Raising Pigs for Pork, Plowing and More

Homegrown hogs can help you make compost and plow new ground — plus, your pastured pork will be some of the best you've ever tasted.

| December 2012/January 2013

As if raising your own Sunday bacon weren’t enough, allow us to outline even more reasons for keeping pigs. The ultimate recyclers, hogs can take kitchen and garden scraps — or just about any edible “waste” — and convert them into healthful, delicious meat, plus nutrient-rich fertilizer. Evolved to root and dig, pigs enthusiastically unearth tasty treasures, plowing and composting as they go about their piggish pleasures. For firsthand experience with a system in which nothing is wasted, try raising pigs.

Until the industrialization of agriculture, pigs were a welcome addition to virtually every farm. Keeping pigs was a way to store essential protein until it was needed. After slaughter, the pork could be preserved without refrigeration when made into ham, bacon and sausage.

In addition to being sources of delicious meat and precious lard, the pigs our ancestors raised were versatile beasts with a multitude of functions. Pig farms near cities were an important way to recycle garbage, and there were systems in place to pick up kitchen waste directly from urban households and move it out to the pig farms. By keeping pigs, modern homesteads can still take advantage of this sustainable porcine power.

Raising Pigs for Pastured Pork

Have you noticed how the “moist and tender” pork from the supermarket these days doesn’t have much actual flavor? Flavor is a function of genetics, diet and time. One of the results of industrialized agriculture has been lean but flavorless pork. Pigs have been bred to grow as fast as possible and to be leaner in response to concerns that fat isn’t good for us. Industrial pigs are fed a “complete” ration that contains no fresh greens or roots of any kind. These rigidly confined pigs are given no room to move around and sometimes not even enough space to lie down.

The result is a highly consistent but bland “other white meat” that is easily overcooked, and is short on pork flavor and texture. In fact, industrial pork is so dry and flavorless that much of it is injected with up to 12 percent salt water to make it “moist and tender” (and to sell consumers 12 percent salt water instead of 100 percent pork!).

Pigs that provide delicious pork can still be found — heritage pig breeds such as those illustrated here, as well as “old-line” strains. These breeds are being maintained by farmers who’ve declined to buy into the industrialized system that keeps fast-growing “new-line” pigs indoors in tiny pens. Raise an old-line or heritage pig breed, and you’ll enjoy low-cost, great-tasting, hormone-free meat, along with a good supply of lard. You can make ham, bacon and sausage, confident they came from animals that were fed well and treated humanely — plus, with your lard, you can whip up the most flavorful baked goods you’ve ever tasted. (See The Lost Art of Cooking With Lard, a review of a new cookbook, Lard: Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.)

12/26/2015 6:18:22 PM

It is incongruous and rather disingenuous that a site calling itself "Mother Earth News" posts an article all about how to use pigs as a commodity, that discusses pigs as nothing more than animals that exist for the convenience of men and women, that discusses the flavoursome qualities of pig flesh. Disgusting. Calling yourselves Mother Earth is misleading and deceptive, and promoting the eating of meat in a world of now 7 billion where raising animals for food consumption is completely unsustainable going forward is highly irresponsible and unintelligent. I have subscribed only to leave this comment but will be unsubscribing immediately afterwards. If your site indeed promotes respect for Mother Earth and all human life then stop encouraging human beings who can only now be considered to be in plague proportions upon this earth to continue the unsustainable consumption of meat. Shame on your site. Wake up.

Sandra Hagan
1/31/2013 3:58:01 PM

This is one of the best articles I've read on raising pigs. I raise two last year and the meat is so exceptional that I may never buy pork from a store again. And they did love to root in their pasture and did turn a pile of compost (hay and bedding from the lambs and goat raised previously! They were a pleasure to work with! Thanks for a well written article!

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