Berkshire pigs - Free range and rare breed
What makes a free range pig? It is a lot more complicated than most people think and there are very few of us running pigs like this in Australia- less than 1% of the entire nation’s pork is produced using either organic or free range methods which means nearly all the pork you buy comes from intensively raised pigs. Why should this concern you?
Well we firmly believe if you are a meat eater then you should be a responsible one and one who supports a farming system which puts the animal’s welfare as the top priority. Others can explain better than us about the normal methods of pig keeping in Australia and if you would like further details then please click on the link at the bottom of the page.
For us it was a no brainer to keep our pigs outdoors free to roam and behave naturally however, with so few other organic piggeries, there was really no blueprint on how to do it. So for the past six years, through a lot of trial and error we have come up with our own design.
One of the first things we learnt was white or pink pigs; the backbone of the intensive pork industry, are not designed to live outdoors. These pigs are descendents of the Yorkshire pig and for those of you unfamiliar with that northern English county they say it is hot there when it hits 14c. Imagine these creatures in our summer. It can, and does, get to 35 c here in the Avon Valley. Whilst we could keep our white pigs comfortable in the summer it is was not an ideal situation. Four years ago we decided to slowly replace our white pigs for black pigs.
Having looked around we chose the noble Berkshire pig. Not only is it an officially rare species but is also reputed to produce the best tasting pork. The Emperor of Japan will eat none other apparently.
We have come to adore these gentle highly intelligent creatures. All our sows and boars are named and if you care to look at our blog video (coming soon to a screen near you!) you will meet some of them. They are kept together in small groups during mating; stay together, up and including the birth of their piglets, – known as farrowing and then help each other out with the little ones. The young piglets after nearly three months with their mother are then turned out into our paddocks and they then stay with each other until they leave the farm.
In addition to the grazing our pigs are fed a diet of natural grains, some of which is grown on our farm. This is supplemented by hay in summer to aid their digestion. To qualify as certified organic their feed must be at least 95% from certified organic sources.*
Running pigs organically, however, is more than just the food they eat. We have to follow a strict set of rules which govern how many pigs can be kept. These rules govern stocking densities; and other livestock management issues which rule out most of the standard procedures used in the conventional pig industry.
Unlike conventional pig farmers we do not castrate our pigs, nor clip their teeth or their tails. All these invasive procedures are normally done as routine. The reasons behind them are simply put too many pigs in too small an area and you will end up with bullying and fighting. Having happy pigs living in plenty of space and free to carry on their normal behaviour negates the need to do any of these practices.
Pigs are often, sadly, labelled as aggressive. Our experience is very different. We have yet to have an aggressive pig. Even our boars, both of whom weigh more than 200kg, can be moved easily and safely. The key to calm, happy and affectionate animals lies clearly in the way they are treated.
Every day, come hail, heatwave or downpour we are out there feeding and checking on our pigs. They are used to human contact and enjoy our company as we do theirs. They are kept in family groups for most of their lives or when the piglets are old enough to leave their mothers, move on in their small friendship groups until they leave the farm.
Nor are our pigs fed antibiotics or any kind of growth promotor for us natural is best!
We do not castrate our male pigs as it is an invasive surgical procedure (more often carried out without anaesthetic). The reason given in the conventional sector is that meat from uncastrated males will have ‘boar taint’ which is undetected until the meat is cooked. We have yet to come across this phenomenon and we have eaten an awful lot of boar meat!
*PLEASE NOTE due to ongoing shortages of organic grain are pigs are currently out of certification as they currently only reciece 50% of their feed from a certified organic source which is short of the 95% needed to qualify for certified organic - as soon as more certified organic grain becomes available our pigs will be back on the road to certification.
- “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
Sir Winston Churchill