Free range pork and pastured pigs
Here's a few things to consider before heading to the shops, to prevent a bacon dilemma.
More of us are buying free range pork. Well perhaps, intend to. See, there's an antiquated label "bred free range". This means the mother pig is free to range, yet after weaning, her piglets are housed intensively in shelters; this is where the pork you eat comes from. Fine, but the word "bred" is conveniently dropped at retail.
And while we're vigilant with fresh pork, over 75 per cent of smallgoods sold in Australia are imported from intensive farms. There's the risk of superbugs with routine antibiotics and cancer with overconsumption, so repeat after me, "bacon is for special occasions". Buy the good stuff and you won’t go back.
But what makes pork delicious? They say it's a combination of the pig breed, diet and being stress-free. However the breeds that provide sweet, succulent meat—Berkshires, Large Blacks, Wessex Saddlebacks, Tamworths and more—are close to extinction.
In 1995, there were only 50 Wessex Saddleback sows in the world. In 2011, there were only 12 Hampshire sows registered in Australia and under 150 Large Blacks and Tamworths. If you want to save their bacon, seek registered purebred pigs, or better still, raise them yourself.
To help you get started, I've listed farms with pigs that are raised on pasture their entire lives. Ask the farmer questions if you have any concerns, or if you're still not sure, seek animal welfare or organic certification.
Look for these brands at farmers’ markets and local independent stores near you. Taste the difference and tell your friends!
Boxgum Grazing, Windermere
Sam and Claire Johnson are passionate about land management, regenerative agriculture, local employment and producing excellent food. Their sows build a nest to farrow their piglets; after six weeks, the piglets are weaned and moved to the woodland.
Brooklet Springs Farm, Brooklet
Georgina Goddard and Morgan Wilkie feed their heritage pigs a mix of museli from Brookfarm and organic supplements (like biochar and safflower protein) from a local certified organic stock feed mill.
Bundarra Berkshires, Barham
Lauren and Lachy Mathers’ farm philosophy is based on ethical, chemical- and stress-free practices and improving the soil. They raise their pigs in the paddock their entire lives; the pigs eat crops, pasture, grains, minerals, avocados and forage in the forested areas.
Dewsbury Free Range Pork, Quialago
Ebony Garner and Eli Bailey breed Duroc, Hampshires, Tamworths and Wessex Saddlebacks. The pigs are raised entirely outdoors from birth until sale, with access to wallows, water, shelters and shade. They rotate the pigs in the paddocks regularly to reduce disease and parasites, recuperate ground cover and grow forage crops.
Esperenza Farm, Corndale
Susana and Jerrod Henderson raise Large Black and Berkshire pigs. They keep the pigs in family group as they grow. The farmers aim to provide community based agriculture where locals and visitors can buy premium pork direct from the farmer and know that the animals are raised in an ethical way.
Extraordinary Pork, Eumungerie
Michael and Alexandra run 50 Berkshire pigs with weekly rotations on their property, half an hour from Dubbo. Their pigs are free to dig, eat grass and act like pigs. The pigs eat grass with supplementary grain feed, bought from neighbours.
Figtree Organics, Inverell and Grafton
The pigs free range year round with access to high quality organic pastures. Free to exhibit their natural behaviours, they cool off in a mud bath and sleep under the shade of a big yellow box gum or Moreton Bay Fig tree.
Free Range Butcher, Barraba
Ben Cinch and his family rotate Landrace, Large White and Durocs on paddocks. They also feed them pellets, and if the season allows, they finish them on pastures of oats, lucerne or sorghum. More flavoursome than intensively farmed pork, with decent fat—good crackling! They also source Oakleigh Pasture Pork.
Green Connect Illawarra, Warrawong
This Wollongong-based not-for-profit social enterprise free range their pigs on their 11-acre urban permaculture farm. They employ young people and former refugees.
Happy Pig, O’Connell
Helen and Grant Barton‘s pigs roam freely over 600 acres. The pigs have shelter, fresh water, dams to wallow and mud for play. They live in a mixed farming enterprise, blending in with the sheep, lambs and horses.
Hayter’s Hill, Byron Bay
Hugh and David Trevor-Jones’ pigs live their entire life outdoors, with shade and shelter provided. The pigs are moved to a new paddock each week and will not return to the same paddock for six weeks, to keep the pigs healthy and disease-free.
Jerrara Creek Farm, Jamberoo
Alan Smith and Rachael Heald free range a small herd, grown in a rich, fertile environment. They grow their own supplementary feed on-farm.
