Fat Pig

Growers and Shoats under Winter Whey Line

Jen asked:
I live in Michigan and we purchase a pig once a year from the same farm each time. Its always been good but this year it is extremely fatty, almost inedible. We want to continue with this farm just wondering if it could have anything to do with what they are feeding them.

There are several possibilities:

1) The pig was older. Pigs on the standard corn/soy ration of commercial feed begin putting on fat after about 225 lbs live weight. If the pig was slaughtered at 300 lbs it may have been fattier than you’re used to for the smaller typical 250 lb finisher pig. If this is the case then typically you would have very large diameter pork chops. Personally, I like the richer flavor of older pigs better than younger pigs. With our pasture based diet we don’t get this fattening but I have seen it at the butcher.

2) Different genetics. All pigs fall along the spectrum of: lard pigs and bacon pigs. The lard pigs are short bodied, round and put on a lot of fat. The bacon pigs are long bodied and leaner. Perhaps in the past you got ‘bacon’ pigs and this time got a ‘lard’ pig. Does the farm have a consistent source of genetics or are they buying weaner piglets from difference sources. This could account for the difference.

3) Feed difference. If this pig was on a high calorie diet such as a lot of bread or corn then it could have packed on the pounds more than a previous pig that was on a more balanced diet. Since our pigs are on a pasture/hay + whey diet we don’t see much fat on them, only about 0.75″ to 1″ of back fat. But I know of someone who buys our piglets, thus the same genetics, and feeds them whole Jersey milk and they put on 4″ of back fat. The difference is the calories in their diet.

So what to do with the fat… Render it to lard. Pork lard is a wonderful cooking ingredient. Trim the fat off the meat and toss it in the freezer. When you have accumulated several pounds you can render it to make delicious lard for baking and cooking.

On a related note, I think it is a myth that “eating meat and fat causes high cholesterol.” We eat a lot of pork and we eat the fat as well as using our pork lard in our cooking but my son and wife just got their cholesterol tested and both were low. The reality is, like most things, it is far more complex. Our ancestors needed lots of calories and got lots of exercise. Modern people are still packing in the food but not getting as much exercise. This has created a fear of fat. A recent article says that low body weight is worse than high body weight and a little bit fat is actually good. They went on to say that people who are a little overweight are healthier and live longer. The Body Mass Index (BMI) needs revising to allow for this.[1]

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About Walter Jeffries

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9 Responses to Fat Pig

  1. Nance says:

    I eat pork and beef and probably 12 eggs a week. My mother didn’t like eggs and would rather eat vegetables and fruits. My cholesterol has always been ‘almost perfect’ and my mother’s was always high. I think it is genetics.

  2. Pam R. says:

    Actually, it’s not a myth. If you eat industrialized meats’ fat, it IS unhealthy. Pastured animals naturally have a good balance of Omega 6’s to Omega 3’s. Feedlot beef is apt to be 20:1. Grass fed beef is apt to be 2:1. It’s the huge imbalance of Omega 6’s that’s the unhealthy part.

    Also, I’ve heard that fat is where unhealthy things like carcinogens are stored, more so than muscle. I’ve not checked this out though.

    • Yes, it is my understanding too that when people or animals are exposed to PCBs they build up in the fat. This is why they take fat biopsies in nature studies of environmental toxins. Fortunately our pigs aren’t exposed to these sorts of toxins so their fat should not have them in it. With this in mind I was very careful of my wife’s diet since we met as I did not want her excreting toxins in breast milk to our children. We live a very isolated and healthy life from those sorts of things.

      I think you are also correct about the good Omega-3 Fatty Acids vs ‘bad’ Omega-6 fatty acids, that pastured animals have high levels of the good Omega-3 while grain fed animals have high levels of the Omega-6. The Omega-3 is found in chlorophyll plants such as grasses, clover, hay, etc. The Omega-6 is found in the fats of grains. We have a multi-year longitudinal research project on just this topic. I do put the word ‘bad’ Omega-6 in quotes because people need some of both but in the proper balance. The problem is the feed lot and confinement animal feeding operations are getting virtually all grain in their diets which shifts the balance to the ‘bad’ Omega-6 side and away from the good Omega-3 side found in plant leaves. Thus the fat of industrialized meat is not nearly as good as the fat from pastured animals. You can even taste the difference.

