No antibiotics or growth hormones added to feed at Ontario hog farm

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It took the death of their two-year-old son from liver cancer in 2001 for hog farmer Paul Hill and his wife Rosie to re-evaluate their lives and in particular how they could make the world a better place.

The result is that they are now raising pigs without antibiotics or growth hormones. Instead, they chose functional ingredients such as omega-3s, DHA/EPA and selenium.

It took the death of their two-year-old son from liver cancer in 2001 for hog farmer Paul Hill and his wife Rosie to re-evaluate their lives and in particular how they could make the world a better place.

The result is that they are now raising pigs without antibiotics or growth hormones. Instead, they chose functional ingredients such as omega-3s, DHA/EPA and selenium.

Omega-3s and DHA/EPA are essential fatty acids for the maintenance of general health, normal growth and development, and the body does not produce these on its own. The essential trace mineral selenium is an antioxidant believed to be needed in the human diet to help reduce the risks of cancer.

"We first changed the genetics of our animals to a more marbled animal," said Hill, 48. "We, as hog producers, get paid more to make the pork as lean as possible and to achieve this, we can do it in two ways: feeding programs and genetics."

So they went away from the traditional and began raising a fatter animal on their Willowgrove Hill farm in Mitchell, Ont., west of Stratford.

"Pigs and humans are very close genetically, so we asked ourselves, could fatter pigs fight off diseases better? And hence we could use less drugs to produce the pork."

The pair looked at omega-3s (human-grade fish oil) and in particular the success omega-3 eggs were having in the marketplace. "They command a whopping 24 per cent market share," Hill said, "and obviously a growing number of consumers are eager to know where their food comes from and what's in it."

They went to their feed company, Grand Valley Fortifiers in Cambridge, Ont., and asked if they could produce omega-3 pork.

"There already was a ALA omega-3 product on the market," Hill said. "But this type of omega-3 is from a flax-based feeding program and has very little health benefits, since it must be converted into DHA/EPA or omega-3s."

Working with the feed company's nutritionists, they introduced human-grade fish oil into their feeding program and two years later developed what is believed to be the world's first DHA/EPA omega-3 pork raised without antibiotics, growth promotants and animal byproducts.

"The biggest thing about getting the omegas into this pork is that it is done through the feeding program and that the pork is not injected in any way," Hill said.

Their new way of raising pigs has come at a cost, albeit a beneficial one.

"Our bio-security is huge on our farm," he said. "No outsiders come into our barns, and when we go there we strip, shower, change into different clothes, put on rubber gloves and air masks."

Hill said the pigs are moved only on certain days of the week to protect their health.

"Those are days with less pig flow on the roads," he said.

As well, he only takes certain routes so as not to pass other pig barns on their way.

The couple has a small farm gate store where they sell their product, which includes pork chops, sausage, bacon, pulled pork, wieners, ham and cottage rolls.

Since losing their first born, the couple has had two children, Joey and Maddie.

"I know there is a consumer base for a healthy product like ours," Hill said, "and I think we have a premium product."

For more information on their home-raised pork, visit www.willowgrovehill.com.

Organizations: DHA/EPA

Geographic location: Ontario, Mitchell, Stratford Cambridge

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