Joel and pigs "on pasture" (courtesy of Jessica Reeder)
Pastured pork is a popular topic these days; and there are a lot of people who are saying a lot of things about raising pork on pasture. Over the next few days I'm going to talk about some of the videos that are out there from various farmers.
The first video I'm going to talk about is from Joel Salatin, who is a very famous farmer over in Virginia. He's outspoken and has spent years talking about agriculture. You can see the polyface farms website here.
Executive summary: Joels pigs are fed a pretty standard corn-and-soybean feed mix that Joel purchases off the farm. Joel also purchase the pigs themselves off his farm. His involvement in pigs is to raise raise them from wean to finish. While they do have access to green stuff at some point during their lives, they spend a big part of their lives in small pens on dirt. Even when they are on "pasture" they are provided free-choice feed at all times. The amount of feed value the pigs get on pasture is not clear. Joel does not use the word "pastured" on his website, preferring "pigerator pork".
The first video is Polyface: Piggies
00:00 These are 40-50 pound pigs, with a few 60-70lb pigs in there as well.
00:05: Notice the large grain feeder in the left corner of the pen, and the floor of the pen. This pen is providing no nutrition for the pigs at all; all of their food is coming in the form of some sort of feed put in the feeder.
00:06: The intern mentions that they'll be put out to pasture "when they get bigger" -- not clear when that is.
Looking at the panels, this pen is 20x16, and there are approximately 30 pigs in that space. Each pig is given approximately 10 square feet of space.
01:38 you can see a second pig pen, with another large feeder, again on dirt. That pen is smaller; 10x20 or so, and the stocking rate is similar.
Now this guy is famous for his pastured poultry and as a proponent of pastured livestock. He talks a lot about it, but these pigs in this video aren't what I'd consider pastured.
Summary: Pigs are in pens, 10 square feet or so per pen, and fed some sort of prepared feed. Joel has talked about the feed in other areas, it's a standard corn-and-soybean based feed that he purchases from off his farm.
You can get a feel for his "pastured poultry" and another view of his pigs in this video:
00:00 The chicken houses are greenhouse frames with plastic. From his clothes I'm going to assume that this is during cold weather. In warmer weather those hoophouses can get hot enough to kill chickens.
02:54: this is basically what industry calls a "cage free" or "barn raised" chicken egg operation. It's actually pretty similar to how most industry chickens are raised -- here's a picture of what a "factory farm" operation looks like. The factory birds are meat birds, but the basic layout is the same. Feeders and waterers, birds have some floor area they move around on. In the factory farm they're using solid buildings, so it's dark, or maybe it's night.
03:29: You can see a pen of pigs in there. I'm going to guess that the stocking rate is again about 10 square feet of space per pig, there's a big grain feeder. In fact, the more I look at Joel Salatins pig operations, the less pasturing I see.
Here's a video of his pigs "on pasture"
00:06: I count 17 pigs laying along the fenceline next to the feeder. I'd guess these pigs are 150lbs average.
00:10: Note that the ground is bare dirt under the pigs and around the feeder.
00:13: They explain that the pig paddock is 2 acres split into 8 sections, for a 1/4 acre per paddock.
00:27: "they are in here just as long as it takes them to eat that feeder" -- they're not managing the forage, they're filling the feeder. This is contrary to what most people who pasture animals do -- watch the forage available and move the pigs when the forage is exhausted.
A quarter acre is 10,890 square feet, and assuming 17 pigs, that's about 640 square feet per pig. .
summary: The pigs are given a chance to root and forage, but the vast majority of what puts weight on these hogs is in the feeders. It's the standard corn and soybean feed mix Joel has mentioned in the past.
You can see a video of his "eggmobiles" here. This is apparently in the summer. But the take home lesson is that for some portion of the year, even the animals that he's famous for pasturing -- chickens -- are kept in fixed locations under cover.