  3. Daniel says:

    I’m personally a big fan of fat on my meat, it’s flavor, plain and simple. One of the pigs I raised last year went for our wedding pig roast. The little guy dressed out at 216 lbs (I swear he didn’t look that big when he was standing on his own!) and had an amazing thick layer of fat around him and marbled in with his flesh. He roasted up as the most delectable pork you’ve ever had. My personal opinion is that pork has become too lean these days, the consumer has been brainwashed into thinking that fat is bad and therefore pig farmers have bred away from it and the processing industry (both butchers and commercial) go to great lengths to trim as much excess fat off as possible. Keep the fat, cook the meat with it…if you don’t want to eat it trim it after cooking.

  4. Diane Drapeau says:

    Not sure if i am using the right address, but here goes my question : we have a sow who farrowed last evening (6 piglets, 5 survived). The sow is being aggressive with piglets, although she continues to nest and seems to be looking for them. We have taken them away from her as she has killed one and hurt (bit) two others. She is calling for them, but not reacting well when they are around. Does anyone have some suggestions? The piglets have had some colustrum, but it looks like we will be hand feeding …

    Any suggestions?

    Thank you.

    • When a sow farrows her body releases chemicals that calm her. In some mothers they have defects that cause them not to release the chemicals or not to react properly to the chemicals. This can cause aggression like you are describing. Has she had previous litters where she did fine, has she done this on previous litters or is this her first litter?

      If she has done well before then I would suspect either an environmental problem that is upsetting her. Too much noise or something else?

      Otherwise I would consider her a defective sow and cull her.

      To save the piglets they really need to get colostrum. Ideally the could be grafted onto another sow. If you don’t have another sow who is nursing and producing colostrum (just farrowed in last day or so) then you might try using store bought colostrum. This comes as a powder formula that you mix up. It will not be nearly as good as her colostrum but it could save the piglets. Piglets need to eat about every two hours around the clock – hand feeding is a big job best done by a team of several people if you can’t have a sow do the job.

      If I am culling the sow I would also mark all of the piglets for market feeders and not breed them as they might carry the genes for bad mothering and you don’t want to pass this on.

      Good luck!

  5. Farmer Erika says:

    I love “good” fat. I look for good fatty steaks and revel in my pigs wonderful layer of back fat. I’m facinated at my table the people who grew up eating meat trim off all the fat and the moral vegetarians who find themselves at a table of humanely raised and slaughtered meat consume it all. I think most of the “non meat eaters” enjoy the fat the most. Those who grew up eating meat were scared at taught to eat meat but fats gonna kill ya!

    I’m not at the point yet of fully pastured pigs and need to find a dairy source so i feed a grain diet supplimented with hay, spent grain, veggies and pasture, but even access to pasture has a huge affect on a pigs fattieness. I had two pigs for 4 h kids we kept in a pen in the barn with outdoor access so the kids could walk them easily. Well, the kids didn’t and they just got lazy and laid around all day (when i took their sister out they stopped going outside and playing. it just became like a teenage boy laziness competition). So one pig went to the fair a bit chunky and “fat,” the other pig got put in the pasture with everyone else so he wasn’t alone. Within a week he was sleek and well muscled. Of course, the first few days he was “welcomed” with jogs around the pasture…still his diet didn’t change. Only now he had more outside access and more grass. He hung at 306 lbs with about an inch back fat.

    Infact, I’m disappointed with a recent slaughter: only a gallon sized baggie of fat trim and one bag of meat trim off a 75 lb half. not going to get much home made sausage and no more lard. I might need to work on fattening my pigs….

  6. Joz says:

    Hello Walter,

    I have 6 female pigs that will be going to slaughter in one month when they will be 9 mths old. I had a lot of access to filo dough as they were growing and I am afraid they have gotten too fat with wobbly fat between their legs and fat jowls. They are Large White x Saddleback. They have been in pasture for the last two months and for the last 5 wks pasture and persimmons only, and restricted to two 20 litre buckets of persimmons a day (to finish the pork with a nice flavour). My question is, will this be enough time to get rid of some of the fat and tighten them up? What would your plan of action be so they are good eating by 1st July? We don’t mind some fat, but hoping these pigs aren’t beyond help. Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Cut their calories. Do it gradually over a week or two by feeding the supplemental high calorie items later and later in the day. Then start reducing the amount in the second week until you’re down to just pasture or a level you want to supplement at. One month is not a lot of time to transition and lose the extra fat.

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