Linga Longa, Wingham
Greg and Lauren Newell’s pigs are born and raised outdoors. The pigs are kept at a stocking rate to ensure ample access to forage and grazing pasture and freedom to express their natural behaviour in an environment as close to nature as controlled farming will allow.
Melanda Park Free Range Pork, Ebenezer and Denham
Matthew and Sue Simmons’ pigs are born and raised in their paddocks, free from farrowing crates and sow stalls. The commercial white pig is the pig of choice now, with just a small amount of heritage bloodlines to produce a sow that does well in the paddock.
Merrifield Farm, Merriwa
Mathew and Lucy Grace’s purebred Berkshires are run in small paddocks on a rotational basis. The pigs eat pasture, a mixture of produce grown on the farm and locally sourced grains. The couple have established an on-farm butchery and have employed a locally trained butcher.
Mirrabooka Pork, Lawrence
The Graham, Ross and Munns clans have set up their farm to nurture the pigs under their care. The pigs can roam in large paddocks, play and rest in their wallows and root and graze as they wish.
The Naked Farmers, Tom’s Creek
The Wessex Saddleback pig sows—Babe, Winnie and Saddleback Samantha—help Sophie and Ged clear weedy areas, and sweeten the soil with their wonderful manure. The pork is available seasonally, twice yearly.
Near River Produce, Hollisdale
Therese and Andrew Hearne left Sydney in 2007 to follow their dream of owning a farm and producing organic food for their community. It came true with a smallholding on the Mid North Coast. They rotate the pigs through the various production plots; the pigs turn, clean and fertilise each area.
Oakleigh Pasture Pork, Gunnedah
Jack and Jen Hewitt grow a mix of Saddleback, Large Black and Landrace pigs. Maremma dogs protect the young from foxes.
Pecan Pigs, Pearces Creek
The Berkshire pigs are raised on pasture, and forage for pecans in the orchard. They help manage the paddock by trampling vegetation into the soil, and adding nutrients that improves soil biology and water retention. They are fed, slaughtered and butchered within a 10km radius; this is local food!
Pillar Rock Pork, Binnaway
The vast majority of Pieter and Michelle’s property is pristine bush, managed to conserve biodiversity and wildlife. The farm is subdivided into 22 paddocks, of which 17 are used for the pigs; this minimises parasites and erosion, and gives the paddocks time to recover.
Power Pork, Wellington
Frank Power and Danielle Littlewood run Large Whites, Berkshires and Tamworth pigs. The pigs live in portable shelters in the paddock, with growers free ranging in a half acre paddock, and moved depending on how quick the grass grows, normally once a week.
Red Box Pigs, Kyogle
Sally Penhaligon free ranges her pigs, and protects them from predators with electro fencing. She regulates their temperature with wallows and sprinklers when it’s too hot. And when it’s too wet, she provides shelter.
Redleaf Farm, Fitzroy Falls
Sam and Katrina Sparke grow Wessex Saddlebacks for the Southern Highland and Sydney markets. The pigs roam in several paddocks on a rotational basis; their diet is supplemented by homemade ‘muesli’ of high protein mill mix combined with oats, barley, cracked corn, sunflower seeds and wheat grain.
Refalo Free Range Pork, Kemps Creek
David Refalo rotates the pigs throughout the farm on a month on/month off grazing system to seasonal conditionals with maintaining good pasture cover as the main goal. He plants fodder crops for pigs to graze, including barley, oats, sorghum and millet.
Riverina Berkshire Gold, Wagga Wagga
Steve and Leah Anderson run purebred Berkshires on the farm. The pigs are born and bred outdoors for their entire lives. The pigs forage on pasture, and eat an abundant amount of fresh fruit and vegetables, supplemented with pig pellet grain.
Saulbury Berkshires, Frogmore
Kay and Lisa supply purebred free range Berkshire pork for the Sydney market.
Tathra Place, Taralga
Luke and Pia Winder’s Wessex Saddlebacks free range in the half-acre paddock, with plenty of forage, bushland and grass. Their moveable shelters are made from recycled materials.
Wallendbeen Park Farm, Wallendbeen
Christoph Preussmann and Annie Jacobs raise their free range heritage pigs in a stress-free, outdoor environment on their regenerative farm. Berkshire cross piglets are weaned naturally to give them the full benefits of their mother’s milk. They also run a herd of cattle in a planned grazing system on land that is free from fertilisers, insecticides and herbicides.
Wild Terania Farm, Terania Creek
Peter free ranges heritage breed pigs on 2.5 acres of pasture, with a maximum of 10 pigs at any one time. There is forage to eat, grubs to dig up, a wallow to swim in, room to run and have protection from the elements. The supplementary feed is organic certified.