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Pastured Pigs — A Primer

Raising livestock on pasture isn’t new, but with the advent of confine­ment livestock operations and the industrialization of meat production, chickens, cows and pigs were moved inside and shut off from the natural world. Feed, water, pharmaceuticals and intensively managed animals liv­ing in man-made environments some­how became the norm. Getting these animals back outdoors has become the goal for many farmers, as well as consumers.

Young pigs with portable waterer in a tall pasture system at Fortner Farm in Moravian Falls, North Carolina.

Many issues associated with con­finement — manure management, odors, water pollution, disease due to crowded conditions — are the result of too many animals and not enough space. Likewise, managing livestock on pasture means respecting the limits of the land, understanding the ani­mals’ natural behaviors and properly managing both.

“As with any other livestock, out­door pigs, when not appropriately managed, can elicit damage to their environment,” said Silvana Pietrose­moli, research associate, North Caroli­na State University, Alternative Swine Research and Extension Project.

Pigs root in the soil, and this natu­ral behavior is often maligned as the reason pigs aren’t able to be pastured successfully. But rooting behavior is controllable and can be beneficial to pastures, too. Wallowing is another pig behavior which can have detri­mental environmental consequences. Soil compaction is another concern, and pigs produce a lot of manure. Continue Reading →

Marketing & Selling Pastured Pork

Raising pigs on pasture is wonderfully rewarding work, but it will not lead to a viable farm enterprise unless we take the time to develop our marketing program for effectively selling pastured pork. In this article I share some key points and tips I have gleaned in five years of pork production.

Before you start marketing your pork to potential customers, it may be worth your time to go through the logistic hurdles that ensure that your pork can be USDA approved: the time, energy and money you invest in this can give you access to the entire U.S. market. This was the first hurdle that I tackled this spring in order to open up my market to every direct consumer interested in buying my pork.

To be honest, I would rather be harvesting my pigs on my farm, as I believe that on-farm slaughter leads to a more humane and peaceful ending for my pigs. The problem with this method is that it doesn’t allow you to legally sell cuts of meat to off-farm customers, such as restaurants, grocery stores or families wanting certain cuts of pork. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Dirt Hog

The book Dirt Hog, by Kelly Klober, is a comprehensive manual on raising hogs the natural way includes sections on housing and fencing, selection and breeding, herd maintenance, feeds and feeding, marketing and more.

The excerpt below details some advice for best hog care, and dispels a few common myths.

Copyright 2007, softcover, 320 pages.

Continue Reading →

Pigs on Pasture: Water & Shelter

Appropriate shelter and access to clean water are critical aspects of survival for humans and animals alike. Shelter is where an animal feels the absence of stress. Every animal needs a certain level of safety and security to go about the business of living: freedom from stress allows them to comfortably eat, drink, procreate, sleep, as well as raise the next generation in safety.

We humans have become experts at creating extensively complex and secure shelters for ourselves that cater to our every physical whim. In confinement-type farming situations a similar mentality prevails; the designers of these systems try to minimize the physical stresses in order to maximize growth with minimal space.

Factory farming has been very successful at creating animal warehouses that meet the minimum needs of the animal without addressing the other aspects of holistic animal health. Like employees in a corporate system, animals have become cogs in a well-oiled machine that pumps out meat by the ton. As referenced in the animated short film The Meatrix, it is time to take the red pill and understand that this paradigm is not the future of farming. Continue Reading →

Stockmanship: 7 Lessons for Success

Pigs raised outdoors.

That highlights lesson one of my continuing life course of study in stockmanship. It is, simply, go out and go out often to look at, listen to and really study the animals in your charge.

I was raised in a house full of books and given a pretty broad view of my world from the seat of an old Studebaker pickup, atop many a sale barn gate, and perched on straw bales at livestock shows and breeder auctions. Dad began and ended each day with the stock, and I believe he could eventually spot one just when it was starting to get sick.

1. Observation

Thirty minutes just before full light and just before sunset are optimal times to walk among the creatures in your care. During those times they are generally more closely grouped, are settling in or rising up from a night of rest and are more easily approached for closer examination. These are also times when livestock are more vulnerable to predation.

I find much benefit in watching hogs rise up and come off of their beds. It is at that moment that they will demonstrate the earliest signs of lameness, their feet and legs are most observable, and they will often then demonstrate early respiratory ill precursors in the form of coughing, sniffling and/or labored breathing. Those last animals off of the beds and slow movers should be noted for further observation.

Continue Reading →

Pigs on Probiotics

Probiotics may help fight antimicrobial resistance.

Piglets fed probiotic Enterococcus faecium showed reduced numbers of potentially pathogenic Escherichia coli strains in their intestines, according to a team of German researchers. The research is important, because in 2006 the European Union prohibited the feeding of antibiotics to livestock as growth promoters. Therefore, the research team sought to investigate whether probiotics could substitute for antibiotics, by reducing pathogen populations in the intestines, says Carmen Bednorz of Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany. The study was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Antimicrobials are thought to promote growth in industrially grown livestock because without them, the rationale goes, in such close quarters, a surfeit of pathogens would slow growth. “Our data suggest that the feeding of probiotics could substitute for antimicrobials as growth promoters,” says Bednorz. “This could help to reduce the burden of antimicrobial resistance.

This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.