Can you decode the jargon used to distinguish different types of meat and its origins? Indoor Bred, Outdoor Bred, Outdoor Reared and Free Range – all clear if you understand the meaning behind the label, misleading if you don’t.
Indoor Bred – (All pigs stay indoors) The pigs live their entire life indoors, commonly on hard solid floors with straw or similar material for bedding. A pigs’ natural instinct is to forage – get its snout in the mud and forage for food, the indoor bred pig will never get to do this. Sows may still give birth in farrowing crates – this restricts the sows’ movements and the piglets only have access to her to feed. There is no access to the outdoors, although they get to move around freely within a pen, they are kept in small groups so there is less likelihood that there will be conflict or tail biting,caused by boredom. Pigs are social creatures, their social behaviour is highly developed, new born piglets begin to form social dominance relationships with littermates within hours of being born!
Outdoor Bred – (Breeding herd outside free range but pigs reared for meat inside). The breeding females or sows are kept free range in paddocks, outdoors, with huts for shelter and straw for bedding. Around 4 weeks after the sow gives birth the piglets will be weaned, being taken away from her and moved indoors and fattened in extensive and intensive conditions. In this system the sow will have the higher quality of life and is able to act naturally – nesting, rooting, wallowing and foraging. The piglets only get this quality until they are weaned.
Outdoor Reared – (Breeding herd outside free range with pigs reared for meat outside but unable to roam freely). The sow, again, gets to live her life outdoors naturally and the piglets are weaned at the same time. They are reared in pens outside but unable to roam as in a free range system.
Free Range – Whilst there is no legal definition of ‘Free Range Pork’ a voluntary industry code in the UK requires that free range pigs have permanent access to pasture, they are born outside (without stalls or crates) and are then reared outside throughout their lives. On the best free range pig farms, the sows and the growing pigs are kept outside for their entire lives.
Our South Downs pigs are no exception. On a bitterly cold morning at the end of January we went to see Richard and Aimee on their free range pig farm in West Sussex. Their farm sits in the South Downs and enjoys a real countryside vista. Richard and Aimee have been raising free range pigs for over 12 years, producing first class pork from traditional breeds and are proud to be one of a few free range pig farmers in the South of the UK.
The breed raised on the farm is The Duroc. Their thick winter coat and hard skin allows them to survive the cold and wet of the British winter. This coat then moults in summer to leave the pig looking almost bald but able to cope with hot dry summers. Its tenacity in looking after its young combined with its docility between times makes it an ideal candidate for an outdoor pig producing succulent pork.
On the tour of the farm, we are shown several distinctly different areas. One houses the gilts (a young female pig that has not yet bred/first time mum), sows waiting to be mated again, pregnant sows and the boars. They are in fields that look like a semi-circular sundials with a hut in the middle, a pivot point. That way Richard can bring the boar down to the pivot point and place him in whichever section he wants (to mate) without too much stress to the boar.
The pregnant sow has a particularly precise gestation period of 114 to115 days (3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days) and when she is ready to have her piglets she is moved into the maternity of “farrowing” area which has the individual huts for her and her piglets, she is given lots of straw but even in the middle of our cold winters, inside the hut is toasty warm. For the summer Richard paints the huts white to reflect the sun so they don’t bake inside (4º difference, which might not sound a lot but very important to a pig).
Richard has the breeding set up so the Sows give birth 3 weeks apart, in one area are the new mums, then the next one is filled with piglets running around, following mum, rooting around in the mud, learning to use the wiggle feeders.
Richard will only breed the sows for 6 litters. He tells us that after the 6th litre the sow tends to become clumsy even laying on the piglets, eating too much of the food – not letting the piglets get enough.
In another field are the adolescent pigs, they have so much space to wallow, run eat, drink etc. Pigs do tend to carve up the ground wallowing and foraging so they are constantly moved round to ensure that they always get the best of everything. This lot are due to be moved to the green pasture in the background in April. Here they will live out their lives, naturally growing fat. The large tent in the middle is where the pigs are weighed.
Richard and Aimee wanted a completely stress free life for the pigs and here on this farm is exactly what that is. Even down to their final days the pigs are kept in their field, just moved down to the transport vehicle hours before they leave the farm.
Britain is only about 25% self-sufficient in bacon and 70% in pork, meaning it imports large quantities of pig meat, which farmers in the UK complain comes from animals generally raised in worse and more intensive indoor conditions, including in much of the EU. But the RSPCA’s Julia Wrathall said even in this country “a significant number” of the 9 million animals reared for meat each year “are living out their lives in unacceptable conditions”. – (extract taken from theguardian.com/ethicalfood-animalwelfare)