South Texas Heritage Pork cares deeply about the welfare of all our animals. Here are some of the ways we ensure the best welfare of our animals.
Breeds. All our animals are heritage breeds. Not half, full heritage breeds. The reasoning for this is to preserve the old traits that outdoor pigs had. The more modern the breed, the less they are able to adapt to outdoor conditions and they are also more susceptible to diseases. Old breeds are conditioned to the outdoors, thrive on pasture and are not easily sickened by diseases.
Birthing/Farrowing. All animals are born (farrowed) on the farm. We have a closed herd and we do not buy animals to feed out. This means that you have to get good at everything from birth to market. There are several regional and national conglomeration of farms that offer bulk meat in coops, this does not give you any insight into how each farm raises those animals. By birthing all our own product, we know exactly how that animals has lived every minute of their life. We do not use any type of farrowing crates, we allow plenty of space for mom to move around, plenty of bedding but not so much she loses her babies, temperature controlled somewhat so the babies do not die from cold or heat, we allow older, more experienced sows to farrow in the field. For those who need extra help / care, we keep them in farrowing pens as little time as possible and at all times they are able to see, smell and hear their herd. We use panels in our open barn that we section off in large open pens and keep the mom in the pens for about 3 days after birth. This keeps the babies safe while mom is recovering and then she can protect them when they go back out with the herd. We also keep nursing moms in the same areas so that they can share in the nursing and parenting responsibilities (don’t you wish your neighbors would feed and watch your children sometimes?). We assist in the farrowing process only when we can or should provide help. Most of our sows are seasoned enough that they can farrow with little or no interaction just space and protection to have them.
Pasture Management. Pasture does not just mean you let your animals loose on some open grass and hope for the best. Pasture management is very involved and when handled correctly the pigs will actually be quite beneficial to the land and the surrounding environment. In just over two years at this location we have seen several new species of plants and wildlife since we started pasturing our pigs on the land. We use a rotational pasture system and we keep as much of the natural topography as possible. We do not cut down trees to build a paddock, we go around them with fiberglass stick in rods and insulators and hot wire. We move the pigs to new pasture as needed for soil management, forage management and fertilization. Each time we move them to a new area and rest the previous area it grows back healthier and fuller than the previous time. We are required to do soil testing for PH levels and minerals in the soil. Just by putting out bails of peanut hay and free feeding them in the pasture, anything that is not consumed by the pigs is ground into the soil which mulches and improves the soil and promotes growth.
Feed. We use a custom blended, local, non-GMO feed and feed enough so that all animals are healthy and yet they still have access to and are encouraged to forage. If you say your animals are pasture raised but you are throwing tons and tons of grains and processed feeds at them, they are not going to be healthy, they are going to be fat and lazy. What the animal consumes directly relates to flavor and nutritional content of the final product.
Activities/Shelter. Another big one for me. Animals must be able to act in a natural way. They must socialize, problem solve, exercise, forage, do all the things they would do in a wild setting but we are also required to protect them. They must have access to mud in order to play and keep themselves cool in the heat, they must have shelter to keep them warm and dry in the cold and wet. They must have a safe place to sleep and not be crowded or too big of a group that they pile on top of smaller animals.
Protection. As these are not wild animals, it is our obligation to protect them at all times. This is difficult to do when you allow them to live in such open spaces. We use a small pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs for protection. See more about these dogs on our website page here. http://www.southtexasheritagepork.com/livestock-guardian-dogs/