GMO-free feed from Sunrise Farms. Since pigs are omnivorous creatures, we often see them foraging for earthworms and grubs, eating roots and grasses in the spring and summer; and in the fall, they are often treating themselves to acorns, walnuts, and hickory nuts in the forest. Also in contrast to conventional farms, we never alter our pigs by clipping teeth, docking tails, adding rings to noses, or ear-notching. We find this unnecessary with our low stress pasture methods; and since our pigs are very well-adapted to their natural environment, they rarely display any aggression.
Benefits of Pasture-Raised Pork
Did you know that most conventional pork is bred to have very lean meat? In response to the (now-debunked) backlash against dietary animal fats, farm animals like poultry and pigs on conventional farms have been bred to highlight unnatural traits like excessive leanness. To counteract the loss in flavor, moisture, and weight, most pork sold in grocery stores has a cocktail of salt brine, nitrates or nitrites, and phosphates injected into the meat. Not only is this deceptive, it also yields a meat product that is significantly lacking in essential nutrients and fatty acids. As with grass-fed beef, the type of food the animal is eating affects the nutritional profile of the meat of the animal. Here are just a few of the benefits of pasture-raised pork, in the context of a balanced diet:
Pastured pigs consume foods with higher omega-3 fatty acids, leading to pork with much better fat quality and a more balanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. For example, this paper from Science Daily shows how feeding acorns to pigs increases their ingestion of omega-3s.
Pasture-raised pork is significantly tastier than conventionally-raised pork! It tastes richer, with the flavor profile changing slightly based on the season in which the pig was slaughtered. Our customers keep coming back and ordering more for the superior flavor alone!
The micronutrients available in pasture-raised pork are a lot more plentiful than in their conventional counterparts: some studies estimate 300% more Vitamin E and 75% more selenium (Ohio State University).
Vitamin D, which a lot of people are deficient in, is found in higher concentrations in the meat of pasture-raised pigs (because of their exposure to sunlight). In fact, the second-highest source of dietary Vitamin D is lard from pastured pigs (Chris Masterjohn, PhD).
Some Delicious Pork Recipes To Try
Easy Ground Pork Stir Fry
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