At Wickedfood Earth we run free-range pigs as an important mix to our farming model. Not only do the pigs supply us with meat for processing, they assist with various aspects on the farm including tilling areas of land that we have earmarked for crop cultivation. They live outdoors and are not confined in small cages or overcrowded barns. In addition to being able to forage in large camps, we supplement their diet with fresh vegetable offcuts supplied by the various packing houses in our area. This means that our animals are eating vegetables that are fresher than those available to the consumers on supermarket shelves.
Free-range pork is something very special and unique. The meat has exquisite flavour and colour, and superior texture with crunchy crackling. Over the years we have been farming with a verity of pig breeds including:
- Kolbroek an indigenous pig which is extremely hardy and in the past survived, often by scavenging outside farmsteads;
- Windsnyer, also an indigenous pig which closely resembles the description of the ancient Egyptian breed and related to the Spanish Iberian pig
- Wickedfood Free-range crossbreed – Over the past 10 years we have experimenting with cross breeding different breeds of pig. We had tremendous success with our breeding programme. Unfortunately at the time the market was not ready for free-range pork and we could not get rid of the meat we were producing at a profitable price. Thankfully it now seams that the market is changing and there seems to be more awareness of quality free-range meat. We are therefore in the process of rebuilding our pig drove.
We market pork products that are:
- Ethically produced for the conscious consumer.
- Fully traceable. Our animals are traceable back to its point of birth and every stage between.
- Reducing food miles, we grow and process local, and farm naturally, following the principles of Geonat Farming – click here to read more.
- Helping to sustain the local communities through education and work creation.
Our animals are all raised completely naturally, in a free-range environment, without the use of routine antibiotics and growth hormones or stimulants. Due to these natural farming practises, our animals take on average, twice as long to reach maturity. This means that the muscles of the animals get to work, which ensures added flavour. It does also however mean that the meat quite often benefits from being cooked at lower temperatures for longer periods.
Few animals have been as useful to man as the pig, and yet through its eating habits it has received a bad name in culinary circles due to fear of disease. Pork, from unknown origins should never be eaten raw, due to a parasite found in the meat, that is killed with cooking. This has unfortunately led to pork often being overcooked. This is also the reason why it is incredibly important to know exactly where your pork comes from. Questions that should be asked when purchasing pork:
- Is it growth hormone and antibiotic free?
- Has it been ethically raised preferably free range, but if not, then in pens large enough for the pigs to roam about.
- Has it been slaughtered at an ethical abattoir, where all the health checks are in place?
To kill any potentially hazardous parasites, the pork only needs to reach an internal temperature of 60°C, the same as that of medium beef. To allow for an additional margin it is recommended to allow the internal temperature to rise to 65-70°C, but do not allow it to go further as this will severely dry the meat out.
Because pork should always be cooked thoroughly, meat should be roasted at a lower temperature for a longer time. A higher starting temperature, however will colour the meat crisp on the surface.
The nicest way of eating pork is with a crackly skin. To make crackling, score the skin and rub it liberally with oil and salt.
For a full list of Wickedfood Earth pork recipes, click here …
Over the Christmas (and from time to time at other times of the year), Wickedfood Earth is able to supply free-range suckling pigs (not available at present).
A suckling pig is a piglet fed on its mother’s milk (i.e. a piglet which is still “suckling”). In a factory farm environment suckling pigs are slaughtered between the ages of 2 and 6 weeks. At Wickedfood Earth however we slaughter our suckling pigs at between 8 and 12 weeks. They can vary in weight from 7kg to 12kg (allow approximately 500g of meat per person). As our pigs grow much slower than factory-reared animals, they have a much better flavour.
Suckling pig is traditionally cooked whole, often roasted, or cooked on a spit over an open fire. The meat from a suckling pig is pale and tender and the cooked skin should be crisp, and as brittle as glass. In factory-reared animals, the texture of the meat can be somewhat gelatinous due to the amount of collagen in a young pig. For a good quality suckling pig, all that is needed is a good rubbing of salt.
For a recipe on how to cook free range suckling pig, click here ….
For a full list of Wickedfood Earth pork recipes, click here …
Background to pig farming
Pigs are believed to have been domesticated from wild boar as early as 9000 years ago. Their adaptable nature and diet allowed early humans to domesticate them much earlier than other forms of livestock, such as cattle.
