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Bringing home the pasture-reared bacon

Blog by Going Whole Hog

Prefer pastured pigs over free-range or conventional caged pigs

Free-range” is a term that is much bandied around these days as many a food lover looks for a better quality protein that is ethically raised. At the same time many farmers eye this more lucrative health conscious market and the phrase can sometimes not meet up to expectations. “Pasture-reared” brings to mind an old-school picture of a farm with animals roaming and foraging freely in a paddock and for pork lovers this would appear to be the healthier and wiser way to go, especially in contrast to eating conventionally farmed pigs.

Before the advent of the modern day confinement system where pigs are kept separated in metal cages that allow for no movement, pasture was an absolute essential for a successful swine operation. In recent years there has been a growing trend amongst farmers in Europe and the US who are opting for pasturing pigs for both welfare reasons and also to supply these niche markets.

In South Africa, 60,000 breeding sows are confined in metal crates with no exercise, a poor diet and are routinely fed antibiotics and growth hormones that filter down to the consumer when we eat pork.


The stresses of modern farming

“Factory farmed pigs live in concrete cells with no outside exposure and no entertainment,” says nutritional therapist, Sara Bilbe. “Pigs are fairly intelligent animals and this lack of stimulation in these cells leads to high stress levels and therefore high illness. A naturally foraging pig would not just be feeding on grain and legumes but insects, grubs, leafy greens and grasses which are all high in omega-3 oils and would change the composition of the pork fat that we eat.”

Factory farmed pigs are often fed cheap soya, corn and grain which the pig’s digestive system can’t handle in such large amounts and this poor diet increases the need for antibiotics as health issues arise. Legally the pig’s feed can contain the hair, skin, blood, intestines and hooves of other dead animals. In light of the ‘mad cow’ disease saga that unfolded some years ago, cows are no longer fed dead cattle indiscriminately, however pigs are often still fed dead pig carcasses and even dead cow carcasses.

Unhappy pigs are also unhealthy pigs

Just like with humans, animals that eat a proper diet and are given room to roam, exercise and play, tend to be healthier than animals that are fed an improper diet, routine-fed antibiotics while dwelling in crowded, stressful conditions. “Pigs are very sensitive animals and when they are stressed and unhappy they release stress hormones – adrenalin and cortisol – just like humans, and you can rest assured you are going to consume a hefty dose of stress hormones in your conventionally-raised bacon,” says nutritional therapist and resident health expert on Health, Nicci Robertson. 

A natural foraging pig stays healthier and is allowed to grow to a natural weight rather than being forced to gain weight at an abnormal rate with growth hormones. Although the pig may grow a bit slower and be leaner than other factory farmed pigs, at the end of the day it’s actually a benefit to the consumer who will be eating meat of a better fat and protein composition without the added hormones and antibiotics.

“Not only that,” adds nutritional therapist and Going Whole Hog researcher,Katherine Tudsbury, “while pasture-reared pork is better for your health, animals, environment and farmer – it also tastes better with a higher nutritional value.Studies suggest that pasture-reared animals have higher levels of nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K and omega-3’s. For a leaner meat, with lower sodium levels and higher levels of B vitamins, consume pork chops.”

A naturally foraging pig feeds on grain, legumes, insects, grubs, leafy greens and grasses which are all high in omega-3 oils and change the composition of the pork fat we eat.


Make a difference through your purchase power

“I do believe that for retailers to start making free range and ethical meats more available to consumers, we as the general public need to have a louder voice and put pressure on these suppliers in order to do so,” says nutritional therapist from Path2Health, Marie Petrelis. “We need to start supporting smaller outlets that make the effort to source wholesome and ethical foods such as local butchers and greengrocers and also place some serious demands on the bigger supermarket chains.”

Nationwide, Pick n’ Pay is stocking “free range pork” at some stores and seems determined to slowly but surely raise the industry standard concerning factory farmed pigs by creating pressure to change some of the harsher cage practices from its suppliers. Woolworths already sells a limited range of free range pork in Gauteng and has expressed interest in stocking pasture-reared pork too in other provinces. As mentioned before, it’s worth looking at the terms used – free range vs. pasture reared – while engaging with the supplier to figure out exactly what conditions the pigs are farmed in.

Those living in Cape Town are fortunate enough to be able to find pasture-rearedcharcuterie (bacon, ham, sausages) at Melissa’s and Checkers already. Other retailers also stocking delicious, happy pork include Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants, Dear Me, Moyo, The Loading Bay, Wellness Warehouse, Spier, Pain de Vie, Gabrielskloof, Four and Twenty, Tamboerswinkel, The Food Barn, The Salmon Bar, to name but a few. You can even go to selected Spars: Eastcliff, Vineyard, Vredehoek, Kloof, Plattekloof, Seapoint, Gateway and De Helderbosch.

So the next time bacon and eggs come to mind or you smack your lips at the thought of a tasty pork chop on the braai, look for pasture-raised pork to not only nurture your own well-being as well as plight of the pig, but to get a more flavourful experience.

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