Eat / For Chefs

Pasture-Raised vs. Conventional Pork

Conventional meat production is one of the biggest environmental polluters.

Pasture-Raised vs. Conventional Pork
Tara Maxey, Photographer

Numerous studies show that current factory farming practices consume an enormous amount of resources and grain-fed livestock in particular is the most inefficient across the board in terms of water, land, and fossil fuel consumption.

  • U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists Link
  • Pigs: Intelligent Animals Suffering in Farms and Slaughterhouses Link
  • Cook Pigs Ranch Link
  • Cook Pigs Ranch Visit Link
  • Natural Pig Farming Link
  • Cook Pigs Opens Kearny Mesa Butcher Shop Link


A closer look at the conventional production of pigs reveals the following environmental impact: 

  • Conventional pigs are fed grain, corn, and soybeans and it takes approximately 500 pounds of grain to feed one pig—yet these are not what pigs typically eat. They prefer grass, bush, tree leafs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and meat.
  • More than half of the grain produced and 2/3 of agricultural land are used for livestock.
  • Due to overcrowding, intensively farmed pigs are sprayed with pesticides, which can end up polluting soil and waterways.
  • 20 million pounds of antibiotics are fed to pigs each year.
  • Each pig produces 9 pounds of manure per day which ends up in giant pits and can pollute air and groundwater.
  • Pigs are transported thousands of miles to slaughterhouses, butcheries, freezers, and grocery stores, thus consuming tons of fossil fuel.
  • 1 million pigs die en route to slaughter every year.

Intensive pig production may be the norm, but it’s certainly not the only option. Let’s take a look at a different picture.

Cook Pigs Ranch, a sustainable ranch in Julian, California, raises pigs in open pasture and on a varied diet. As a result, the pigs are healthier, the meat tastes better, and there are little to zero effect on the environment:

  • Cook’s pigs roam in pasture where they eat grass, herbs, acorns, and roots & they are also given food scraps from local farms such as smashed avocados, tortillas, and apples, helping to reduce food waste.
  • Piglets at Cook Pigs Ranch are allowed to suckle for four months and have plenty of room to roam around which keeps them healthy and reduces the risk of disease. The ranch does not add any hormones.
  • Cook’s pigs also have mud baths to cool off, shelter during the winter, and a maternity ward.
  • Taking into consideration CA’s drought, the ranch grows their own grain and hydroponic fodder for the pigs.
  • To reduce on transportation, Cook Pigs has recently opened their own USDA certified butchery in San Diego.
  • Cook Pigs Ranch raises heritage pigs, thus preserving some of the rare breeds that are in danger of extinction.

In comparing an intensive farming operation to a small ranch, it is evident that a conscious and holistic approach to raising animals is better for our health and the health of the environment. Further, according to this Cornell study, we are producing more protein than we need and if we are to switch to pasture, we would still have the recommended daily allowance for every person. It’s time we change the way we look at meat.

The Ecology Center is dedicated to supporting sustainable farmers, sharing their stories, and connecting them to the community. In our ongoing Community Table Dinner Series, we will feature local sustainable purveyors like Cook Pigs

Join us to celebrate the season by supporting local farmers and get to know where your food comes from.