Fulton's Happy Pigs
I first met Ricky Fulton at a Braeside event some years ago and remember being so taken with the combination of his knowledge for pigs and concern for their welfare. A gentler or more sincere pig farmer, I’ve yet met. More recently, we had the opportunity to visit his farm and to see his pigs in their natural environment.
Raising pigs in a free range environment isn’t easy. You need a great deal of space, it’s not likely that they can live off the land alone, pigs have broad dietary requirements being omnivores and they also uproot grass and shrubs in no time so finding a farmer who is prepared to take on the challenges of free range pork farming isn’t easy. It takes much longer to get them to slaughter weight than you can achieve in a piggery as well so it takes a fair amount of commitment to raise them in a less controlled way. The horrors of commercial piggeries though, are the reason supporting farmers who are prepared to let pigs live outdoors, foraging naturally without stress, is mission critical.
Free range pork is one of the more difficult products to find on supermarket shelves, and one that we need to stimulate more farmers to do and badger more retailers to stock. I am still not able to forget once visiting a commercial piggery with pigs packed tightly into individual stalls with docked tails and movement restricted. My blood pressure starts to rise every time I do. Their agonising moans and the sound of their bashing frustratedly against the metal bars is a sound I have never been able to forget and the motivation for never eating commercial pork. We know about the inhumanity of sow crates that totally restricts the movement of pregnant sows. Many countries have banned the use of them but in South Africa it is still common practice. There are currently discussions going on between some SA retailers and the pork industry about phasing them out gradually and only banning them by 2020! If we have great free-range options, we don’t have to wait for supermarkets and piggeries to decide when it best suits them to release pigs from abject misery. We can choose now to rather support farmers who do it differently and vote with our feet.
We know about the cruelty of the way pigs are often castrated in commercial settings, without anaesthetic. We can’t hope to make large enough noises against these practices or demand that these practices are stopped, unless we have alternatives.
Seeing pigs roaming on Ricky’s farm under so much greenery that you literally can’t see them and just come across them as you’re walking through it was such an emotional contrast to my experience of seeing a large, commercial piggery which was so horrific, I just can’t forget it.
These pigs are pretty shy, so unaccustomed to being disturbed. There is a large, open barn for them with straw bales to nestle into at night.
There are great areas for them to mud bath, Ricky is determined that it isn’t fitting for pigs to not mud bath everyday, they love it so much.
In free range environments for pigs, shade is critical as they get sunburn so easily, the vegetation and wild weeds and morogo at Ricky’s farm is so thick, they hide amongst it, you literally walk through and can disturb pigs and piglets that you’d otherwise never have known were there.
In all my years with Organic Emporium, I have only come across 2 viable free-range alternatives in this region, and Ricky is the first we have managed to get ahead with to the extent that we have the first sample batches of his pork in for you to taste today. We sampled some last week and were fair blown away by the taste of it. The smoked chops are delicate and done just right. We haven’t got those in yet but I look forward to it. We will be bringing bacon shortly that was also just perfect. Today he has dropped off chops and some roasts for you to try. The irony is that the taste of free-range pork is often described as less ‘porky’ and more gentle funny enough than conventional pork, it’s a more full bodied taste but it’s soft and doesn’t have the strong smell of pork that conventional pork apparently does. I haven’t had anything to compare it with as I don’t eat conventional pork, but last week we cooked up some of the chops and they were just fantastic. I simply rubbed in a mixture of olive oil, sage, lemon rind, salt and pepper and fried them on each side for roughly 5 minutes, delicious.
The feed is not organic or all ‘natural’, I must stress this. I have no idea how a farmer would get all organic input for pork without the price ending up totally insane especially with how cheap people expect pork to be when they compare it to conventional. Their diet is also not GM free as they get waste from a local bakery, whey from a dairy farm and conventional fruit and vegetable waste. They also forage amongst the wild weeks and morogo for greens but it isn’t a 100% naturally foraged diet.
All the same, this is one of 2 of the best free range pork farms we have been able to see of late and I’d rather bring you this, even if the diet isn’t 100% wild or natural. It is a truly fantastic free range pig environment so that you aren’t dependant on the horror of commercial piggeries and the antibiotics and growth hormones that are a part of that as well.