Posts Tagged ‘hogs’

Factory Farmed Animals Live in Horrible Conditions and GMOs Will Kill You!

These poor cattle will spend the rest of their lives lounging around, being served food, and having their bedding fluffed. Such a rough life they will live in confinement.

I often find myself in a predicament.  This usually happens when I go looking for trouble.  Somewhere out there in cyberspace, someone will post an article about “Big Bad GMOs,” or the horror of “Factory Farming.”  Inevitably, the comments on these sorts of things are filled with hatred and inaccuracy.  There is always mention of “greedy industrial farmers who only care about making money while ruining the environment and confining animals.”  As a farmer who raises livestock and crops with so-called “industrial” methods, these things always get me going, and they always put me in a difficult situation.

I will reply (yeah, I know, glutton for punishment) by posting a comment to the tune of, “As a farmer who uses modern methods of livestock production, I get tired of people telling me that I treat my animals poorly and my crops are poisoning people.”

And the response almost ALWAYS is something like this:  “Well, I’m sure YOU don’t treat YOUR animals badly.  But INDUSTRIAL agriculture does, they cram their animals into CAFOs and they rob GOOD farmers like YOU from making a living.”

And that, right there, is where the gigantic disconnect between the consumer and the farmer comes in.  I’m still not sure how to bridge this gap.  I often envision myself taking said cyber-person by the shoulders and shaking them.

Here’s the deal.  I AM “INDUSTRIAL” AGRICULTURE!!  Along with thousands of other farm families working hard to feed the population.  When you say “CAFOS ARE EVIL!” You are telling me, my family, and the people that we work with that we are evil.  The animals we raise get sold to “BIG BAD CORPORATIONS” such as Tyson and Hormel.  We buy our GMO seed from Monsanto.  Our livestock is raised in confinement.

These resting pigs have it pretty rough too. When it's below zero outside, they have to relax in a temperature controlled barn. Their feeders have sensors on them that ensure they have access to unlimited feed. The floor allows their manure to drop into a pit below them, keeping their pens clean.

So, if I do decide to push the issue with these people who feel that all farming should look like it did in 1950, they will then proceed to tell me that they pity me.  That the EVIL CORPORATIONS have FORCED me to accept their ways and raise an INFERIOR, INHUMANE, and TOXIC product.  Clearly, I, as an individual, must be STUPID to not see it.  If I was smart, I’d choose to raise my crops and livestock without chemicals or confinement.

And here is my disclaimer, as I have stated before, I do not mean any disrespect to farmers who choose to raise their produce differently from me.  There is no one perfect way to farm, and I know that the vast majority of farmers, and food industry workers, are good people working hard to provide a quality, abundant food supply.

See, when it comes to a debate, many humans have a really hard time telling each other one-on-one that we have a problem with each other’s individual actions.  Especially, when we’re not 100% confident about what we’re debating.  It’s so much easier to throw up a scapegoat, like a faceless corporation, than to tackle an issue on a individual level.

Can you believe it? I let my son touch our GMO corn! But for some reason, he's still healthy and growing.

So, If I am really feeling feisty, I go on to say “I make the choices I make because I am confident that they are the best choices for me, my farm, my family, and the consumer. I educate myself about the applications and consequences of everything we do on the farm, and I am comfortable that the product I provide is safe, environmentally sound, and nutritious.”

And then, I’m told I am a fake.  I can’t possibly be real.  The “BIG CORPORATIONS” have brainwashed me and I am a paid fake.  And if I am real, then I have destroyed their faith in humanity.  Because it just can’t be possible that there’s more to agriculture than what Michael Pollan (the director of the horribly biased Food, Inc and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) told them.

Agriculture is my family's livlihood....and our way of life. So, yes, I do feel threatened when it comes under attack.

Here is the truth.

The animals my family cares for are raised in CAFOs and FEEDLOTS.  They are comfortable and they do not suffer, and we work our tails off every day to ensure that.  The animals’ comfort always comes before ours. The hormones and antibiotics that they receive are given in a prescribed manner, under the direction of our veterinarian and feed specialist, according to USDA rules and guidelines.  I fully understand how these products work, and do not hesitate to feed my family the beef we raise.

My son rides in the tractor with his dad. He is adamant that he is going to be a farmer when he grows up.

Our crops are GMO and we use chemicals.  We live right in the middle of the farms where we grow our crops.  My kids play in the yard right next to our crops, they help with the planting and harvest of them.  We follow several guidelines and rules set forth by the USDA to ensure that the crops we grow are safe.  Using GMO technology has allowed us to produce more crop with less fuel, chemical, and water.

