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Why feed grain to chickens and pigs?

Over the last decade or so since we raised our first pastured pigs and chickens, we get the question from time to time about why we feed grain to these animals instead of growing them on grass alone like our cattle. It’s a good question so let’s take a look at the reasons.

First, it’s important to clarify the differences between the digestive systems of the animals we raise. Cows are ruminant herbivores and have a large stomach divided into four compartments. Chickens are omnivores with the major digestive organs consisting of the crop, proventriculus, and the gizzard. Pigs are also omnivores with a monogastric digestive system similar to that of a human. Here’s a link with some more explanation and images of these digestive systems.

All three of these types of animals can be fed grains and thrive or all three could not be supplemented with grains and could possibly survive as well. But why do we choose to feed grain to our poultry and hogs?  To get right to the point, it comes down to economics. Our monogastric animals could survive without grain, but they would not grow nearly as fast or as big. 

We could allow our layer chickens to only glean bugs and grass from the pasture and not supplement them at all, but we would have to raise a small fraction of the 3000 or so that we have now. This extremely small number of hens would be able to find enough grass, bugs, worms, etc. to sustain themselves, but the number of eggs we would gather each day would barely be enough to serve 2-3 customers. This simply is not the type of operation that can be anything more than a hobby. Hobbies are great, but they usually don’t provide the kind of revenue stream necessary to sustain a farm business.

Pigs could also be allowed to only forage from the land, but again the numbers that we raise would have to be severely reduced, and the time required to finish a pig would be severely increased. This extra time requirement coupled with the vast amount of land required would greatly increase the price of our pork to a point where very few customers would be willing to go. In order to meet customers at a price they are willing to pay while still offering a pork product raised on pasture, we have to concentrate the operation with the help of some grains prepared in a balanced ration.

These non-GMO, whole grain rations are great for simple stomach animals. It is a diet matched to their digestive system. Grains are relatively easy to store, handle, grind, mix and feed. This all works toward a sustainable operation that produces a wholesome pasture-raised product that most customers find to be superb. Our chickens and pigs can be a part of a significant land-healing ministry that supports not only the families of those who work with them, but also the families who consume the nutrient-dense meat derived from them. When a regenerative farm uses practices that are profitable, that farm can continue in that good work of regenerating.

For more discussion on this topic, check out the Beyond Labels Podcast with Joel Salatin and Dr. Sina McCullough. They have a recent episode where they explore this topic in depth.

Scenes from the farm

While setting up a portable cattle drinker, we discovered this pair of snakes in the water tee access point.  Being black snakes are generally harmless (although not to mice), we allowed them time to vacate and went about our work.  

Product Spotlight

Did you know that we have a Merchandise Category where we offer hoodies, hats, and t-shirts with our logo? It’s a great time of year to get a warm comfortable hoodie for those chilly nights and cool mornings! These products are printed on demand by Printful and shipped directly to you once they are complete. Get some Watson Farms merch!

You can see ALL of our ON SALE products with the button below.

We re-use packaging!

We’ve seen a good response to our efforts in re-using packaging! Thanks and keep it up.  

You can help us reduce our carbon footprint by returning your CLEAN egg cartons and meat boxes. 

The main reason that we switched to plastic egg cartons a while back was because they are so much more durable than paper which could only be used once.  They also protect the eggs much better!

So if you have some egg cartons or boxes to return, you can just place them on your porch on your home delivery day.  Farm pickup customers can, of course, drop them off when you come to pick up your new order.  

Thanks for helping us re-use our packaging!

Referral Program

If you enjoy our products please consider passing the word along to your neighbors, friends and family!  We don’t spend a lot of money of advertising but rather depend on customers like yourself to advertise for us if they are amazed by our products and customer service.

All you have to do is refer someone to us and when they place an order for the first time they will get a link to a form where they can say who referred them.  You and the new customer will receive a $15 credit!  So make sure they tell us your name.  Hit the button for more info!

Order Deadlines and Store Hours

Order Deadlines

Charleston: 12 noon Mondays
GSP: 12 noon on Wednesdays
Charlotte/Rock Hill: 12 noon Fridays
Farm Pickup: Please wait until you receive an email stating that your order is ready to be picked up (usually 1 business day from when you place your order).  Farm pickup is done during store hours:

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 10am to 6pm
Saturday: 10am to 2pm
Closed Sunday and Wednesday

Produce Box Ordering Deadlines

Sundays at 9pm for Charleston or Columbia Home Deliveries
Tuesdays at 9pm for GSP and CLT/Local Home Deliveries

Did you know that we have a webpage that displays all the reviews we have received?  

Check it out!

Check out this ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review:

Enjoyed my purchase. Delivery was smooth and easy. Will try the subscription plan next. I enjoy knowing my meat and eggs were raised in a pasture and I enjoy supporting a farmer directly.

We would greatly appreciate it if you would be kind enough to leave us a review.  It helps first-time customers purchase with confidence.

Thanks again for being partners in this endeavor of local, pasture-raised proteins that has truly transformed our farm.  We look forward to continuing this transition while serving you long into the future.


The Watsons

Pasture Posts is written by Matt Watson.

1 thought on “Why feed grain to chickens and pigs?

  1. […] from our land greatly benefits our grass-fed beef enterprise.  As we briefly mentioned in Pasture Posts #36, cows are equipped with a multi-stage stomach that is excellent at breaking down grass into the […]

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