Does Grass Fed Pork Exist?

Pigs and the Particulars of Eating Grass

The big difference between a pig and a cow

One thing I'm very proud of is how much time my pigs spend out on pasture, eating grass, digging up roots, and generally being pigs. They're happier and healthier for it, and I believe the pork that comes from them is better in every way. But despite this, I never claim to sell grass fed pork, because my pigs are always eating grain alongside pasture. So why can I feed cows and sheep nothing but grass and have them thrive, while pigs (and chickens) require grain? The answer is digestion.

Cows are ruminants, which means they have complicated stomachs that have an incredible capacity for breaking down cellulose, the tough fiber in which grass locks up protein and energy. Cows chew it multiple times, and they also have symbiotic bacteria in their stomachs which further break down the plant matter. Pigs, on the other hand, have a single stomach. Rather than being grass specialists, like cows, they are generalists. While they will eat plenty of grass and get some good nutrition from it, they are not efficient enough at digesting it to live on grass alone.

So no grass fed pork? What about acorns?

No, as I just mentioned, all the pork I sell comes from pigs that have been fed grain as well as grass. While I'm comfortable saying no one raises pigs that are grass fed the way cows are grass fed, it's true that pigs' metabolic flexibility means they're capable of thriving on a varied diet. On my farm they love scarfing down apples in the fall, clover, roots of all sorts, and even expired bread or produce from the local health food store.

The most famous example of this is the Iberico pigs of Spain, from which comes the legendary Jamon Iberico. Even these pigs are started on a grain ration before being turned loose in oak groves, and even then only a very few are finished without any grain at all. Hams from these are labelled Jamon Iberico de Bellota, which, if you google it, you will see costs well over $100 per pound. So be careful when you see claims about "acorn fed" pigs. Any farmer with a few oak trees could claim to sell "acorn fed" pigs and not be telling an outright lie, but there's a world of difference between a pig that eats a handful of acorns and one that lives in an oak forest.

Pastured is still superior

Even though pigs aren't suitable for grass fed production, truly pastured pigs - meaning lots of plants and roots in the growing season and lots of high quality hay when the snow flies - yield meat far superior to anything from a supermarket. Factory farmed pigs live their entire lives in huge barns, not exercising, not breathing clean air, eating nothing but grain. Pastured pigs have better lives and eat a far more varied diet, which results in better pork.