Raising Pastured Hogs
Down at Wholesome Valley Farm the hogs we raise live most of their lives outside. Pasture raised pigs are allowed to root in the woods and pasture in the hunt for insects, nuts, and tubers. This allows our pigs to act like hogs (tear up the ground and make a mess!) and tillers that aerate and fertilize the fields and pastures.
Berkshires and Red Wattle are the breeds we raise. Both are prized for their intra-muscular marbling, long loins and bellies, and good adaptability to pasture raised systems. And of course taste. Berkshire pigs are a heritage breed originally bred in England. Red Wattle pigs were bred in the United States and are currently on the threatened list of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
Piglets stay with Mom and transition to her diet of non-gmo grain until they reach about 40 or 50 lbs. Then they are ready to move to bigger pastures for rotation. On pasture hogs are provided with water, shelter and feed. They are moved weekly to allow them access to new pasture.
In 7 months, the hogs reach a weight of approximately 275 lbs. It takes approximately 700 lbs of feed to get them there. Pasture raising pigs is a longer process then confinement raised pigs. Diet, exercise and breed characteristics play a role in how long it takes for pigs to reach market weight. Grain fed pigs raised in confinement usually reach market weight by 6 months. When you calculate in the farmer’s time, investment in land and equipment, etc, the final cost of a finished hog is around $400.
Raising Grass-Fed Beef
The American Grassfed Association set the standard for grass fed beef. To be considered grass fed, animals must be fed only grass from weaning to harvesting, raised on pasture and not confinement or feedlots, and never treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.
We source our grass-fed beef from small beef farmers throughout the region as well as from our herd at Wholesome Valley Farm. Cows are bred once a year and have a nine month gestation period. Cows typically give birth to one calf in the spring or fall. Depending on the farm calves are weaned between 6 to 8 months. By this time the calves are able to get most of their nutrients from grass and are around 500 lbs.
With rotational grazing it is best to move the cows when they have eaten 50% of the available forage. A cow and calf pair will need 1.5 to 2 acres to eat for a year. Comparatively 25 to 35 hogs can live on 1 acre. In a typical setup with pastures broken up into smaller parcels the herd will need to be moved at least once a day. Rotational grazing reduces compaction and overgrazing on pastures and keeps cows healthier with a constant supply of fresh grass. In the winter when grass is not available, cows are fed hay (grass that was cut and sun dried in the peak of summer).
Typical market weight for a beef cow is 1,000 to 1,200 lbs. The highest quality meat comes from cows younger than 36 months. Depending on the cow it can take 12 to 18 months (or longer) after weaning to reach market weight. Two years is the goal but weather, breed type, overwintering, quality of grass and hay, and the length of the pasture growing season all play a role in the weight gain of the animal. Grass fed beef takes longer to produce, is more labor intensive, and requires more land than grain finished cows.