We raise pigs on pasture because it is healthier for the pigs, healthier for the land, and produces a higher quality meat. Van Noble Farm has about 25 acres of wide open fields that have long been used for beef grazing and cutting hay from because the soil does not tend to drain well. We are making progress on extending livestock fencing across many of the fields and into the woods so that it will be possible to rotate the herd into fresh pasture more regularly during the season.
Pigs do not get a significant amount of protein from grazing on pasture because they cannot digest cellulose, unlike ruminants such as cows, sheep, goats, and horses. All pigs require a significant amount of freely available protein, typically in the form of a milled grain, that has to be eaten daily to grow and thrive. This is why it is easy for a farmer to want to simply confine hogs for the duration of their lives. However hogs do receive some protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals from having access to grass to forage on and dirt to root in. And aside from the nutritional benefits, we believe that this is just the right way to raise the animals that we are going to eat.
All of our pigs eat exclusively non-GMO or organic grains. Many people believe that there are health concerns from consuming an organism, animal or plant, that has had its genes manipulated in certain ways. However we continue to feed non-GMO grains primarily because of the farming practice of using "RoundUp Ready" corn and soybeans. These two crops tend to make up a substantial portion of pig feeds and most other livestock feeds, and we do not want to support the continued use of glysophate (the active chemical in RoundUp), or 2,4-D (another herbicide used with GMO crops). These chemicals are known to cause cancers and birth defects for those who work and live near them. Furthermore we believe it is important to not support the corporate model to agriculture that Monsanto has driven.
One of the most elegant aspects of raising pigs is being able to serve them the delicious leftover proteins, carbs, fats, and fiber that are the "wastes" of human consumption. Feeding the pigs our food waste from the house kitchen is a cute routine, but when we have so many mouths to feed that really isn't going to cut it. So we look to other local farmer and producers to get bulk volumes of "waste", such as dirty lettuce, squishy root veggies, smelly brewery grains, sticky whey, and apple pumice. We also get waste grain that gets cleaned out of the augers at the local organic mill. We pick up chaff from a coffee roaster to use instead of hay. And we are always on the lookout for new ways to utilize the waste streams that are available in our area.
In 2013, our farm started with a purebred Mule Foot boar and 13 sows. Mule Foot pigs are black pig that notably has uncloven hooves, like a mule, rather than cloven hooves as most pigs have. Similar to other heritage breeds, these pigs are very well suited to handle life on pasture and have high quality, red meat. We strongly believe that the consistent great flavor in our pork comes from the high degree of intramuscular marbling in the breed.