So you may be thinking this post is random…why is she talking about pig farming on a blog about “CREATING”. I have no farming background, or animal raising background for that matter. The answer is simple. Most of us eat pork and need to know where it comes from as well as how it’s produced and processed. Last week I was able to go to North Carolina and visit 3 commercial pig farms and one pig processing plant. It was the most awesome/eye-opening experience I have had in a very long time. I learned some things about our food that will have a profound affect on me forever. I was able to see first-hand, how pigs grow, what they are fed, what conditions they live in, how they are processed, etc etc. Here are the 10 great things I have learned, things that have opened my eyes to the industry and what’s involved with it!
The Pork Council invited myself and a handful of other bloggers to experience some serious “radical transparency” and let us take pictures, ask questions, enter their facilities, etc etc. They wanted to do this so we could really get to know WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and WHY. There has been increasing controversy regarding farming and agriculture…particular with animals, and they wanted to see for ourselves what goes on there. This is what I learned and this is what I was surprised about.
As you read this post, please have an open mind. The truth about eating meat is that animals have to die. If you DO eat meat, there is a process. On the farms we visited, handling the animals humanely is of upmost priority. The happier and healthier the pigs are, the more profitable the farms. It’s in the farmer’s best interest to keep them happy and healthy. I’m all for the humane treatment of animals. I could never write all of this in one post, but here are some things I DO want to share. Here goes…
1. This was really interesting to me. The pigs are all raised in different stages…different farms for each stage. There is one farm for the female pigs (sows) that are getting pregnant, giving birth and nursing their young. Once they are done nursing their young piglets, they move onto another farm where they are sent to grow from about 50 lbs to 200+ lbs. After that they are sent back to the farm as adults, to market or to the processing plant to be made into roasts, bacon, pork chops, etc etc.
2. CLEANLINESS IS KING. I had NO IDEA that cleanliness would be so important on a farm where PIGS, of all animals, are raised. We first visited the sow farm where the female pigs are…particularly the ones that will be giving birth and nursing their young. This was such an eye-opener for me. When we arrived on the bus on the first morning we were there, we couldn’t even step on the soil with our “street shoes”. They put booties on us as we stepped off the bus. When we got into the first building and had to completely shower and get into their sanitized boots and jumpsuits…they were way sexy let me tell ya! We also had to remove any jewelry with stones, earrings, etc. They are VERY VERY particular about cleanliness. They do all they can to make sure foreign germs do not enter the places where the pigs live. Way interesting!
3. Contract Growing, what is that? This is one of the cool things that I had no idea about. Prestage Farms’ company farms are the ones we visited. They work with local family farms in a completely synergistic way that fascinates me. Prestage Farms provides the pigs and the pig feed to the farmers. The farmers are in charge of raising healthy pigs. This is nice for Prestage because the pigs get well taken care of and they don’t have to pay for the land that the farms are on. This is great for the family farmers because they get a steady paycheck. Here are some of the people that own one of those farms. There are 3 generations of their family working on this farm.
4. Why contract growing? When you have your own farm and are raising your own animals, all the risk falls on the farmer and it’s a huge money investment to purchase the animals and the feed. The farmers and the company both need each other. We could tell that the farmers are really really grateful for the company and visa versa. They are like FAMILY. Really. They both need each other.
5. THEY LOVE PIGS. Now you would think that this would make sense after the fact. Before I went, I was under the impression that since these pigs end up getting consumed, I thought the people that work with them wouldn’t really care as much about the animals. THESE PEOPLE LOVE PIGS. I understand that it’s still a business and all, but it was very apparent that they respect the animals. The veterinarians, the farmers, the owners, the workers, etc etc. I heard many of the joking around that they try to convince other people to love pigs more than feathers (chickens). They have a natural affinity for the animal. This leads me to my next point.
6. They have reverence for the animal and thank it for its sacrifice. This was one of the greatest things I learned there. I wondered how they could love the animal so much while knowing where it would end up. This was so cool. Along the way, I asked many of them this question. Every single one of them said something similar to this. They said that they love the animal, want it to be happy while it’s in their personal care and they they thank GOD that the animal sacrifices its life to put food on our tables. Very cool.
7. THEY LOVE PIGS EVEN IN THE Processing Plant. This was also interesting. There was a sobering reverence that I felt in the place where the pigs actually die. They use CO2 chambers there, which are the most humane to my knowledge. It was sobering. It made me so grateful for the animal and its sacrifice. These people take pride in doing their job well so we can have clean, safe meat on our tables.
8. Nothing goes to waste. They use every part of the pig from the hoofs to the ears to the blood for useful things. They export a great amount to China and other foreign countries. Some parts of the pig aren’t usually eaten in the US, but are used in those foreign countries. I really like that they use every part so their sacrifice is not in vain. This is cute Gina who was grilling them with questions, just like we all were. You can only learn when you ask!!
9. FARMERS ARE COOL. I can’t say this enough. There’s hard work and humility exuding from every farmer. It’s so great to see people in their element, loving what they do. Farm work is not for the feint of heart. These people are God-lovig, hard working people that love their families. They take great pride in their work. I love this. This is the nerdiest picture of me! That’s when I tried to kiss this piggy, he didn’t want me to.
10. I LEFT NORTH CAROLINA LOVING PORK MORE! I had just about every friend and family member ask me if I would ever eat pork again when I got back. My answer…a resounding YES! That’s really saying a lot since I have seen the whole process from head to hoof. It really made me appreciate the animal. It made me appreciate the people that make sure our food is clean and safe. Really, I left with really great memories.
Giant pieces of bacon getting ready to be cut into individual pieces. YUM.
That’s when I tried to kiss the cute little piggy. He wasn’t havin’ it. Little did he know, I wasn’t really going to make contact.
Well there you have it! There’s more info I would love to share, but I must do it in another post. What a great experience. It sounds so nerdy but new experiences always awaken my creative senses. What a great experience it was! I encourage anyone reading this to step outside of your box and try something new. It will change you. Good luck! Oink oink.