Piglets to Pork—Slowly Grown
Here at Circle C Ranch, we are very particular about our breeding Hogs, the way we raise our hogs, Our stock is a mixture of Heritage breeds including Berkshire, Red Wattle, and Yorkshire. Because we only breed twice a year, we are able to farrow all year round, and we are able to slowly raise our hogs in order to create a better tasting product. We normally wean our piglets between the ages of 6-8 weeks in the summer or 8-10 weeks in the winter; it’s not healthy for a piglet to be weaned at an earlier age due to the immaturity of its digestive system.
It’s not hard to wean them at this age as the sow has already thoroughly taught them the fine arts of rummaging and foraging for nuts, roots, grubs, grasses, and other piggy delights! As soon as they are separated from their mothers, we supplement their diet by adding soy, corn mix, and goat whey. Everything in their diet is natural, no additives. Even the goat whey comes from a farm where the animals are raised naturally with an all-natural diet and are Animal Welfare Approved. This additional nourishment also improves the taste of the meat by adding to the fat content, which contains much of the flavor
We continue with this diet until the pigs reach a weight of about 250 pounds, which is at about 8-10 months of age. Throughout this time, they receive no unnecessary antibiotics. When hogs are truly raised naturally and humanely like ours are, they are less likely to become ill, so antibiotics are rarely needed. If there is a case of a pig becoming ill, it is separated from the herd for 30 days, and it is not butchered for a time period that is at least twice the licensed withdrawal period of the antibiotic used (a standard set by the Animal Welfare Approved program). In other words, if an antibiotic is technically supposed to be out of a hog’s system in 30 days, for example, we will not butcher the animal for a period of 60 days. This gives more than enough time for the antibiotic to work its way completely out of the pig’s system, so you do not receive unwanted antibiotics from our products.
To give you an idea of how slowly we wean and raise our hogs, I’ll show you the difference between our methods and those used by a CAFO (slowly grown compared to a fast product):
Feeder pigs traditionally come from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), a large facility that holds about 7,000 hogs. The pigs are kept, about 20 to an enclosure, in small pens that allow little room for the pigs to move. They are raised on concrete slabs covered with wooden slates. Hog manure and urine fall through and sit under the wooden slates on the concrete until they are flushed out.
When CAFO piglets are about 3 weeks in age and weigh 75lbs, some of the pigs are sold off as “feeder hogs” to other farmers. At this age, the producer has to give the piglets “creep feed,” a milk supplement. The piglets need this feed for nourishment until they are 8 weeks old because their immature digestive systems cannot handle anything else. Since these piglets have not been taught to forage for their food, they do not get the added nutrition their natural instinct should provide, and they rely solely on the farmer for food. Their diet will depend on the farmer’s personal preferences, which may include animal-by-product based feed.
The other half of the piglets stay at the CAFO facility until they reach processing weight, which varies according to how large a farmer would like his pork cuts to be. CAFOs typically feed their stock corn and soy, but they also regularly supplement the feed with antibiotics and growth hormones to raise larger, “healthier” animals. Because the hogs are continually fed low-dose antibiotics, there is no way to ensure that their meat is antibiotic free. There is concern that meat from CAFO raised hogs may actually cause antibiotics to be less effective for human beings. Due to this concern, various groups—including the USDA, The American Medical Association, and The World Health Organization—are working to limit or ban the use of low-level antibiotics in CAFO feed (The National Association of Local Boards of Health).
To put everything in plain terms, a slowly grown Circle C Ranch hog is entirely different than one produced by a CAFO. The difference is as huge as the divide between a thoroughly planned home-cooked meal and a three-minute pit stop at the drive-thru. While the faster meal may be quicker and easier, we all know that fast-food is inherently bad for us