Dry Weather, The Piglet Sandwich and Leaping The Minefield of Free Range

Following two years of La Nina and substantial rain, including two of the largest floods seen around here, since early April the tap has been turned off and we have reverted to a typical Autumn - dry weather, beautiful blue days and increasingly frosty nights. I think Autumn is my favourite time of year; the heat of summer has gone, the cold and wet of winter is yet to arrive. The nights are cold enough to warrant a wood fire and yet the days are warm enough for a T shirt. 

It has been interesting to see how the pigs have adapted to the change. Now that the sun has lost its sting we can pasture them down on the more cleared country on the flats as they no longer require the sun protection needed during summer when they were run in the woodland areas. We have also noted that the younger weaned pigs, during dry weather, often prefer to sleep out under a tree on a bed of dry grass rather than in their portable shelters. In these circumstances they form what we call a piglet "sandwich" where they will lie on top of each other in two or three layers to share body heat for comfort. To drive past early in the morning and see twenty or thirty alert faces watching you from the "sandwich" is very amusing and reminds you that pigs, given the chance, know how to be comfortable.

There is much discussion of the term Free Range at the moment as the issue is being debated in the NSW Parliament and by both the pig and egg industries. There is a strong push from large intensive growers to redefine the term free range so that it can include highly intensive models. The egg industry wants to allow producers running birds at up to 20,000 birds per hectare to qualify as free range. Similarly some free range pig farms resemble a feedlot where pigs are run at high density in fixed paddocks that become either a dust bowl or quagmire depending on the weather. To create further confusion there is the term Born and Bred Free Range used by some pig farmers to give the impression they produce free range pork, when in reality the piglets are only free range till weaning after which they go into intensive grower sheds on either straw bedding or concrete. As far as I can see the industry has tried to co-opt the term to sidestep consumer concern about intensive production and animal welfare.