They were originally native to Europe and parts of Asia but have, over the centuries, been introduced to many parts of the world. Most pigs live as livestock, but some have become feral, having escaped from farms or been deliberately introduced into the wild for hunting. Some breeds of pig, such as the Asian pot-bellied pig, are kept as pets.
Pigs are naturally omnivorous and will eat both plants and small animals. In the wild they will forage for leaves, grass, roots, fruits and flowers.
Pig farming today
Around 1.3 billion pigs are slaughtered annually for meat worldwide. The majority of these are in East Asia, particularly China, which rears half of the world’s pigs. This is followed by the EU, North America and Brazil. The majority of pigs are reared for meat and a smaller number are kept for breeding.
Whilst some pigs are kept free-range and in back yards in many developing countries, at least half of the world’s pig meat is produced from intensive systems.
To read more on large-scale intensive pig farming click here
Further reading on free-range pigs
- Compassion in World Farming campaigns to end cruel factory farming. Through there publications on Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) they offer a series of educational resources for agriculture. GAP Pigs Book includes detailed chapters on the science of pig behaviour and welfare, together with economic, legal and environmental aspects, as well as 25 case studies which document attempts to improve welfare in a range of pig production systems including indoor and outdoor systems.
- Pigs have become vital to the economy in parts of the world – click here for an overview of the different pig breeds.
- Pigs for small farms – a verity of interesting articles on small scale pig farming from around the world.
- We farm pigs, not mass produce them. I am a pig farmer. I actually do ‘farm’ pigs, not mass produce them. It is really important to me that people understand the difference. My abhorrence of factory farming has come not from a knee jerk reaction to animal welfare campaigns, but from my experience in farming pigs. I have lived on the land for a long time and was always vaguely aware of pig production methods that kept pigs confined in tiny stalls indoors. The pigs must be ok with it right? or surely the farmers wouldnt do it? How niave was I …
- The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Servicecovers a wide range of topics, plus offers in-depth publications on production practices, alternative crop and livestock enterprises, innovative marketing, organic certification, and highlights sustainable agriculture activities. Interesting articles on pigs include:
- Considerations in Organic Hog Production – Takes a look at organic pig production. It focuses on some overarching issues of sustainability and animal welfare. In so doing, it provides a glimpse of the many faces of organic agriculture—faces that show the diversity of philosophies and interests brought together under the expanding umbrella of organics.
- Hooped Shelters for Hogs – advantages and disadvantages of using hooped structures for ﬁnishing pigs or housing gestating sows. Provides information on hoop barn design, deep bedding, waste management, and minimal-stress handling, as well as some cost analysis. In addition, it discusses the use of hoop barns for organic pig production.
- Pork: Marketing Alternatives – sustainable pig producers should consider alternative marketing approaches for their pork. Sustainable pig producers are creating products that many consumers can’t find in their grocery stores, but want to buy. Consumers perceive sustainably raised pork to be healthier to eat. They are willing to pay pig producers more for raising pigs in a manner that is humane, helps sustain family farms, and is more environmentally friendly than conventional production methods. Direct marketing and niche markets are among the alternative marketing strategies discussed. Legal considerations, labels, trademarks, processing regulations, and obstacles are addressed.
- Hog Production Alternatives– addresses the two different directions in which pig production is currently moving:
- Contracting with large-scale vertical integrators (producers/packers/processors linked from farrowing to packing to the retail counter), and
- Sustainable production of a smaller number of hogs sold through alternative markets.
Aspects of sustainable pig production discussed include alternative niche marketing, breed selection, alternative feeds, waste management, odor control, health concerns, and humane treatment.
Farming communities are generally incredibly generous, helping each other out whenever the need arises. They can however also be very secretive.
We heard a rumour that there were some European wild boar in the area, the granddaddy of all domestic pigs. The first time we heard the rumour was via the local security expert, but he could not or would not give us any further information apart from saying that he had tasted it and it was delicious.
A few weeks later out of the blue, I received a phone call from Louis, asking if I would like a pig – of course. We made an appointment for the next morning to meet and have a look at the pigs. …. click here for more