The Berkshire breed is known for marbling and the pH and juiciness of the meat.
Compared to other heritage breeds, whose claims to fame are… rather inventive, most of our clients say they had no idea what pork was supposed to taste like, before they tried our Berkshire.
That is certainly true for some cuts, but there is definitely a place for crossbred pigs on our farm as well. Our crossbred Duroc pigs are leaner… and cheaper.
Unfortunately, Berkshires aren’t great mothers, and they do not have a lot of babies. So raising them is quite a lot more expensive, especially if one elects to follow humane methods of raising pigs from birth to plate.
We find that raising pigs on pasture is easy and it has only a small impact on taste, costs, animal welfare, the environmental etc. That is, if it is done well.
For us, doing it right does not mean forcing the animals to be outside rain or shine, year round. It means giving the animals a choice. So we have to ensure a good environment inside as well.
The harder part, and where the more sustainability gains can be achieved, is in the maternity, where ‘natural’ and ‘humane’ do not always go hand-in-hand, and where diseases are usually rampant. On our farm, Berkshire pigs are raised under the best possible humane conditions, without antibiotics, from the day they are born. This is not some vague promise. Our ‘humane Berkshire’ maternity costs are four times higher than for those for a conventional pig. No wonder our pigs are a little more expensive.
Biyearly blood test indicate that our herd is exempt of all major pig diseases and we enforce strict biosecurity measures to keep it that way.
And the hardest part of course is genetics. There is probably more variation within breeds than among breeds, in terms of meat quality and efficiency. Efficiency is important because it limits waste and thus saves the environment and the farm finances. So, for us, it is certainly not enough to raise Berkshires. We want to raise the best Berkshires, and this implies artificial insemination and matching breeding pairs based on DNA samples.