Do you worry about the meat you find at the supermarket? Debate the benefits of grass fed versus corn fed? Have concerns about hormones and antibiotics? I certainly do. Every time I shop, whether its at the Jewel Osco around the corner or Whole Foods a block away, I struggle with every item I put in my cart. To make better decisions, I’ve been going on farm tours and having conversations with farmers for the last few years. My most recent conversation took place last week, when the Motherhood organized a webinar between two hog farmers and one veterinarian and a number of interested bloggers. This post, reporting back on the conversation, is sponsored, but my observations and opinions are my own.
Chris Chinn lives on a fifth generation family farm with her husband and two children. With the help of her brother and parents, they raise hogs, cattle and grow hay and row crops. Wanda Patsche is a Minnesota hog farmer as well as a mother of two and a grandmother of five. On their farm, she and her husband Chuck raise hogs and grow corn and soybeans. Meghann Pierdon is a swine veterinarian currently doing an animal welfare residency at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Just like during my visit to an Ohio hog breeding facility last year, I was struck by how radically hog farming has changed in my lifetime. Both Chris and Wanda spoke about the changes they made to their farms in the 1980s, changes that were taking place throughout the industry to increase cleanliness and improve productivity. Hogs were moved indoors to climate controlled barns and the impact on the environment from their manure became much more tightly regulated. Hog farmers have also become more specialized, focusing on either breeding hogs or finishing hogs (a 14-16 week period between piglet nursery and meat processing). According to the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, the carbon footprint of hog farming has decreased by 35% over the past 50 years.
We also spent a great deal of time talking about antibiotics and animal care, a subject Chris covered recently on the CNN Eatocracy website. We discussed the strict FDA controls, veterinarian direction, and antibiotic waiting periods, all in place to ensure that no pork is ever sold with antibiotic traces. Both Chris and Wanda explained that antibiotics are expensive and they much prefer keeping their herd disease free through thorough cleanliness than through medication. It’s better for the hogs and better for the bottom line.
Today’s hog farming is definitely a far cry from my mental image of Wilbur peacefully eating slops and talking to web writing spiders. Every farmer I’ve met on my various farm trips has impressed me with their keen business sense. In order to stay on the land, farmers have to stay efficient and capitalize on the latest technology in genetics, nutrition, environmental care, and veterinarian science. I’m confident that the bacon I buy is free of any antibiotics forbidden by the FDA. But when it comes to pork chops, I prefer the ones I get from my local farmer; they’re tastier and fattier. They cost more, a lot more, because they haven’t been bred to minimize fat and maximize profit. I’m looking forward to when the pendulum swings back and the other white meat stops trying to taste like chicken and embraces its curves.