Country Lore: Raising Grass-fed Pork

According to researchers at the Iowa State University, pigs raised with access to fresh air and pasture are happy pigs who engage in natural play behavior. And healthier, happier pigs produce healthier, better-tasting, grass-fed pork.

| April/May 2008

  • grass fed pork
    Pigs raised with access to sunshine and pasture are healthier and produce tastier meat.
    Photo by George DeVault

  • grass fed pork

What passes for pork in the supermarket these days leaves much — besides taste — to be desired. What is a “ham and water-added product,” anyway?

That’s why we added grass-fed pigs to the product lineup on our small farm in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2006. We sell grass-fed pork, by the whole or half hog, to the growing number of people who are fed up with supermarket pork.

We call it “pigloo pork” because the pigs are sheltered in plastic “igloos” — simple, inexpensive hoop-style greenhouse structures diverted from our vegetable operation. Pigloo pork, our marketing brochure explains, is simply the best, humanely raised pork available anywhere — without the added food miles and wasteful packaging of gourmet companies that ship such meat around the country.

According to research by Iowa State University (ISU), pigs raised inside a “hoop structure” such as our pigloos, are, in a word, happier than pigs raised in confinement on bare, slatted concrete floors over manure pits. Pigs raised in pigloos on deep, soft bedding had far fewer and shorter fights than confinement hogs. There was almost no tail-biting, but there was a lot more “play behavior.”

“Play,” observed the ISU researchers, “is considered a luxury to be performed only when other behavioral needs have been met. Therefore, the expression of play behavior is indicative of good welfare. We judge the welfare of [pigloo] raised pigs to be richer than that of non-bedded confinement-raised pigs.” Our pigs love to play! They play ball, tag, ring-around-the-piggie and hide-and-seek with us and each other in their straw bedding.

Most pigs today eat an unnatural diet of mainly corn. But our grass-fed pigs spend their days browsing grass pasture in the fresh air and sunshine. They eat our overripe or blemished vegetables. Last fall, they “pigged out” on trailer loads of damaged or blemished pumpkins grown by a neighbor, plus the apples from shade-giving trees in their pasture. We also feed them a supplemental ration containing certified organic ground corn, wheat, oats and roasted soybeans. The grain is grown and ground by a nearby “plain” farmer. He fortifies the feed with dashes of fish meal, vitamins, minerals and Lactobacillus.

Henry Baugh
1/10/2009 2:47:31 PM

We live in the middle of a National Game Preserve and raising a garden for use by the family approaches impossible as last year it was a toss of who got to the tomatoes first. The coons and deer made out almost exclusively with everything except the potatoes and some of the squash. I'm determined to change the beneficiaries of my efforts this year by using plants in 2 and 3 liter clear plastic bottles and mostly gardening waist high and closer in to the house. Any ideas? Henry Baugh

9/14/2008 8:49:15 AM

This is a great idea, im currently building a piggery in the Philippines as im hoping to start a life in a country that i can afford to make a difference. (im from the uk). I dont think the Igloos will offer enough heat reflection to keep my pigs cool though. How often do you move the Igloos due to floor damage?

8/12/2008 9:09:23 PM

I am considering raising Mulefood hogs and this "Pigloo" structure looks like a fantastic idea. Is there a chance I might get some information on constructing one? Our operation is going to be tiny just a few pigs to eat and breeding stock to help regain numbers for the breed, so it would not have to be huge. thanks for all the great ideas! PPat Elkhart, IN



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