One of the reasons we’ve put together the information below is that most consumers think that “free range” and “free farmed” are interchangeable terms meaning pretty much the same thing. They are not.
The photo’s below show the different types of “farming” methods used to raise pigs. Genetic “improvement” has resulted in breeds like the Large White and Landrace that can grow extremely fast. These breeds have been selected to optimise feed conversion and grow faster, leaner, and therefore more efficiently. They grow so fast, that they can’t easily sustain themselves with lower energy input systems, like pasture based foraging, making up a significant part of their diets.
- At the bottom of the chain are the “cage/shed” type systems. The pigs are raised in confined areas from the time they are weaned.
- “Free Farmed” is really a marketing term created by marketers who wanted to differentiate pigs they grow in confined areas from “caged” pigs. They are “free” to move around a larger area and socialise with other animals. There is nothing very “free” about this process, but it is the term that has been accepted as meaning non-caged. The preferred genetics for indoor pig farming are generally “white” pigs. These will be either “large white” or “landrace” breeds that do much better in confinement situations.
A key difference between “free farmed” and “free ranged” pigs is their diets and the amount of exercise the pig gets. Pigs grown indoors in confined areas are fed exclusively on a manufactured diet of cereals, very high in proteins, and other additives. The meat and fat produced is uniform and the food is designed to maximise their growth and create predictable and consistent carcasses with a predictable fat to muscle ratio.
Conventional Pig farms work under the same economic pressures that result from globalisation of the food chain as other producers. It is this type of industrial animal agriculture that is required to deliver a product that can compete with the avalanche of cheap imported pork that is brought into NZ from the EU and elsewhere. The result is a commoditised meat product. One that is very different from the meat of a heritage breed pig, raised outdoors in a low stock density environment, where foraging is available.
- Then we get to “free ranged” pigs. Most people think that “free range” is the best way to raise a pig. And in most ways they are right. A pig raised outdoors is able to exercise more of its natural behaviours. But what does “free range” really mean?
At one end of the “free range” the pigs are “free” to range about a paddock. They have much more space, and on a good day can enjoy being outside. But the reality of most “free range” pig farms is that because the stock numbers required to be economically competitive with “free farmed” and imported cage raised indoor pigs are higher than a paddock can sustainably support. These free ranged pigs are feed the same high protein, cereal based diet and this makes up the majority of the pigs diet.
- Then there is Poaka “Pasture Raised Pigs”. This is how Poaka farms its pigs, and it plays a major part in delivering a whole different flavour profile in our meat.
To keep pastures looking like the one at Poaka Farms below results from a number of choices:
- We operate a business model that is based on relatively low stock units per hectare. At these low stock numbers, the pasture can keep up with the pigs browsing.
- We utilise a blend of “hard to root” grasses, herbs, and legume’s that are more resistant to our pigs browsing and recover faster.
- The pigs benefits from low stress browsing in a mixed feed environment, similar to what would happen in the wild.
- At Poaka we go one step further. Our “pasture raised” pigs enjoy an autumn chestnut ration each day during the last months of their happy lives with us. Again, this goes one step further towards replicating the natural habitat that the pigs of Tuscany and the de hesa in southern Spain have enjoyed over millennia. And science is now able to measure the difference this “nut” portion of their diet makes to the makeup of the animals meat and fat.
- Most of the producers of highest quality food and wine agree that, “…flavour takes time…” and it is no different with Poaka’s heritage breed pigs. Our pigs average age when sent to the abattoir is around 12 months old. For indoor raised confined pigs it is less than half that.
As they say, there are “horses for courses”. Modern commerce has turned food into a commodity item where price and availability almost always outweigh flavour and sustainability. Between 1820 and 2002 global farming went from feeding 1billion people to 6.5billion. To achieve that, animals needed to be raised in higher and higher densities and with that came a whole range of new disease pressures. And as volumes rose, prices dropped.
In order to survive in a commodity based system, producers need to modify the genetics of their animals, and their farming practices to meet the markets expectation. Pork and chicken are the best examples of taking food (animal based protein production) to the extreme. Selectively breeding animals to grow as fast as possible with the fastest and highest conversion rate of feed to muscle protein. Optimising feed systems to deliver maximum weight gain over a minimal period.
At Poaka we breed, grow, and care for our animals with a completely different perspective. We farm three heritage breeds of pigs – Tamworth’s, Berkshire’s, and Saddlebacks. These pigs cannot compete with the growth rates of the commercial breeds used in modern pig farming. But they are perfectly suited for a life of outdoor grazing. They grow slower and have smaller litters of piglets. All throwbacks to a harder, outdoor life.
But, if you can farm the heritage breeds there are many benefits. Our animals stay healthier because we’re not forcing the animals to optimise every part of their life cycle, they are less stressed and have a large variety in their diet.
So when you buy Poaka Pork, or some of our delicious cured and fermented meats, you’re buying flavour that has developed over a longer time in a completely different way. You can taste it
In 1950, a group of United States scientists found that adding antibiotics to animal feed increases the growth rate of livestock. American Cyanamid published research establishing the practice.
Large scale “industrial farming” puts pressure on everything. The animals health; feeding systems; effluent systems. And growing large numbers of animals in confined spaces is a recipe for disease. Adding antibiotics to the pigs feed was a way to suppress pathogens that slowed the animals growth.
At Poaka we operate a sustainable, pasture based farming system. Our pigs live outside in a low pressure environment. We try and respect the animals and how they were meant to behave and grow. And farming that way means that we have little disease pressure. We don’t use antibiotics to force animal growth, and we don’t need them to maintain a high pressure, high volume system.
Just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, taste is a very personal, and subjective thing. What we can say is that Poaka supplies some of the best chefs in New Zealand and they sum up what they perceive as the biggest difference with one word – Sweet. That is an unusual word to use when describing meat, but that’s how they describe our pasture raised, slow grown, heritage breed, and chestnut finished pork. We like it to. You be the judge.
The simple answer is yes, BUT about 1/30th of what you find in fresh spinach or fresh lettuce.
- Lettuce – 400ppm to 800ppm
- Spinach – 500ppm to 2800ppm
- Kale – 300ppm to 1500ppm
- Chard – 700ppm
- Poaka Salami – less than 15ppm
ppm = parts per million
Food Standards allow nitrate levels in cured meats up 500ppm. Those levels (or unscrupulous operators adding significantly more than this) are part of what has given cured meats and bacon a bad rap. Poaka cured meats have a lot less nitrate in them than your standard leafy green vegetables. Because we use traditional techniques and allow time to do its work, we can use a much lower level of nitrate, for food safety, and because of our aging process, the majority of what we put in is metabolised during the aging process, and is “used up” as the meat as it ages, leaving only trace levels.