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Proper Free range pork versus supermarket 'outdoor-bred' pork

Gloucestershire Old Spots free range pigs at Pheasants Hill Farm, Northern Ireland

A word about the terms supermarkets use to describe hams and pork.  This year supermarkets are offering something called 'outdoor-bred' dry cured gammons.  What this actually means is that the breeding sows when farrowing (giving birth) are kept in outdoor systems in straw bedded arks with access to a large outdoor paddock. When born the baby piglets are brought indoors for growing and finishing at or shortly after weaning - usually into straw bedded systems in large  barns or purpose built buildings. The breeding sows remain in the outdoor system throughout their life but the piglets who will become the pork and gammon are reared inside all their lives once they are weaned.  

This is a world away from the way our pigs are reared, which is full, proper free range farming which allows the pigs to express all their pig instincts naturally.  Our sows live outside in straw arcs for all their lives.  They give birth outside in arcs, or more usually make nests for themselves by digging a large hole in the soil and lining it with grass and leaves.  The piglets are born outside and stay with their mothers until 12 weeks old when they are weaned on to pig meal, to allow their mothers to stop feeding and regain condition.  However the intelligent piglets often escape through the fences and make their way back to their mums, and continue to feed from the sow, or from their aunties until they are quite large.  They remain in their social groups all their lives, staying close to their mothers and their siblings.  For example, if young sows (gilts) are sent off for a few weeks to the boar on another farm they will immediately run back to their own mum when they return to Pheasants Hill Farm.  In short, we allow our pigs to live normal, unencumbered pig lives, in the outdoors and to do all the things they enjoy such as bathing in mud, running around in small marauding bands of young pigs digging up grass, rooting in the earth for worms, sleeping in large groups to keep warm at night and lying under hedges when the weather is warm.   

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