At A Glance
Greg and Lei Gunthorp
Summary of Operation
• 1,000-1,200 pastured hogs
• 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
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 his
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 says.
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 taste.”
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
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 per event.
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,”
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 conventional methods.
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 and all.
“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 altogether.
“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 Glickman.
“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 about it.”
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.