The Truth About Grass-Fed Pork

When it comes to the world of sustainable farming, the term “grass fed” is often thrown around. But what does it really mean? Is it as straightforward as it sounds? Let’s dive into the details and uncover the truth about grass-fed pork.

Breaking Down the Terminology

Before we delve into the specifics, it’s important to understand the terminology associated with grass-fed meat. When we say “grass fed,” we’re referring to animals that have exclusively consumed grass throughout their entire lives. This means no grain or grain byproducts whatsoever. However, this definition primarily applies to beef and lamb.

What About the Pigs?

Now, you might be wondering if our pigs fall into the category of being grass fed. The answer is a bit more nuanced. While our pigs do graze on plenty of grass and pasture plants, they also receive a non-GMO grain supplement to meet their energy and protein requirements. This supplement ensures their growth and overall well-being.

The Benefits of Properly Raised Pigs

Raising pigs without any supplements is indeed possible, but it comes with its own set of challenges. Without supplementation, pigs tend to grow slowly and are perpetually hungry. Furthermore, the pork from such pigs lacks the exceptional taste that comes from a content and well-nourished pig. On the other hand, cattle and sheep have digestive systems that are well-suited for breaking down coarse feeds like grasses, making it easier to raise them exclusively on grass.

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The Intricacies of the “Grass Fed” Label

When navigating the market for grass-fed meat, it’s crucial to exercise caution. Unfortunately, the term “grass fed” has been co-opted and misused by some unscrupulous vendors looking to take advantage of the trend. To truly ensure that you’re getting legitimate grass-fed meat, there are a few factors to consider.

Rotational Grazing: The Telltale Sign

One of the best indicators of high-quality grass-fed meat is the practice of rotational grazing. Competent farmers who prioritize grass feeding and finishing should be well-versed in this technique. Rotational grazing involves moving cattle to fresh grass at regular intervals. Ideally, in humid climates, like the northeast where we operate, cows should be moved roughly once per day. This ensures that the grazing animals have access to the best quality forage and prevents over-grazing of certain areas. If a farmer doesn’t prioritize regular moves to fresh grass, it raises questions about their commitment to the principles of grass feeding and finishing.

The Role of “Pastured” in the Meat Market

In the realm of smaller, eco-farm enterprises, the term “pastured” is often used, particularly when referring to pigs and poultry. This distinction is made because while these animals do live on pasture, they also receive supplementary feed to meet their nutritional needs. Typically, this feed is grain-based, but some farmers explore alternative options like expired dairy products. It’s worth noting that even though these animals are “pastured,” they cannot be labeled as “grass fed” due to the inclusion of supplementation.

The Difference Between “Pastured” and “Free-Range”

While the terminology may seem similar, there is a significant difference between “pastured” and “free-range” animals. Free-range poultry, for example, may be confined to the inside of a barn, living in their own droppings. In contrast, pastured chickens are enclosed within shelters that are moved daily to provide fresh grass and a clean living environment. This distinction not only affects the animals’ welfare but also impacts the quality of the meat.

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Raising Pigs the Right Way

From an animal welfare perspective, raising pigs on pasture is far superior to keeping them confined inside a barn. Pigs thrive when they have ample space to root around for grubs and tubers, bask in the sun, and seek shade on hot days. At our farm, we rotate our pigs using portable electric fences, but we move them less frequently than our cattle and sheep. By allowing them to stay in each paddock for one to two weeks, we strike a balance between their natural instincts and the preservation of the pasture.

In Summary

When it comes to meat, the terms “grass fed” and “pastured” play a significant role in determining the quality and production practices. Grass-fed meat signifies animals that have consumed grass exclusively, while pastured animals have access to pasture but also receive supplementary feed. It’s important to be mindful of these distinctions and seek out trustworthy farmers who prioritize rotational grazing and ethical practices.

For more information on grass-fed and pastured meat, feel free to visit Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.