The growing number of consumers who want pork bearing the label “organic,” “pasture-raised,” “no antibiotics ever” or any number of other trendy attributes means pork producers have the opportunity to meet that demand. That’s exactly what Old Fashion Pork, near Thorp, Wis., intends to do. It follows the Global Animal Partnership, or GAP standards, which is what companies like Whole Foods require from their suppliers.

Kyle Coble, who is senior manager of production strategies and a swine nutritionist with New Fashion Pork in Jackson, Minn., oversees the new arm of the company called Old Fashion Pork. He wants producers to know, however, he doesn’t advocate for, nor encourage, a departure from practical, proven production methods. After all, his background and training is science-based. He and the owners of Old Fashion Pork see this as a marketing opportunity and a chance to capitalize on consumers’ preferences. In fact, if this relatively new category of consumers was eating little to no pork before, Coble sees these initiatives as a way to increase domestic demand.

Higher Costs Require Higher Returns
Coble admits it costs more to raise pigs the way people did 50 years ago rather than with current practices. The most significant cost is the extra space. Most finishing barns allow 7 sq. ft. per pig but because of the GAP requirements, Old Fashion Pork gives pigs 10 sq. ft. That’s a 30% difference.

“If your normal costs are 10 cents per head per day, and your finishing period is 110 to 120 days long, that’s $10 to $12 in costs,” Coble says. “Now increase that to 30% and you have $15 to $18 per pig in facility costs. In the winter months, that’s about all the marginal return you’re going to get on a market pig, and you’re going to eat that up.”

With a higher weaning age, you also have to account for extra days, even though you will likely have a healthier pig with a more developed immune system.

“Obviously with the number of piglets you’re going to wean, sheer math tells you it’s going to be a little less profit, but hopefully with a better breed-back percentage and the potential to wean more pigs per litter, based on historical data, we can get the numbers pretty close.

Farmers are limited on the number of individual treatments they can administer in the Gap program.

“GAP doesn’t say you can’t treat animals, but just that you can’t sell them through the program,” Coble says. “In other words, they’re not telling you to neglect them.”

These pigs must be segregated. Coble says Old Fashion uses segregation pens and ear tags, and stresses the importance of keeping pigs healthy.

“If you have a certain percentage of pigs fall out, you’ve increased the cost of production for those pigs without getting the higher return because you had to give them an antibiotic, so you can’t sell them and can’t get the premium,” he continues.

Since it’s a new farm with a high health status, Coble says he doesn’t know yet what the mortality rate will be. He thinks it will be low, but it still comes down to facility cost.

“You had higher costs in high-health breeding stock to begin with and would have a huge cost if you were to get some kind of disease challenge,” he says.