Now, if you choose to buy organic, local, or pasture-raised produce, (or whatever the latest food buzzword is) that is completely your choice.  Please, just don’t do it while saying that our “FACTORY FARM”  is inferior, because, I ensure you, we are not.

I feed my kids the beef we raise using antibiotics and hormones because I know that it is safe.

I do not hesitate to feed my family our beef (which is also sold to Tyson) and I do not care if the food I buy in the store contains GMOs.  I am confident that the US food system is reliable, safe, and continually improving.

I don’t deny that there are issues, there always will be.  I’ll admit, there are some things that I see happening in agriculture and food production today that concern me.  I am glad there are skeptics out there, because nothing should ever progress unchecked. I have faith that we will work through these issues and come out better because of it.

I do know that I am glad to be living in today’s day and age, where food-borne illness is so rare that it makes the news, as opposed to years past where it was a common cause of death.

So, back to the difficult situation I put myself in.  Reacting to bad information about farming puts me on the defensive, by default.  And for some reason, people are particularly skeptical of defensive people. At least, I know I can be.

I’m pretty defensive, aren’t I?  I’ll admit it.  Agriculture has been under attack lately, and it seems like every day there is some new piece of misinformation out there.

So….

How can I not defend the way of life, the “BIG BAD INDUSTRY”, that I love?  How can I not reach out to consumers and show them that what my family is doing is not going to harm them, the environment, or the animals?  How can I not begin to take a proactive approach to this problem of misinformation?

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Loading Hogs

This is me, holding a hog panel, which is used to help guide the pigs where we want them to go. The coveralls are to keep me from spreading any disease to the pigs, and the hankerchief is to keep the "aroma" of the pigs out of my hair.

One of my least favorite jobs on the farm is loading fat hogs.  I’m just not as much of a fan of pigs as I am of cattle.  Never have been. I’d be lying if I said I looked forward to it, but really, once it’s happening it’s not so bad.

Looking down the alleyway, which leads out of the building and onto a ramp that goes up to the semi trailer.

Here’s a run down of how it goes.

All this week we will be loading out hogs.  Two semi truck loads at a time.  The alarm will go off at 4:30 AM.  I will cuss and whine the entire time I am getting ready, on the ride to the hog buildings, and as I am putting on the coveralls and changing my shoes (for biosecurity, don’t want to get the piggies sick).  Basically because it is early in the morning and I just want to go back to bed.  Once I’m inside the building, I get to wait with my hubby, brother-in-law, and father-in-law while the semi backs up to the load-out ramp.  Usually the conversation involves what the neighbors are doing in the field or what we need to do once we’re done loading.

A blue mark spray painted on this pig means he's big enough to become brats.

The pigs are still snoozing, but every time there is a bang of a door or something drops, they all jump up and voice their opinions.  Pigs are like that.  Very opinionated.  They grunt, bark, screech, chomp, and snort to voice their approval or disapproval of an event.  They are also very curious animals, and will swarm around you if you stand still near them.  They have it pretty good in our barns… lounging around in the pens with food, water, and shelter all readily available and closely monitored for them.

The trucker gets backed up, changes his shoes and clothes, and enters the building through a different door to keep the risk of carrying disease into the building at a minimum.  His job is to stand inside the semi trailer and put the pigs into the different pens on the trailer.

Lounging pigs enjoying the sunshine.

The rest of us enter the first pen to sort out all the pigs that have been marked a day or two before loading.  Marking the pigs (with a non-toxic spray paint) that are ready for market speeds up the loading process and lowers the stress on the pigs.  Each pen contains approximately 35 hogs.  Usually there are about 10-12 hogs in each pen to be sorted out.  It is my job to stand at the gate of the pen and only allow the marked pigs out.  My father-in-law, Ralph, works in the back of the pen to bring the marked hogs up to me. My hubby and brother-in -law get the hard job of bringing the pigs up the alleyway, onto the ramp, and into the trailer.  It’s the hardest job because they have to contend with pigs coming up the alleyway that they are trying to walk down, which means they have to crawl over the fences and into the pens.  The fences are about waist high on me, but Justin and Kevin are taller and make it look like they are stepping over a baby gate.

Demonstrating how the gates on the pens open up into the alleyway.

Sorting and moving hogs is a lesson from the school of hard knocks in animal psychology.  It is all about anticipating what a pig is going to do and then channeling his energy in the right direction.  I am having a hard time putting it into words, as it is something you just learn from being around hogs.  Where to stand, when to make noise, when to back off,  when to get the heck out of the way… these are all things that can only be learned by trial and error.  There are a few tips that can be applied, such as try to always keep the panel between yourself and the pig, or do everything in your power to not let them get by you.  But for the most part, working with pigs is like trying to solve a puzzle, it takes a lot of thinking and patience, and then once it starts working out, it will seem easy and you’ll develop a strategy.

