Illinois Farm Families Blog

Mar 29 2012

Pigs, Pigs, and More Pigs.....the Gould's Pork Farm

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.

Amy Rossi

Field Mom

Oct 31 2011

Field Mom Amy Rossi’s impressions on farms and food

Amy RossiThe Martz family’s beef cattle, soybean, corn and wheat farm

 My first impression of the Martz’s farm was that it was clean.  Clean in the way that makes you think someone cares about it. As we were welcomed into their “business” office, I felt like things would feel official. It was anything but official. They were all very well-spoken, articulate, and passionate. We were able to ask questions and they gave answers that were honest and thought provoking.  

 Throughout the whole day we could ask anything about everything. I especially liked Mike's saying “we do 100 things 1% better not 1 thing 100% better.” I believe that was not only their mantra for the farm, but the way they lived their lives. I learned many new things that day at their farm; seed selection, ground prep, how the combine works (though not really!), how they ultrasound cows to gain more information, how much moisture is allowed in their corn, their use of Texas wasps to combat flies, and the list is endless!

Lynn and Mike both operate separate areas of the farm. Lynn works the grain side and Mike works the cattle side but they both have to work together. How cyclical the whole process of farming is was surprising to me. I like knowing that farmers use all of their resources to the best of their ability, nothing is wasted. I was impressed by their love of their farm and the people and animals that live there. I won't look at my food in the same way ever again!

 The Drendel family’s dairy farm

 Ahhh Milk! My family drinks about 6 gallons of milk a week, so seeing just where it comes from was insightful and interesting. Learning about cows and calves and their lot in life was a little unsettling for me. Being a Mom to six kids, I felt a certain affinity for the cows and the fact that they are never allowed to nurse their calves was somewhat sad. I am intelligent enough to know that the cows are there for a reason and it isn't to raise a “family.”

 Once I got over that fact, I did manage to learn about milk production. I got to see the stages of a cow's life, the calves, the “teenagers” and the adult females. When it was time for milking, the cows knew where to go and were willing participants in the milking process. We were allowed into the parlor and got to watch the cows being hooked up to the machines for milking. We even got to stick our thumbs inside the milking machine to feel exactly what the cow feels. Once again, the technology used in farming is amazing. We learned what pasteurization means and homogenization is. When asked about skim milk, Dale chuckled and gave us the lowdown on 1%, 2%, and whole milk 3.5%! We were able to ask about anything we saw.

 The Drendels had their veterinarian on hand to answer the question about hormones in the milk. I believe he answered the question intelligently and honestly. I know, for myself, I believe that milk is milk. Whether grain fed, grass fed, organic, or not, the dairy farmer cares about the welfare of their cows. They are their livelihood and they treat the cows like family. The Drendel’s farm was well run and Dale, Linda, and their daughter Julie were welcoming and open to answering all of our questions. My family will continue to do their part in consuming milk!

 Amy Rossi
Naperville, Illinois

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