If you are like me, my meat comes from different sources. Your meat may come from a local source like a farmer’s market, some may come from a grocery store or your favorite restaurant meal.
But let’s go a little deeper. . . What do we as farmers do to put healthy meat on your plate?
I am a hog farmer and I will tell you what we do on our farm.
The bottom line for farmers like myself, is we want a healthy animal. Let’s be very honest here. Our meat processor only wants healthy animals – they will not buy unhealthy animals. And if we can’t sell our hogs, we don’t receive money, which we need to pay bills and put food on our own table. And not only that, but I am a mom and a grandma and I will not feed my family meat that I don’t think is healthy and we eat the meat we raise on our farm.
There is a lot of talk from people about the use or misuse of antibiotics in meat. Yes, we do use antibiotics. Our goal, though, is to use the least amount of antibiotics as possible. Antibiotics cost money. And sometimes, it’s a lot of money.
How do we minimize antibiotic use?
Management is key to minimize antibiotic usage.
We are part owners of a sow farm. We do not have sows or baby pigs on our farm. An advantage of being a part owner of a sow farm is the pigs that arrive on our farm are very close in age. Pigs close in age are easier to keep healthy. When we had sows, baby pigs and market pigs all on our farm at the same time, healthy pigs were a real challenge because of the age spread. Since we made this change to our farm to house only pigs of a certain age, our herd health improved greatly.
Another hog management technique we use is housing our pigs inside. By having pigs inside, they are protected from the environment and it lessens the stress on the pigs and stress can cause illness. They are not outside when the temps are -20 degree, snowing, and the wind blowing 30 mph. And in the summer, they are not outside trying to find a cool place to lie down or getting sunburned. They are inside, where we have fans that blow clean air and water sprinklers which spray water on them to keep them cool. Keeping pigs cool in the summer is important because pigs don’t sweat.
Because the pigs are housed inside, we do clean our barns after all pigs are sold. We clean the barns using a pressure washer. It takes us about 70-80 hours to clean every inch of our barns before the next group comes in. The result is all new pigs coming on the farm walk into a clean barn.
|Weigh-Tronix Feed Grinder|
A good feed source also helps keep the pigs healthy. Pigs are fed a nutritious diet designed specifically for them. We have an animal nutritionist who advises us what they should eat. In fact, they receive 8 different rations (or recipes) during their lifetime – all based on diet needs according to their age/weight. We make their feed on our farm. Corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals make up the bulk of their diet. We use corn that we grow on our farm and we use soybean meal from a local soybean processing plant, who buys soybeans from local farmers.
Vaccinations are also important for a pig’s health. We vaccinate our pigs to prevent serious diseases and illnesses. We have a specific vaccination program that was created by our veterinarian.
An additional management technique we use is limit the number of people who come into our barns. Our pigs are very susceptible to the spread of illnesses because they are fairly isolated and humans easily spread illnesses to pigs through tracking from shoes and clothing.
Even though there are many management efforts used to prevent pigs from getting sick, they still do get sick. When it appears the pigs are not feeling well, diagnosis is important to tell us how to treat the illness. Diagnosis is done by having a veterinarian post a dead animal. “Posting” is similar to an autopsy. With the results of the post a treatment plan is developed and the veterinarian will give us a prescription for a specific drug. Following the prescription is important. We also follow the withdrawal times, which means the number of days the animals have to be off certain drugs before we can sell them. Again, this is very important and we strictly follow the care plan because our meat processor will test the meat we sell and will reject the meat if there is any antibiotic residue above USDA guidelines. We also record all antibiotics given to our pigs.
Do we ever give pigs antibiotics without them being sick? Sometimes. If the pigs are dealing with certain stressors, we try to stay ahead of potential and almost certain illnesses by treating them. By doing it this way, we can prevent a full-fledge illness outbreak and in the end, use less antibiotics.
Is there room for improvement?
Yes. Even though animal care is better now than ever before, we need to continue to get better. As more research is done in the use of antibiotics, improved genetics, and new health management techniques to prevent illness, we will keep improving. And that is good for farmers, our hogs, and our customers.
Other blogs about antibiotic use in animals:
Why my hogs are on a healthcare plan