Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Pig on Pasture

We have always enjoyed having animals on our farm, both for the ambiance they add to the farm as well as the multiple purposes they serve.  But then there is just the sheer enjoyment of watching their behaviors.  If you were to take a moment to observe our pigs, you would quickly learn that their days are not so rough, they are very happy and content creatures and quite entertaining as well.  So just what exactly do our pigs do all day?  More than you would think!  They are very busy creatures, or at least they appear so!!!

Pigs in a wallow
Their day starts out once the sun is up.  They don’t rise and shine quite like the chickens that share their pastures, there’s a little more grunting involved.  Once they’re up and moving, they wait for breakfast, which is their modest morning ration of organic barley, corn and flax meal.  They get just enough to take the edge off and give them some energy to go exploring.  Seldom do you see them at “home” during the day.  There is far too much excitement up on the hillsides.  They busy themselves rooting around their 20 acre wooded hillside and pasture, exploring every nook and cranny to see what treat they can find.  Eating a bite here, a dug up root there.  They look like they enjoy it and they are just doing what pigs are naturally inclined to do—root around and use their snout to dig up underground treasures!   These days they make a special effort to check the hundreds of wild apple trees and berry bushes every day to find fallen fruit.  They also like to check their favorite nut trees for acorns or hickory nuts, but once they’ve had their fill of roaming around, it’s time to work in a nap.  Depending on the weather, they nap in their straw-lined huts or in the shade of trees when the sun is shining.  They like to make dirt “wallows” to lay in and cool off when it is really hot.  If you look at their pasture, you might think it looks a bit like a “pig sty.”  Don’t hold this against them, it all goes along with their natural behaviors!  Muddy patches and some uneven, dug up ground is just the way they like it!

Running to the their culled vegetables!
While we seldom hear our cows “moo,” you can often hear a myriad of sounds coming from the pigs.  Squeals, grunts, snoring, snorting…these are all very common sounds for pigs to make.  The time of day when you’ll hear them squeal the loudest is when they hear the skidsteer making its way to their pasture with culled vegetables from the packing shed.  They aren’t shy either, they’ll throw themselves right into the pile…literally!   They are very good vegetable eaters, eating most any green or root crop, but it is clear that they do have favorites, like melons, tomatoes and carrots.  (Check out the pictures!)  They don’t seem to mind if the vegetables aren’t perfect, as long as they are organic.  They are just a plain “riot” to watch, especially when they have pink lips after eating beets!  

Just as with other animals and food crops, the way in which an animal is raised is directly related to how the meat tastes when it gets to your plate.  Our pigs are very active and eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and roots in addition to their organic grain.  As a result, the meat they produce is often darker in color with a rosy hue and is very flavorful.   If you are accustomed to eating conventionally raised pork, you will notice a difference in not only the appearance and flavors of certified organic pastured pork, but also in the way it cooks.  Here are a few things to consider when cooking Certified Organic Pastured Pork.

Tip number one...Don’t overcook the meat!
Pastured pork is very flavorful and juicy, but you can easily overcook it by using too high of heat or cooking it for too long.  Don’t forget that meat continues to cook with the residual heat held within it even after you remove it from the heat source.  If you think your pork is not quite done, remove it from the heat right then.  By the time it finishes cooking it will likely be perfect.  Checking the internal temperature of the meat is a good way to gauge the degree of doneness so you know when to take it off the heat.  The USDA recommends cooking pork to an internal temperature of 170°F, but that will likely result in a very dry piece of meat.  A range of 145-165°F will give you a juicier, more tender piece of meat. 

Tip Number Two…Choose an appropriate cooking method!
The second important thing to keep in mind is to make sure you are using the right cooking method for the cut of meat you are preparing.  There are two main cooking methods, moist heat cooking and dry heat cooking.  

Cuts of meat that come from a part of the animal that is used and exercised more will be tougher and may have more intramuscular connective tissue and gelatin.  To tenderize these cuts, you should use a moist heat cooking method which will use a longer cooking time and lower temperature with added moisture or liquid to help tenderize the meat.   As the meat cooks, the connective tissue and gelatin in the meat will melt down making the meat tender, moist and very delicious. 

  • Moist heat cooking methods include: braising, stewing, boiling or cooking in a crock-pot. 

  • Cuts of pork that are most appropriate to use with this cooking method include: Pork Shoulder (Roast or Steak), Country Style Short Ribs, Spare Ribs, Ham and Pork Hocks.

Cuts of meat that come from muscles of the animal that are not as active will be more tender.  These cuts of meat can be cooked for shorter periods of time at higher temperatures. 

  • Dry heat cooking methods include: grilling, sautéeing, roasting, broiling, stir-frying, pan-frying and deep-frying. 

  • Cuts of pork that are most appropriate to use with this cooking method include: pork chops, pork tenderloin, bacon and ham.

Tip Number Three….Let the meat speak for itself
Don’t forget that pastured pork is very flavorful, so let that flavor work in your favor.  Use simple seasonings, herb and spice rubs or just a little salt and pepper to season the meat.  Simple marinades and sauces are nice accompaniments to pastured pork as well.  Whenever possible, make the sauce in the pan that the pork was cooked in, or cook the pork in the sauce or braising liquid.  The flavors of the pork will seep into the sauce adding a fuller pork flavor to the sauce.

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