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Natural pig farming v free range

Natural pig farming offers a compelling alternative to free range pig raising systems

When it comes to pig welfare, given the choice between a model natural pig farming system and a model free range system, the pig raising system most welfare conscious farmers would choose, if given land, climate and resources, would be free range. And quite rightly so.

However, in the real world, the choice between natural pig farming system and free range is not so simple. There are complicating factors. Where free range is not a viable option we believe the natural pig farming way of raising pigs is the next best choice. Below we look at some of the main issues and what each system offers in terms of pig welfare.

Availability of land

This is an important consideration as free range pigs need quite an area of land if they are to be raised well. Free range pigs tend to be kept on pasture (grassland). Not only do they eat lots of grass (supplemented by other feed including processed pig food) but they have a huge capacity to plough up the soil with their rooting. To nurture pasture growth and condition pigs need to have rotated access to fields so that pasture is not over-grazed or degraded. This requires access to sufficient land a good pasture/pig management. Sadly, too many free range farms allocate too small a space for the number of pigs they keep, and don’t have sufficient fields to adequately rotate their pigs to enable grass to re-grow. The result? A sterile environment devoid of vegetation that is little of interest to the pigs and offers no fresh vegetation for eating.

Natural Pig Farming does not require a large area of land, or any field rotation. We do believe in feeding pigs large quantities of fresh fodder vegetables either cultivated or cut where it grows naturally in the wild to supplement any processed or agri- business by-product feed materials. Such feed, does not require the vast acres/ hectares needed when keeping free range pigs.

The climate

The other major problem is the amount of rainfall that falls. In wet weather and rainy seasons, fields are apt to get waterlogged and extremely muddy given the pigs enjoyment of rooting. Whilst pigs do enjoy mud (see Pigs need mud not manipulable materials) one big wet muddy field that even with a pigs mud fixation is an uncomfortable place to be – pigs do like dry warm areas too!

Certain countries may be too hot or too cold year round to make free range pig farming a possibility. In other countries, some seasons may be too hot or cold. This makes raising free range is less than practical in many countries.

Natural Pig Farming in contrast can flourish in any climate. The roof keeps both sun and rain off the pigs. In hot climates we have open sided sties that give exposure to the cool breezes. In colder climates, retractable sides may be used to keep out the cold. In addition, the aerobic action of the floor bed ensures an optimum temperature of the sty flooring. When cold the floor bed produces some warmth akin to under floor heating that the pigs can access by burrowing into the floor. In the hot, the mud bath each sty has provides a natural means for the pigs to keep cool.

Nose ringing

Remarkably given that many free range farms are created to provide higher welfare for pigs and ensure natural behaviors can be performed, nose ringing is practiced! This is where a ring is put through a pig?s nose to prevent it rooting and ploughing up a field. The way nose ringing works is straightforward. Whenever a pig puts pressure on its nose through rooting (using its nose to investigate soil and vegetation) it is deterred through the sheer pain of it. This pain is caused by the ring.

One of the central benefits and attractions of free range systems is that it offers a pig pretty much unlimited space to roam. Root and indulge in natural pig behavior. The idea that you put a pig in a free range system that offers the pig paradise of wide and unlimited rooting opportunity and then ring nose it is staggering! Although every time the pig puts pressure on its nose to root it receives a sharp shot of pain.

Does that deter it? No. Not really. Because the drive to root is deep-wired. It can?t be erased or controlled, and for a pig to be truly a pig, it needs to root. It has no choice. The rooting instinct and drive is so deep rooted (pun intended) it must root, and so, even though it gets painful shocks to its nerves as a result, root it does, time and time again, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. It can?t stop, despite the pain, although the pain will eventually curtail the frequency of this activity. And that?s what makes the use of nose ringing so abhorrent, so cruel, so anti everything free range systems are supposed to be about. You put temptation all around it in the form of fields and earth, and then try unsuccessfully to deprive it of its core behavior drive. Such a practice is totally indefensible and anti pig behavior. Before you buy any free range pork ask the question about ring nosing. 

In Natural Pig Farming ring nosing has no place. We will not ring nose and as the above shows, we have very strong views against ring nosing. Our deep bed pig sty is designed to encourage rooting. So too, is the mud bath in each sty. So too, is our practice of throwing heaps of vegetation into a sty for the pigs to root through and eat. On of the key strengths of the natural pig farming system is that it recognizes and respects the pigs need and core drive to root. We try to encourage this behavior. 

Number of pigs

The number of pigs you can raise on a truly free range system is limited by the amount of land you have for the pigs to roam. Good free range systems will rotate where pigs can roam to allow the pasture/grassland time to recover. Each pig needs a surprisingly large area of land to support it. 2 - 4 pigs an acre should be the limit. This physical limit to pasture land will create barriers to the number of pigs you can raise.

The number of pigs you can raise with a fixed amount of land is considerably higher with Natural Pig Farming. This is because pigs are kept in a more concentrated environment that never-the-less respects their need for space. Living in these pig sties is not as ideal as free range but do offer many features that fulfill their core needs. These include the space to move around and exercise / play, the opportunity to root and explore bed surface, freedom to move, freedom to choose where to lie or sleep, freedom to create toilet area away from living area, freedom from smell and flies, freedom to mold soft pliable bed to enable comfortable lying down surface, protection from adverse weather elements such as rain, direct sunlight, cold and wind, freedom to wallow (where mud bath is incorporated into pen design), freedom from threat of aggression from non family group pig members, etc.

