In the interest of connecting consumers with farmers the Farm Bureau hosts bloggers on a farm tour once or twice a year. At our first stop we toured a greenhouse and pig barn. The greenhouse is a fairly new addition to the farm. One of the sons decided to join the family business and the greenhouse is his project. It is something obvious and at the same time something you don’t think of that when you add another family to the family business you must expand in some way. You can’t support another family on the same income, usually. Sometimes we forget that farming is a business.
The greenhouse was amazing, 1300 tomato plants, some grown in the ground and some in 5 gallon bags of coir. The tomatoes are fed water and fertilizer through an automated system.
Climate is controlled through an automated ventilation, shade system and a million BTU boiler that can run on multiple fuel sources including corn.
The start up cost for this greenhouse was significant. Farming is a business. Next we toured the hog barn. This was a rare privilege to be allowed to tour this facility and even be on the farm because of bio security. We were told before hand not to wear clothes or shoes that we might have worn at another hog farm. One of the other bloggers had a farm and had hogs, she did not visit the farm voluntarily or even shake our hands when we were introduced. It is evidently very easy to spread certain hog illnesses between farms.
My memory of my cousins hog farm in the ’70s was hogs in the mud, feed bin lids banging all the time and a pretty strong smell. This was so different! In this modern facility the pigs are housed in a climate controlled barn with fresh air constantly circulated. The floor of the barn is slated so manure drops down to the space below onto wood chips where it is aerated and dried by huge fans. All of the animal waste from this farm is used to amend the soil on this farm where additional crops are grown.
While I can’t say there was no odor, it really wasn’t bad. The pigs were clean. The rancher said that pigs will choose being cool over being clean and that is why they roll in the mud, to cool off. Since these are kept cool, no mud needed. I hate to use the word, happy, but it seems appropriate to describe their behavior. They were alert, active and interested in us.
It was especially interesting that the pigs would come through a one way gate to get water when ever they wanted and then return to the larger part of the barn through a sorting scale. As the pig comes across the scale the heavier pigs go to one side of the barn and the lighter pigs go to the other side. The sorting scale opens the appropriate door.
This technology allows for better regulation of feed (which is automated) and provides feedback on how well the pigs are gaining weight. These pigs do not receive antibiotics except in the case where they might be needed to treat a specific illness. This is another reason that bio security is so important. In the barn we toured there were two pigs isolated from the rest that seemed a little smaller, they had their own separate feed and water system.
The pigs do have Paylean made by Elanco added to their food toward the end to increase lean tissue mass. After reading this article I would prefer that my pork did not have this drug added to their feed or at the very least that there was a clearance time between the last dose and slaughter. Be sure to read beyond the headline, though because the article never supports that this drug is linked to cancer, only that this drug belongs to a classification of drugs, some of which are determined to be carcinogenic-bit of a leap there. Obviously this drug improves the bottom line for farmers AND affects the price at the grocery store. If you decide (after looking at both sides) that you don’t want this drug in your food you must support that choice with your buying power if at all possible. Cheap food and natural (I don’t like that loosy, goosy term but you know what I mean) food don’t usually come in the same package. Farming is a business.
You can read about last year’s tour of a dairy farm and others, here.
All opinions in this post are my own. I want to thank the Missouri Farm Bureau for this opportunity. I learned a lot from this tour.