At A Glance
Greg and Lei Gunthorp
• 1,000-1,200 pastured
• 1,000 pastured chickens
• 25 acres of feed corn
on a total of 130 acres
a small hog operation profitable.
Greg Gunthorp has a degree in agriculture economics,
but says he’d be broke and out of farming
if he had listened to most of what he was taught.
“I would have borrowed money to put up buildings
for raising hogs, and more for tractors and combines
and storage silos and wagons for harvesting and
keeping the corn to feed the hogs,” he says.
“And I would have gone belly up in 1998
when hogs were selling for eight cents a pound,
which was about what my grandfather got for his
during the Depression.”
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 29 to 31
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
for Organic: Chicago chefs are some of
hog and chicken producer Greg Gunthorp’s best
Gunthorp was raised on a farm
only a mile from where he now lives with his wife, Lei, and
their three young children. Gunthorp owns 65 acres and uses
about 65 acres of his parents’ farm.
He runs the hogs on pasture ground that is too poor to crop.
Gunthorp is in the process of getting all of the farmland
he uses certified organic, and should be completely certified
by 2002. Becoming organic is another step in a path toward
the simplification and thrift Gunthorp has adopted in all
of his farming practices.
“They’re making farming so capital-intensive an
average person can’t do it anymore, or at least not
the way they say it should be done,” he says. “I
get by with a tractor and a 3-wheeler now, and I’m still
looking for ways to reduce my equipment and input costs. Going
organic is a way to do that.”
Gunthorp’s pigs farrow in his fields, graze year round
in intensive rotation through pastures sown in wheat, clover,
rye and various grasses, and harvest their own corn when the
time comes. He also allows them to root through the stalks
after the harvest on his father’s farm. During the deepest
part of winter, Gunthorp adds hay and a corn-and-soybean feed
to their diet.
Not only does Gunthorp vastly reduce the cost of hog production
compared to farmers raising hogs intensively in confinement
but he also adds value and employs special strategies to market
Focal Point of Operation — Marketing
Gunthorp is a vocal supporter of pasture-based systems for
livestock, believing that the confinement hog industry wouldn’t
exist if fence chargers, rolls of black plastic pipe and four-wheelers
were available in 1950s.
“Every problem that buildings create could be cured
by pasture. I know because I have a partially slatted building
that sits empty because I can’t afford the death loss
in it!” he says. Now, he says, tail-biting and respiratory
problems are non-existent.
Gunthorp took his system one step further. After perfecting
his rotational grazing system, he turned to marketing. Now,
“I spend more time marketing than I do farming,”
He has made meeting and getting to know the chefs at the best
restaurants in Chicago a major focus of his work in the past
two years, traveling more than 100 miles to the city at least
once a week to talk with chefs right in their kitchens.
“More than anyone else, chefs appreciate how food is
supposed to taste,” he says. “They know how much
flavor has been lost when producers grow anything, animal
or vegetable, for a certain look or a certain weight, or for
its ability to be packed conveniently instead of for its best
He has little trouble getting orders once the chefs have tasted
his product. “My problems come in getting them the kinds
of cuts they want when they want them, or having enough suckling
pigs to meet all the orders, but not in slow sales.”
He also sells his pork, and the pastured poultry he and his
family raise and process, at a popular farmers market in Chicago
almost every Saturday during the season. Gunthorp takes advantage
of the crowds at the market to promote his burgeoning catering
business, which has ranged from wedding receptions to company
picnics to family barbecues.
The catering sideline began when a local company asked him
to bring a hog to roast at their picnic. “When I saw
how easy it was, and how much money I could make from it,
I started spreading the word that this was something else
I was offering in addition to the best-tasting pigs around,”
Gunthorp says. “If you had told me three years ago that
I’d be direct marketing 100 percent of my hogs now I
wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s just what
I’m doing, and I’m making a living at it.”
The Gunthorps augment that living by raising chickens on pasture,
too. They process the chickens on the farm because no USDA-approved
meat plant in their area handles poultry, but they are only
allowed to process 1,000 chickens in the course of a year.
“I could do a lot more than that very easily.”
Gunthorp said, “Good-tasting birds sell themselves.”
Economics and Profitability
Gunthorp figures it costs him an average 30 cents per pound
to raise a hog to maturity. The lowest price he now gets for
his pork is $2 per pound, although he commands as much as
$7 per pound for suckling pigs —which weigh in at 25
pounds or less.