Environmentally friendly

Both free range and natural pig farming systems value nature and the environment and work to enhance and nurture the nvironment rather than degrade it. Pig fecal waste never overloads the environment because pig are never kept in excessive numbers in any one location and what fecal matter produced is used to build up soil nutrition within the locale. (This is very unlike the factory farm system which magnifies the quantity of waste considerably through the raising of highly excessive concentrations of pigs in single locations and the use of water flushing systems to wash excreta away from the pens. These excreta plus water is stored in vast so called lagoons. The lagoon mix is then typically sprayed onto the surrounding farmland in excessive quantities causing high levels of pollution of water tables, rivers and streams).

Both free range pig farms and natural pig farming use pig faces as natural organic fertiliser for the land. It seeks to use pig excrement to enhance soil fertility. This can be done without human effort within the free range system as the pigs pass excreta in the fields as they graze or roam. Nature then breaks this sown into the soil to enhance the nutrient levels of the soil to ensure healthy grass and crops growth. It should also be noted that free range pig farming usually takes place amongst the more enlightened farmers who have a nature empathy for nature and the land they farm. In such cases, they are also often advocates and practitioners of organic farming that bans the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

The natural pig farming philosophy is also against the use of chemical fertilisers, herbicides and presticides. We don't believe in waging war against nature but seek to understand nature better to harness all the positive benefits it freely gives. Natural Pig farming uses the soiled deep bed pig flooring as a prime source of fertilizer. All excreta is broken down naturally within the pen floor (aided by the presence of helpful indigenous micro-organisms (IMO's) in the bedding that rapidly decompose and break down feces through the anaerobic digestion of waste), a process that ensures no bad odor or fly issues. This flooring material can then be used either by directly applying it to the soil or through making a high quality natural fertilizer mixing it with red soil, cow manure, chicken droppings and other compost able materials. This is used to develop the soil fertility and aid the growth of a wide range of crops.

Whilst the natural farming system is against the use of toxic chemicals as pesticides, herbicides and fertilsers it does believe in working with natural products derived from nature to aid crop growth. At the heart of the natural farming philosophy is the use of natural pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. This isn’t a central feature of my natural deep bed pig farming system although only natural inputs are used for to facilitate and add speed to the natural breaking down excrement to compost in the deep bed system. The output of the deep bed system is also used to make natural fertilizers.

Note: Removing and using the bedding for fertilizer is optional. The bedding does not have to ever be removed as the feces does not build up or smell even after a prolonged period of time.

Pig health

Free range farming often goes hand-in-hand with a more organic and animal sympathetic approach to farming. Such farms usually limit or ban the routine use of anti-biotics and growth promoters. They also prohibit tail docking, teeth clipping and castration. However, many free range systems use routine medication and do mutilate their pigs.

Natural pig farming has no need for routine use of anti-biotics to control disease. The way we raise our pigs is inherently healthy. Our pigs suffer none of the respiratory problems facing pigs being raised in factory farms, nor do they live in environments that foster and encourage viruses that constantly attack the pig’s immune system. The way we raise our pigs and the environment they live in promote natural health as do the open sided pens that ensure exposure to fresh air and sunshine.

We also have no need to clip teeth or tail dock, as happy pigs in family stable groups living in stimulating environments considerate of pig behavioral needs do not have any of the pig vices of factory farm pigs. We also do not believe there is a need to castrate male piglets to ensure upon slaughter there is no boar stain, as all the available evidence suggests that if the pig is slaughtered before 90kg in weight boar stain is not an issue.

Government policy

Your government, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the European Union agencies all want modern intensive factory farming. They believe only this welfare deficient, artificially low cost form of production can produce the pork that will meet the raising demand from a rapidly expanding global population. They are therefore willing to provide huge subsidies and incentives for the multi-national industrial agri-business companies to expand their morally defunct operations to less developed economies and countries, and to force these countries to let them in. They have dismissed free range production as a small niche market production system that produces higher value pork at higher cost and price.

Our natural pig farming system is less easily dismissed. It can provide the same intensive pork production but with high pig welfare at its heart, and with none of the environmental pollution and pig and human health threats endemic in existing factory farm pork production systems.

It also provides a lower cost alternative to factory farms as natural deep bed pig farming uses the power of nature to ensure animal health. It requires none of the expensive high tech, high cost systems of today's factory farming:

  • no expensive factory investment in concrete or slat flooring
  • no expensive under-floor excrement flushing system
  • no expensive sewage treatment facilities
  • no expensive sewage dispersal system
  • no expensive air circulation systems
  • no expensive smell containment facilities
  • no expensive daily doses of preventative anti-biotics
  • no expensive vetinary bill's
  • no expensive sow gestation crates
  • no expensive farrowing crates
  • no labour intensive and time consuming needs to mutilate piglets
  • no common pig health issues that reduce growth rates etc.
  • no expensive electricity bills from running the air circulation / ventilation system 24 hours each day!

Best of all, it provides healthy, good tasting pork that consumers can feel happy to eat given its high welfare credentials and absence of growth hormone and anti-biotic residues.

In short, natural pig farming gives us back our humanity when it comes to raising pigs, whilst producing high volume, great tasting meat at lower operating costs than existing anti-welfare pig factory farms.

Natural pig farming is the next best choice to free range

So to conclude, you can see that free range and natural Pig farming systems have a lot in common. Both put the welfare of the pig at the heart of their operations, both believe in ensuring pigs have access to a diet of fresh green fodder crops in addition to processed pig feed, both avoid the use of unnecessary medication and growth hormones, and both believe in the positive power of nature to nurture pig health and growth. However free range offers its pigs one thing more - real FREEDOM. Freedom to roam in acres rather than meters, freedom to wallow where they wish, freedom to root what they want to root, freedom to live as close to a natural life as today's farming restraints allow. I am clear in my mind that free range would be the system of pig raising I would use if conditions where I live allowed. They don't, and so I developed the Natural Pig Farming system featured on this website.