Pig farming is a rough rider’s business, not for the timid or weak. On a recent trip to Wakefield Pork, hosted by Real Pig Farming, Minnesota Pork, and the National Pork Producers Council, I learned some of the pig farmer’s secrets to success in pig farming.
This post is sponsored by the National Pork Producers Council and Pork Checkoff. They paid for my travel and accommodations, and allowed me to tour their plant. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Over the last several years I have had the unique opportunity to learn more about where our food comes from and who is doing much of the work to ensure that my family has something safe to eat. I can earn money to buy food, I can prepare that food, but I am not a farmer much less a gardener. This is 2016 and I am a working mom. I need to have a high level of trust in our food system and I have gained that trust through education and information. Below you will see a brief recap of my most recent educational trip to learn more about pig farming.
Not just anyone can roll up to a pig farm and ask for a tour. Not only is that not feasible, it’s not safe for the animals. Farms go to great lengths to ensure that everyone that comes on their property follows proper bio-security protocols and these safeguards are where this tour will begin.
An Insider’s Look at Pig Farming
When I received the invitation to learn more about Wakefield Pork and pig farming as a guest of Minnesota Pork, the Real Pig Farming Initiative and Pork Checkoff I was excited to visit a farm that size in another state. Right from the beginning we were apprised of the steps we would have to go through to ensure that nothing we could see or not see would be coming in the working part of the barn with us (ie: germs). This means that once we entered the air locked entry way we “showered in” to the barn.
We each took turns by leaving our clothes and shoes in one part of the bathroom, walked into the stall where we showered, then walked out into the other side where clean clothes, shoes and underthings waited for us. This ensured we walked out into the barn clean and with clothes that have never been out “in the real world”. These are just a few ways to ensure safe and healthy pig farming.
Now before you get worried, I have to say that this was one NICE bathroom, and Mary Langhorst (co-owner of Wakefield Pork) supplied us with spa-quality toiletries, combs and hair dryers. We were pampered- to go learn about pig farming! All joking aside, these precautions are for us and for the health and safety of the pigs.
Day to Day Pig Farming Operations
Once inside we met several of the staff members and veterinarians to learn a bit about the day to day pig farming operations on a farm of that size from nutrition to insemination. Throughout the whole trip we all had unfettered access to an array of experts including farmers, veterinarians, animal scientists and chefs! In essence- we were at the source of real information about where our food comes from.
From the animal scientists we learned about advances in pig farming to ensure high mortality rates, good genetic screening and all the ways that farms give back to the land through good environmental practices. Measuring and monitoring a farm’s environmental impact is as important as what goes on inside a barn.
Sustainability means doing more- with less. Modern farms use 40% less water, 80% less land and less resources to raise more pigs today than even 30 years ago. And with a sow eating in the upwards of 2400 pounds of corn based food a year, a farmer has to be conservative and proactive on how they raise the corn that feeds that sow and how they care for the pigs that in essence- feed our growing population.
Farmers have to prevent problems, not react to problems, through care, science and hard work.
Pig Farming Means Piglets!
Sows (female pigs that will breed) will gestate for roughly 114 days. At around the 110 day mark, the pregnant and very robust sow will be moved to an area for both her protection and that of her soon to be born young. From there, she could deliver between 15-17 pigs (rarely as high as 25, compared to 4-5 from a pastured sow). The litter stays together with the sow for that very important time in the first days of life. Once the piglets are weaned, they move to a nursery where their diet, behavior and health can be more closely monitored. Like our own toddlers, these piglets each have a very specialized diet.
Sows can then begin the process again of carrying piglets and the cycle carries on, day in and day out in pig farming. Farms are operational 7 days a week, 365 days a year, no matter the weather. One thing I noticed was how comfortable the temperature, and how clean the inside of the barn was.
Wakefield Pork is situated in a vast, flat area outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I can imagine that it can really get cold in the winter especially when the wind whips up. Safeguards are in place, backups for the backups, should any inclement weather cause an outage. The barns are probably warmer than most houses in the winter!
After our tour of the farrowing barns and nursery, we visited Krohn Family Farm. It’s a nearby family farm that also raises pigs for Wakefield Pork. The Krohn Family is all in when it comes to farming. Their whole family is involved in the day to day activities. Like many family run farms (pretty much all farms in the United States), they’ve adapted to the many changes and advances in pig farming. Becoming pig farmers was an easy choice for them and each loves working with the animals and they love the land their family has farmed for over 66 years. They are resilient.
This is really my biggest takeaway from this pig farming tour.
Resilience. Innovation. Protection. Dedication.
Resilience because I saw and heard stories of adapting from others experiences in pig farmig and learning through collaboration.
Innovation in the measures taken to protect not only the animals, but the farm, through bio-security and real, proven scientific methods.
Protection in the way I saw the staff interact when no one was looking and no tour was taking place. The care of each animal and the swell of pride displayed when questions were asked. The farmers are interested in what they do, helping to feed the world.
Dedication through service and care for the animals they want to raise and send out into the world. They take pride in their farms, wanting to leave their land in better shape than when they arrived. Hopefully, they will raise future generations that will want to come back and take over at the helm.
I want to thank the Langhorst family, co-owners of Wakefield Pork. Steve, their son Lincoln, and especially Mary, made our trip educational and comfortable. I went into this knowing a bit, but left seeing another side to farming. That added another layer to my confidence in that pack of pork chops I buy at the grocery store. It takes farms of all shapes, sizes and methods to feed our growing population and Wakefield Pork is just one piece in a giant food system puzzle.
I thank, with appreciation, Minnesota Pork for facilitating this trip, and National Pork Producers Council-Pork Checkoff for seeing merit in inviting a bunch of ladies to visit your farms to learn more. As a consumer and family meal advocate, thanks to Real Pig Farming Initiative for dedicating time to educating consumers. They help farmers to tell their stories and use their voices to educate moms like me.
Want to see what I saw and catch me wearing a jumpsuit and holding a beautiful, freshly born piglet? I thought so!
Get a glimpse into our pig farming tour HERE
Read more about real farm life in Minnesota from a farm wife herself: Wanda Patsche of Minnesota Farm Living
For everything you need to know about cooking the perfect piece of pork check out the PORK: be Inspired! Website HERE
Read more about Indiana Pork Facts HERE
Get the recipe for my semi-famous ???? Apple Cider Braised Pork Chops HERE
Stay tuned for a future post about the different cuts of pork, and great recipes anyone can make! The recipes are from Chef Neel Sahni, of the National Pork Board.