Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.
100% Grass-Fed Pigs?
Sep 05, 2012
100% Grass-fed Pigs?
Our Duroc Cross & Tamworth pigs are pastured from the time they're weaned (approximately six weeks old) until they are taken to the processor. There have been a lot of 100% grass-fed pigs claims out there. And a lot of those claims have been "called out" or disproven as not being 100% grass-fed simply due either to the producer's lack of education or simple dishonesty. I remember when we first started looking into attempting pure unadulterated 100% grass-fed/pastured pigs. We went to some supposedly 100% grass-fed pig producers' websites and saw photos of the farmers feeding the pigs grain on the ground from a bucket!
Our family had raised "pastured" pigs since settling in this country back in 1726. But they had always been supplemented with grain, especially in the long northeast Pennsylvania winters, when forages were not available to graze. But we were determined to find a way to limit the amount of grain required by the pigs to continue to grow and at the same time not jeopardize their health. We weren’t interested in finishing them as soon as possible to make a quick buck by the time they reached maturity (250 lb. by six months of age). If it would take an extra month or two to reach that optimal weight, we were comfortable with that as long as they stayed healthy. We then started looking at other breeds that may be better adjusted to living mostly on grass. It took a while, but we found the Tamworth breed was best suited to survive strictly on a 100% forage diet. Due to what we found in the past, we decided to do additional research on this breed to make sure the few success stories we found about the Tamworth breed were not just isolated incidents.
Coincidentally, my wife knew someone through a past work associate that owns Tamworth pigs and has been successful at raising them on a 100% grass-fed diet. I still wasn’t convinced. So we made an appointment to go see them. It was a few hours south of us, but it was still within our state, so I knew we were due to experience close to the same climatic changes and challenges throughout the year. My main concern wasn’t whether they could survive on 100% grass pastures six months out of the year during the forages' normal growing season; I was wondering how they stayed healthy during the winter on either stockpiled forages or stored dry hay.
The Tamworth, in my opinion, is the purest of the modern breeds of swine. They have been improved more largely by selection and care than by the introduction of the blood of other breeds. Fortunately, the class of men who had undertaken the improvement of some of the other breeds, by sacrificing almost everything to an aptitude to fatten, did not undertake the Tamworth; hence the preservation of the length and prolificacy of the breed. For a number of years previous to 1870, the breed received comparatively little attention. About that time, the bacon curers opened a campaign against the then fashionable short, fat and heavy-shouldered pigs, which they found quite unsuitable for the production of streaked side meat, for which the demand was constantly increasing. The Tamworth then came into prominence as an improver of some of the other breeds, in which capacity it was a decided success owing to its long established habit of converting its food into lean meat. Tamworth pigs are especially hardy and tolerate our harsh winters quite well. They are known for their vigorous rooting ability and ability to reclaim brushland for use as pasture and hay production. The Tamworth originated in Ireland, where they were called "the Irish Grazer." Around the year 1812, it is said, Sir Robert Peel, being impressed with their characteristics, imported some of them and started to breed them on his estate at Tamworth, England. They have been bred quite extensively ever since they were imported into that country.
Unfortunately, the last paragraph you read was about all the information I could find online about the Tamworth breed. But have no fear: If you're interested in additional information about these potentially promising pastured pigs, I will keep you updated about our progress in raising 100% grass-fed pigs! If you or someone you know has experience with the Tamworth breed or another breed of purely pastured pigs, please share your experiences with all of us. Thanks in advance, and stay tuned for additional information as it becomes available. We have another litter due Oct. 4!