Monday, January 12, 2009

Pastured pork

I had a fellow drive up today and ask me if I had pastured pork. I was near the front driveway when he asked, and I didn't have to work hard to answer -- I just pointed.

Pastured Pork... what does "pastured" mean?

For my operation, it means and animal that spends the majority of its life on dirt. Foraging and rooting and discovering pig treats that only pigs can find and appreciate. My pigs spend quite a bit of time with their nose in the dirt. We give them full feed, and they can eat as much of it as they'd like, but while they do eat the pig feed, they really like going out and finding their own delicacies.
This handsome fellow is our berkshire herd sire. The first picture in this entry with Andrea is for scale. He's a big fellow, maybe 6 feet long and around 500lbs. As you can see behind him he's got quite a bit of space. He shares this pasture with 8 sows and is a pretty happy fellow most of the time.

Pastured pork taste

When I first started raising pigs I did my own taste test. I purchased the best bacon (read: most costly) from costco, the cheapest bacon I could (from safeway), and then bacon from two farmers at the local farmers market. I cooked strips of each bacon in separate pans, and then cut them into identical pieces. I had 10 people taste test the results.

The unanimous opinion was that the farmers market was better, more satisfying bacon, but one of the two farmers market bacon got nearly unanimous praise. So I contacted the farmer to see what breed of pig it was, and found out that they ran a berkshire/yorkshire cross herd -- so that's what I raise. They do great on pasture, and the bacon and hams and chops are the best I've had. And I'm a dedicated carnivore.

What the pigs eat

Our pigs have access to a pasture area and a wooded area. They seem to like eating the grass roots, and there are particular areas in the woods that they seem to like. I've been wondering if there are truffles there that they're rooting out.

Here the herd of medium sized pigs has chosen an area under the trees and is searching for something.
So that's part of what pasturing is for me. When you raise a pig entirely on feed you get a pig that really doesn't have any chance to have the richer, more interesting flavor of a pig that has been able to choose its diet. My pigs eat quite a bit of grass, and it makes them a bit sweeter and nicer.


Mike said...

How old is your herd sire?

Bruce King said...

The boar is 18 months old at this point. We raised him from a piglet, or actually, from feeder pig size so that we had a chance to work with him when he was small. He's still the animal that I watch most closely when I'm working with the pigs. Even a gentle nudge by the boar is pretty serious.

Sean said...

Do the pigs damage trees roots or bark?

I would guess not since pigs are raised within cork oak groves in Europe.

Bruce King said...

The smaller the area that the pigs are confined in the more impact they'll have on the soil. In our area evergreen tree roots have truffles that grow among them, and pigs find truffles irresistable. So they won't eat the bark, and they can't reach the foliage at some point, but they do eat the roots and given enough time will topple even very large trees. In fact, if you'd like to make it look like you've had a major windstorm, dig holes at the base of the trees you want down and throw grain in the holes. Repeat until the tree falls over.

I watch the pigs impact on the pasture, and when I see them start to root out the sod I move them to another area, unless rooting out the sod is what I'm after. The pictures I"ve shown in pigatiller are of a pasture that I'm going to plant corn in next year. So the more sod they root up and vegetation they eat the better.