This past weekend, I was a part of the City Moms group that visited the Gould family farm. It was an amazing opportunity for this city mom who has never stepped foot on a working farm before (unless a Pumpkin Farm in the fall counts). After learning about who works on the farm and what their jobs are like, we got the rare opportunity to go into the pig barns and see their homes. After gearing up in jumpsuits, hairnets and plastic booties (for the pigs’ safety), we stepped into the stinky, but clean barn.
We first got to see where the sows were held. This massive room of over 600 sows was the first stop for the pigs on the Gould farm. This was the breeding and gestation room. Yes-they were kept in individual pens, but it was clear why. These ladies were huge! I can see why keeping them in larger pens would be much more difficult and much less efficient for the farmers. Next we saw the rooms where the mama’s came to give birth and nurse their piglets. Here they were in farrowing stalls- a controversial method in the farming community. I was unaware of the controversy behind farrowing stalls, but that was mostly because I had no idea they even existed before this tour. Again, these crates were a deliberate choice for the overall health and safety of the moms and piglets. When a mama wants to lay down, she throws all 300+ pounds of herself down. These crates keep the 10+ piglets safe from their mom. The piglets have plenty of room to run around their mom and nurse whenever they want.
Finally, we saw where the family of pigs is moved to allow those piglets to grow a bit and finally be weaned off of their moms. What struck me about all of these rooms with all of these pigs was the record keeping. Everything that went on with all of the pigs was carefully documented. Every ailing or sick pig was looked after by a veterinarian and treated accordingly. The temperature was carefully controlled and backed by a generator (the family home was not!) Other than that, they were left to do their own pig thing.
Now, being a city mom with knowledge about farms that doesn’t much go past Charlotte’s Web, I was a little bummed to see the pigs in pens. But I do now understand why. No decision at a farm is ever come to lightly. All of the decisions are backed by farming best practices and science with the best interest of the pigs in mind. It makes more sense to me now why big open fields of pigs and piglets would not be the best choice. How would they know who might be sick? Who was getting enough to eat? Who was pregnant? How would they keep disease spread by birds out? Intestinal parasites they pick up from the ground? What was abundantly clear at the Gould’s farm was that this system ensures the consistency, safety and quality of the pork being produced for us, the consumers.
Park Ridge, IL
Sarah is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.