So let's talk about pigs on pasture...
I know, I know, not exactly the hard hitting commentary that you would expect on a blog with such a pretentious title, but hey, I need to start somewhere. I thought that I would write about something neutral before I clamber up on my soapbox and start hurling down profound, unshakeable opinion that stimulates national discussion and shapes public policy...but stay tuned. We'll get there soon.
Today it's about pasture. And yes, I know those aren't pigs. Read on.
Really, since at least part of the vision of this blog is to explain the production practices I use at Rettland Farm and the thought processes behind them, we're right on track here.
Getting pigs on pasture has been on my mind since I started raising pigs for direct sale. I think the desire to get them out of the barn and into a more natural setting comes from a couple of different places.
First, pigs on pasture is 180 degrees from where the conventional pork industry is today, with gestation crates, concrete slatted floors and totally enclosed steel buildings. So doing the exact opposite of the Big Boys has an incredible appeal to me, given their image problems and lackluster product appeal.
Second, I have become intrigued with the concept of terroir, the effect that the conditions in which a food is produced have upon it's taste. Terroir is usually associated with wine, and it has recently been proposed by a local culinary expert that artisanal cheeses showcase the phenomena of terroir more than any other food, besides wine. Sounds good to me--I'll accept his well informed opinion as my own.
But how about meat? Does a pork chop from a pig who ate green grass and plants for the majority of his lifetime taste different (better?) than one derived from a pig raised on grains? I'm thinking it probably does. (Stay tuned for future posts on this very subject.)
Third, the evidence is pretty solid that meat and dairy products from animals whose diets are firmly based in pastures are very different from their conventional counterparts in the nutrient content of their meat, both in good stuff and bad stuff. Things like CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a proven cancer fighter, and Omega-3 fatty acids, shown to improve everything from hearts to cognitive abilities, are both found at higher levels in grass fed animal products. So why wouldn't animal agriculture benefit from growing products packed with more of these desirables? Could pork from pastured pigs lose some of the negative stereotypes that commercial pork has received with regards to "healthy eating"? Maybe.
But probably the biggest reason for wanting to get pigs on pasture is the satisfaction it gives me. It's a rush folks, plain and simple. I can't describe what it feels like to see a group of animals (pigs or otherwise) moving across a green pasture en masse, heads down, grazing. I can't describe how it feels to look at a grazing animal and know that you are doing the absolute best job you can to care for that animal by letting it display natural behaviors and instincts on green grass. I can't describe the confidence I feel about my chosen profession when I get to experience these simple scenes. Honestly, there are some days when observing these things, if only for just a minute, is all it takes to make the day seem worthwhile.
This officially concludes the touchy-feely portion of today's post.
So now you know some of the "why" regarding pastured pigs. In future posts, I'll start to explain the "how" of our specific grazing system for pigs. Check back often!