More lazy lounging pigs.

There are rules we must follow in loading out.  We can take no more than 5 pigs per person down the alley.  A hog cannot be zapped with a stock prod more than 3 times.  The stock prod cannot be used in the pen.  On a side note, I have been shocked by a stock prod before, it certainly does not feel good, but it did not hurt me either.  A stock prod, like all things, has a time and place where it is appropriate and can actually prevent a stressful situation.  There are also times and places where it is inappropriate and can make a situation worse, it is not a tool to be used willy-nilly.  We do not slap, pull on, or drag the pigs; these are all actions that only contribute to a bad situation.

Semi trailer backing up the the ramp.

Here are some of our hog loading stats: It usually takes us about an hour to load one semi load of hogs.  One semi carries approximately 175 hogs.  The ride to the processing plant takes approximately 2.5 hours.  The pigs weigh about 250 lbs each when they are fat and ready for market.  And, nothing tastes better than sausage for breakfast after a morning of loading hogs!

Farewell, piggies!  We appreciated the opportunity to care for you on your journey to become nourishment for us!

Liz

Piggies!

  
Justin and I own one half of a modern hog farm.  It consists of two buildings that hold 1200 pigs per building.  The pigs come to us from North Carolina, Colorado ,Oklahoma, or Wyoming when they are three weeks old and weigh 10 lbs each.  The little piggies ride in a trailer that is heated in the winter and cooled in the summer and bedded with wood shavings to ensure their utmost comfort.  When they arrive they are divided evenly among the 40 pens per barn.   A few pens are left empty for the smaller  or slower pigs.   

A view of both hog buildings. The tall metal bins contain hog feed, which is augered into the barn automaticallyto ensure the pigs always have feed. You can also see the fans along the side of the building that provide ventilation.

The barns are well-ventilated with drop-down curtains on three sides, and huge fans on one end to create a breeze through the barn.For the first two weeks, the pigs get heat lamps to lay under to stay warm, as well as heaters to keep the temperature in the barn at 82 degrees.  A comptuter controls the temperature, feed distribution, and ventilation to be  just right for the pigs according to their age.  The pigs get rubber mats to lay on until they are 8 weeks old.   

Hazel is sitting the in the office by the coveralls we change into before entering the buildings. We also must change our footwear, to keep disease out of the buildings.

We walk through the barns three times per day to feed and check on the pigs when they are young.  When they get older, they still get checked twice per day. We must be very careful not to carry any illness in to the barns.  To prevent this from happening, we have to change our shoes and put on coveralls before we can enter the barn.   We montitor them for illness, and give them vaccinations.  We don’t own the pigs, we just do the work and get paid to take care of them, in addition to rental income for the barns.   

Lucy is checking out the medicator.... a system used to deliver medicine to the pigs through the water they drink.

After only six months, the pigs will have grown to approximately 250 lbs per pig, and will be  ready for market.  After all the pigs are loaded on semis and sent to Hormel in Albert Lea, MN, it is time to clean the barns out.  The barns must be power-washed from top to bottom, and throughy sanitized before new little pigs come in.   

This is the "brain" of the barn. It monitors and controls the temperature and air flow in the barn, it can even call us if something goes wrong!!

We attend PQA (pork quality assurance) classes to learn about  proper and humane pig handling techniques.  They are a series of classes that one must attend to maintain PQA certification.  There is also a TQA (trucker quality assurance) program for livestock haulers.  We also have field men that visit weekly to check that we are keeping proper records and supervise the hogs’ well-being.  

The view inside the barn. Rubber mats under nice warm heat lamps for the little piggies to lounge on.

The main reason we built the barns is for the manure that the pigs produce.  The barn has slatted cement floors, which allow the manure to drop into a cement pit below.  The manure accumulates for a year, and we then apply the manure to our fields for fertilizer.  Hog manure is an organic way to feed our crops, not to mention it saves us a lot of money and reduces our need for petroleum-based artificial fertilizers.   

Lucy demonstrating how the pigs get water.

To us, raising hogs is not “just” a business, it is also an excellent way to add value to our farm.  The pigs get to grow in a comfortable, controlled environment.  In the dead of winter, we get to work in a nice warm barn, or a breezy shaded barn in the summer.  An excellent quality of life for both the pig and the farmer!!  

 

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