Nutrient Density Profiles for Conventional vs Pasture-Raised Pork

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2017: $7,183.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Singing Prairie Farm
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Holly and John Arbuckle
Singing Prairie farm, DBA Singing Pastures

Information Products


  • Animals: swine


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, feed formulation, feed management, feed rations, free-range, grazing management, heritage breeds, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training, cooperatives, feasibility study, new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: values-based supply chains

    Proposal summary:


    In recent years, there has been a significant jump in sales for grass fed beef due to the research and promotion of its increased nutritional benefits vs conventional. These benefits justify a higher price for the farmer. The same research needs to be done for pigs. An important component of this research is to not only see if pasture-raised pork is nutritionally superior to conventional, but also if there are additional nutritional benefits to human health by reducing or eliminating the grain consumption of pigs.

    Even though pigs are monogastric and can not be strictly "grass fed", it is possible to significantly reduce grain consumption by increasing forage consumption and feeding whey. For the past several years, John has been growing high octane forage crops for grazing pigs, as well as feeding waste produce. Initial results have demonstrated a reduced cost for feed, as well as an increase in nutrient density of the pork. John will be using pigs from two other farms where they have spent years selecting for the appropriate genetics for weight gain on low or no-grain rations. More research is needed to help substantiate the initial findings of increased nutritional value.


    Selecting for appropriate genetics in grass finished beef is vital to obtain effective weight gain. Similarly, we will seek the best genetics available for forage-fed pigs.

    Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont has been raising grain-free pigs for many years and selected for weight gain on a ration of whey, grass, and hay. They will be used for the grain-free experiment group.

    The 50% reduced grain experiment group will come from Clear Creek Organics Farm in Nebraska. These pigs have been selected to thrive on a reduced grain diet. Both the low and grain-free groups will also receive a measured quantity of whey, and waste produce when available.

    The full ration group will be Hereford/Hampshire cross, from Singing Prairie Farm.

    For the nutrient density profile on conventional pork, we will test store bought pork chops as well as referencing the USDA statistics.

    The experiment will begin in June when the pigs are all about 8 weeks old; there will be 8 pigs per group. All groups will be moved every 3 to 7 days. The three groups will be separated using electric fencing. Full grain pigs will be on permanent pasture. Reduced and grain-free pigs will be on mostly annual forages. Supplemental whey will be obtained from a cheese house in Iowa. Pigs will be harvested when they reach 250 lbs. Samples from conventional pork, and all three experiment groups will be sent to University of MO for nutrient density testing and their associated taste panel.

    If our initial findings prove to be true, this research can help justify a higher price for pasture-raised pork vs conventional. In addition, it has the potential to create a new market niche for forage-fed pigs, if their nutrient density is shown to be even better than pastured pigs on full grain rations.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Compare nutrient density profiles (Vitamins A, D, K and E and Fatty Acid profiles including Omega 6:3 ratios and Conjugated Linoleic Acid) of pork from conventionally raised pigs and forage-raised pigs on full grain, 50% reduced grain and grain-free rations.
    2. Increase profitability for farmers of pasture-raised pork by demonstrating its nutritional benefits and justifying its higher price.
    3. Reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with industrial pig farms such as water and air contamination,by supporting the pasture-raised pork market.
    4. Benefit consumers health-wise by providing more nutritional pork products containing fewer or no antibiotics.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.