Dawson Valley Free Range

Dawson Valley Free Range

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Free Range Pastured Pork Vs Conventional Pork

I recently had someone ask the question “why is your meat more expensive, what’s special about Free Range, because aren’t all pigs out on farms in paddocks?”

Unfortunately not all pig farms are open range style farming likes ours. Usually it’s the older generation that are unaware of how pigs are raised today. Their memories of pigs are when most farms had a few pigs and they were in paddocks or pens and often very bare of grass. These were called pigstys. We had pigs like this when we were kids. A lot of small holdings still raise pigs like this.

We are certified true free range with PROOF and the core values are:

  • All animals* are able to range freely in open fields or paddocks
  • All animals are kept at stocking densities that will ensure access to forage and grazing and; in the case of layer hens, shall not exceed 1,500 per hectare
  • Animals will not be kept in cages, stalls or crates
  • Densely confined production systems and feed lotting is not practiced
  • All animals are able to interact with their herd or flock and to carry out natural behaviours
  • All animals will be protected from predators
  • Animals will be fed to meet their nutritional needs
  • There will be no use of growth promoters
*Exception: very young poultry that are not yet sufficiently feathered
We were originally certified with Humane Choice Society and they have similar values. Australian Pork has a certification for free range also, but  I don't believe that they adhere to the rule about forage as well as these two organisations. Our pigs don't get to roam freely around the farm, we have done extensive fencing to ensure that we can keep different mobs of pigs separate. Pigs are very social creatures, but they really only like the mob that they are in. If the mob is too big, this can cause all sorts of issues with bullying! We usually wean piglets into mobs of between 30 and 50. Any more than this amount causes problems. Our grower pigs are on feed bins so they self feed. However they need to be checked everyday - both food and water. Water is critical especially in hot weather.

Wallows become very important in summer too, and because it's hot they dry out quickly. Some summer days we need to check pigs three times a day!

Sows are fed by hand. We can't use feed bins for sows as it creates too much of a bullying issue with the dominant sows getting all the feed and getting very fat and the less dominant losing condition.

We try to keep the sows in mobs of less than 20 to ensure peace in the mob. When they farrow, we move them to a large pen so that they and their piglets can be monitored better. This is to ensure better welfare outcomes for mum and bubs.

We are constantly (well it seems like it!) building more paddocks to enable us to increase the rotation of our paddocks. At the moment, we don't really have our grazing management correct as we have way too much grass in the paddocks! It would be better if we had smaller paddocks and could graze the grass a little heavier, so some paddock sub-division is planned.

There's 40 pigs in this paddock somewhere!

Then of course at the other end of the spectrum are large intensive sheds. The majority of pork in the shops today are from pigs raised like this. Most of the ham, bacon and small goods are from imported pork, which are all raised in inhumane conditions like in the following photos. The advantage of a shed situation is that they are very automated. The feed delivery systems can be quite High Tech and the right amount of feed for each pig will be delivered. Through the use of scanning software, the managers can monitor when individual pigs are eating to much or too little. Because of automation, the cost to produce a pig are a lot less than what it costs us per pig. Our system is very labour intensive and we are limited to how many numbers we can run due to the amount of labour and land needed. In a shed, the profits per pig are small, but so many more pigs can be managed, that the end profit can be large.

There is another cost caused by intensive farming of pigs, and that is the environmental cost. These systems have an enormous amount of effluent that needs to go somewhere.

Below are some pictures that I found on the web. I have been in a few conventional sheds and these are fairly accurate pictures.

This is a Sow Stall - dry sows are put in these and currently the limit is that they are allowed to stay in them for 6 weeks at a time! 1 day is too much.

This is a farrowing crate. I have heard that even with this awful contraption, the death rate of piglets isn't much different to that of free range.

The below picture is also taken off the web and is a free range breeder set up. Notice the lack of pasture? This is what happens when pigs are left in a paddock all the time without any rest. Some of our paddocks do have some bare areas, because pigs are hard on the land, but nothing like this.

So why is our pork more expensive?

Mostly due to the cost of labour and the limits of size and economies of scale, and the cost of infrastructureIt costs a considerable amount more per pig to farm the way we do. Its up to you the consumer. Do you choose a product that supports animal welfare and ethical farming - farming for the health of the animal and the environment, or do you choose one that doesn't.  

Our pork is the only pork in Central Queensland certified with PROOF. We are one of three pig farms that I know of in the CQ that are managed in a True Free Range manner. One of them supplies us with piglets and so doesn't sell direct. The other provides a delivery service. Our pork is available from us at the Yeppoon and Rockhampton markets and Gladstone via delivery.  We are now going to Bundaberg on a monthly basis and are also considering a trip to Emerald by-monthly if we can get enough interest.

Next Markets and Delivery:

Gladstone - TBA - Saturday or Sunday 7/8 April
Bundaberg - Sunday 8th April

Yeppoon - Saturday 14th April
Rockhampton - Sunday 15th April

More dates can be found here.

Emerald - If you are interested in ordering some of our meat, please email dawsonvalleyfr@bigpond.com as soon as possible as I will be taking orders by 7th May for an end of May delivery.