Truth and Facts

Why doesn’t free range breeding require farrowing crates or sow stalls?

It seems that farrowing crates were introduced to protect the piglets from being crushed by their mum when she lays down.  The farrowing crate keeps the sow in a laying down position in a separate area to the piglets, and the piglets access the sows teats thru bars. There is no natural mothering in this system, it is purely about the piglets accessing the milk and growing. No care is given to the mental state of the piglets or the sow. The sow is unable to raise her piglets with care, the only access she has to them is lying down on concrete.No telling off a cheeky piglet, teaching them to dig or protecting them from a predator.

A sow stall is a small concrete area with metal bars that a sow lives in by herself whilst pregnant. She can only face one way and she can’t turn around, there isn’t enough room. On our free range farm, our sows live in a breeding herd paddock with other sows and our boar, Chipper.

Sows love stimulation and are very social in groups. When Farmer Jo walks into their paddock, they all come over to suss out what is happening and to get a scratch and maybe a rub on the belly if they lie down. They have a pecking order and this is important for them to know their place in the world. How can they experience all of this facing one way in a concrete and metal barren world?

Pigs have active minds and to be confined to a dull and unstimulating environment would be like us being in jail. No colour, no sense of being alive. When our sows are almost ready for birth, they are moved into their own private farrowing paddock with a nice big shelter 2.5 x 3m in size, with verandah the same size for extra weather protection. Inside each pen there is a creep area, which is a protected area the piglets can get into but the sow can’t. This is so they are safe when the sow lies down or can be used as a safe haven for them to snuggle and sleep in a pile. Generally the piglets don't use them though, as the shelters are large enough for the piglets to pile together and mum to sleep seperately with a large amount of room in between. Every litter behaves in it's own way and we like providing plenty of options so the pigs can choose their sleeping arrangements! We don't lock the sows in at all, as most are sensible enough to farrow their babies in the shelter. We have a removable board on the front of the shelter so we can make the shelter warmer for winter or allow more air flow for summer.

On our free range farm we don’t require any crates or stalls, because we don’t need them and we don’t believe the cruelty they enact on the sows and piglets justifies them. Piglets are still squashed when farrowing crates are used, and whilst we are learning what makes a sow careful with her piglets, we are prepared to work with our management of the delicate period after the piglets are born just to keep the sows and piglets together as mother nature intended.

What is the difference between pork from a pasture-based range farm and industrial farm?

Where do we start? Our free range pork is darker in colour with a more even blend of fat – meat ratio. It is common sense to realise that as our free range pigs are running around on hills, they build muscle, which develops into juicy, tender pork. Our pork doesn’t dry out when you cook it! It is still relatively lean in fat quantities, with just enough fat to add flavour. Not that you need the fat to add flavour! True free range pork has an amazing taste and we highly recommend trying some to compare for yourself.

We started this business to help save the pigs, and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meat, which we previously had no experience with. Pork flavour is very influenced by the pigs diet, which is why some farmers try and feed a lot of fruit to their pigs, to try and add that ‘flavour’ to the pork. Whilst we don’t follow those methods, in comparison to commercially farmed pigs, our pigs have a more varied diet. Besides a supplimentary grain mix to provide important proteins to the pigs diet, this also includes grass, dirt, bark, leaves, roots and other natural plant material or matter found in the soil. We also grow and crop our own hay and feed this to the pigs over winter. It all adds up to give the pork that special something.

Why do products produced from a free range farm cost more than what you can buy in the supermarket?

We know our free range pork costs more than supermarket pork. It costs a lot to produce free range pigs, and by that we mean the land we need to farm them. We rotate quite regularly so that there is lots of grass for the pigs to eat and thus the pigs only live in each paddock for a set amount of time. This is all variable to the season and how much grass is left for the pigs to eat. Farming free range is very reliant on the weather, and so you have to be very adaptable to what nature provides and how your farm reacts to this. When we move the pigs to a fresh paddock we rest the old one for six-eight months. Paddock rotations are very important to preserve ground cover, pasture regrowth and have fresh grass available for the pigs to eat. You'd be surprised how much grass pigs eat!

Happy Valley Free Range pigs take five-six months to produce, unlike commercially grown pigs (three to four months). Our pigs aren’t fed growth hormones and this is why they take up to six months to grow to size. But this does mean that they grow naturally and develop naturally, which keeps the meat nutritious and wholesome….. so much better for you.