Overall, Gunthorp’s prices average 10 times what hogs
fetch on the commodities market. The top prices are in line
with other specialty meat producers, he says.
His catering business, still a relatively new venture, already
sells about one roasted pig each week. A 300- to 400-pound
pig, “dressed out,” feeds 200 people at just $5
a plate. He provides side dishes, too, and grosses about $1,000
Gunthorp estimates whole-hog purchases account for one-third
of his sales each year. Those involve the least amount of
work, and thus the highest profit, so Gunthorp has focused
his marketing efforts in that area. He encourages chefs, for
example, to contract with him for a whole hog by pricing choice
cuts so high it pays them to take the entire pig.
The other two-thirds of his sales are marketed in pieces,
with the tenderloins, ribs and bacon easy to sell. Gunthorp
uses a federally inspected processing plant that produces
smoked hams, Italian sausage, Kielbasa and other specialty
products from the rest of the hog. He reports little difficulty
in direct marketing all of it.
Raising poultry on pasture has taken off even more. “I’ve
got people practically tearing my door off the hinges to get
more,” he says.
Without a federally inspected meat processing plant in the
area willing to butcher poultry, however, the Gunthorps are
in a bind. Farm operations are allowed by law to process only
1,000 chickens per year on site. And purchasing the equipment
to meet federal standards that would allow them to process
more, as well as applying for regular federal inspections
of their facilities, would cost the Gunthorps precious time
and money. So they limit their sales to only 1,000 birds per
year, at $2 per pound.
Gunthorp says the bottom line for him is that he is making
enough money to keep his family healthy and happy. “We
can get by just selling 1,000 pigs a year, and the smarter
I can raise them and sell them, the better off we’ll
be,” he says.
Gunthorp’s hogs and chickens live in the open. They
have access to shelter and feed during bad weather, but spend
most of their time foraging. As a result — and in marked
contrast to conventional practices of raising hundreds and
even thousands of animals at a time in confinement —
Gunthorp experiences few of the manure disposal, disease,
aggression and feeding difficulties that go along with those
He doesn’t have to drain wastes into lagoons or have
them hauled away; the hogs and chickens are their own manure
spreaders. He also doesn’t need to inoculate his pigs
against nearly as many diseases as contained animals are susceptible
to. In fact, Gunthorp only gives shots to his breeding sows
to protect them against common reproductive diseases.
Gunthorp also notes that he’s releasing a lot less engine
exhaust into the atmosphere as a pastured pork producer, because
he doesn’t use a combine to harvest grain, or trucks
to haul the grain to storage, or huge fans and gas dryers
to remove moisture from the feed. His hogs just knock down
the corn once he lets them in his fields, where they eat stalk
“I also don’t have to worry about weeds and pests,”
Gunthorp says. “I control the pigs’ susceptibility
to worms by rotating them to different pastures regularly,
and I don’t have to fertilize.”
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
Gunthorp says it means a lot to him that his wife does not
feel pressed to work off the farm. His wife, a registered
nurse, could make more money working off the farm, but he
says they don’t need the extra income. “A farm
is the best place to raise kids,” he says.
It would be different, Gunthorp says, if he’d gone deeply
into debt to finance the conventional system of hog farming.
In fact, they might already have been driven out of farming
“It’s just an easier way to go all around, as
far as I can tell,” Gunthorp says. “A lot of my
time is taken up now with marketing, or running the catering
business, or working the farmers market, or meeting with chefs,
but I really enjoy all that interaction. And I profit from
it at the same time.”
Gunthorp participated on the USDA’s Small Farm Commission,
serving as an adviser to former Agriculture Secretary Dan
“The biggest mistake a lot of farmers make is that they
get locked into this idea that their product isn’t worth
very much, and that anybody can do what they do,” Gunthorp
insists. “And it just isn’t true.”
This negative attitude keeps farmers from benefiting from
the nation’s generally strong economy while they hang
back and wait for the U.S. Department of Agriculture or politicians
to improve the markets.
“That isn’t going to happen,” he says. “What
farmers have to do is realize they have the ability to do
things differently, to produce livestock and crops that are
unique, with good flavor and value, and then let people know
Gunthorp does not envision dramatically increasing the number
of hogs he raises each year, but believes his ability to increase
his income is unlimited. He believes the value-added end of
his efforts — the catering business in particular —
can grow each year, and he intends to focus on marketing to
companies, universities, schools and civic organizations all
over northwest Indiana.