All I have ever heard about pig farms is that you don't want to be downwind of one! That is absolutely true! Fortunately we weren't immediately met with the smell but were greeted by Chris Gould who was pleasant and informative. His parents Eldon and Sandy were there to answer questions and give, often times humorous, anecdotes about farm life. His sister, who is a vet, was also there to help support the information. The Gould's were well spoken and intelligent. We spent a good hour in their office listening to the history of the farm and learning facts about everything from pig breeding and reproduction to how often and what the pigs are fed. I can honestly say I learned a considerable amount of information about pigs. It is obvious that the Gould family cares about their farm and their animals.
We went to the barns next. We needed to dress up in hazmat suits before entering the barns themselves because the pigs are so susceptible to outside germs and diseases. Approximately four years ago the pigs caught some virus which contributed to a great loss for the Goulds. After getting into our garb, we were told of the smell in the barns and how intense it could be. Upon entering you are greeted by a mixture of ammonia and rotten eggs. So much so, I wondered if it was safe to be breathing that in for an hour?! (not to mention the workers who breath that in for hours, or the pigs, which is all they breathe.) We walked down a long hallway into the main barn where the pigs are housed and fed hormone free food. There were rows and rows of pigs just standing or lying down. All the pigs seemed content and stress-free. We got to witness Chris Gould artificially inseminating one of the sows. She was first excited by the male pig who was brought over with a leash and paraded in front of her. Insemination takes very little time or effort on the pigs part. The farm gets semen delivered every other day during the week and they inseminate the pig for two days in a row. The pigs are marked with different color stripes to differentiate who is on the first or second day of insemination and who is pregnant. After a brief description of how they get fed we were off to the birthing rooms.
We walked in on a mother giving birth and got to witness first hand the first breaths of two little piglets. That was definitely the highlight of my farm tour! The pigs stand up and wobble over to the mother's teets and fight their way to get the first taste of colostrum. Turns out that if the piglets are having problems with getting over to the mom, they will be helped because it is important for their immunity health to have that colostrum within the first 15 minutes of life. We were able to hold the piglets and shown how to recognize the runts of the groups. After about 5 days they have their tails clipped off to avoid any unnecessary biting from other pigs and the males get their testicles removed. They are moved into another section of the barn after they are a few days old. They get to stay with their moms until they are weaned.
We then had a lovely lunch and informative presentation from Janeen Salak-Johnson. Ms. Johnson is a U of I professor and was quite persuasive in letting us know that pig housing should be based on animal behavior and well being not on emotional issues. All in all what it comes down to is that we are raising animals to try and feed the world, which is ever expanding. I have to wonder that if we lived in a less demanding world, would we be raising livestock differently? Could we have more farms with less animals? If we tried not to feed the world, would we do things differently? I really struggled this time around with the use of animals as food. I am so fortunate to have this opportunity to see first-hand how my food is brought to the table and I am in no way taking that for granted. I am, however, questioning my decisions about food and meat. For me, my emotions got in the way of my intellect, but again, I am only human. In the end, the Gould family is doing their part to feed the world and from what I could tell they are doing a fine job of it.