My first family farm tour was to the Ward Family Farm in Sycamore, IL. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been on farms before. My grandparents used to own a dairy farm. Lots of extended family members also lived on farms. I remember visiting and smelling the smell and wanting nothing to do with it! My parents raised my siblings and I in a small town surrounded by farms & farmland. We always dreaded getting stuck behind the combine on the highway.
Upon exiting the bus, we were filmed & photographed. A lot! We went inside the farm’s machine shed. It had been cleaned!!
The pig barns were really cool! Having never been inside one before, I was impressed! Very clean! 20-22 piglets in a pen seem like too many to me. The nursery where the piglets are kept was empty on our visit. Every 6-7 weeks new piglets arrive. Farmers are busy! The stalls have to be cleaned thoroughly with a disinfectant and a high pressure washer before new pigs are allowed in.
Piglets are given medicine while in the nursery. Illness prevention & growth promotion are the reasons. Wouldn’t pigs grow on their own? We don’t give our children growth promoting medicines.
The second barn we visited was for finishing. I thought 50 pigs in a stall was a lot until I saw them. Pigs seem to always bunch together so there is lots of space to spare. Male & female pigs are separated and are fed different diets. Ten stalls of each sex are on a side in the barn. The farmer walks through the barn twice each day to check on the pigs. He is looking for illness or misbehavior or equipment malfunctions. Sick pigs are kept in a smaller pen near the entrance until they are well enough to be put back.
Pigs are fed a diet of corn, soy meal, dried distillers grain, bakery & other items at the Ward Farm. The bakery products are unique to the area due to the close proximity to Chicago. Leftovers from Pepperidge Farms, Kraft, Nestle, Azteca & Sara Lee are ground into a fine powder & added to the pig’s feed. We were able to feel the different feed between our fingers. It reminds me of almonds when I grind them in the food processor. Anti-microbials are also given to the pigs to help balance the bugs in their guts. Dried distillers grain is a co-product of ethanol production. It is what is left after fermentation. It can replace part of the corn in the pig’s diet. Corn has higher costs & less availability.
The barn monitoring system is very high tech. Pigs are kept at a comfortable temperature. Sprinkler systems, fans, heaters all contribute to their comfort.
When pigs are raised outside, their body temperature is hard to control. The taste of the meat would also fluctuate. To control the health & nutrition of the pig, farmers now raise them indoors. When pigs are cold, their bodies require more feed because their thermo-neutral zone is challenged. I now understand it is in the farmer’s best interest to raise them indoors.
Bio security was a term I never associated before with farming. This was all new & fascinating to me. Wearing the white suit was fun. I do hope they aren’t too expensive as they are put in the trash much too quickly after being used for only a short time.
Sitting in the tractors is something my boys always do. This time it was my turn. The seats in the newer tractors are very high up off the ground. A farmer should be able to see many miles while driving through the field. I like the simplicity of the older tractors.
Lunch was yummy! I’ve never had a pork chop sandwich before.
Farmland Foods was very generous to donate pork tenderloin to each Farm Mom. What Jay Hofer from Farmland Foods told us about the slaughtering processes was eye-opening. They put their pigs to sleep instead of electrocuting them; a simple and very humane process. All this effort is for the benefit of the consumer who wants great tasting pork. After being killed, their throats are slit, blood is drained and intestines are cleaned. Then they are chilled for 24 hours before cutting. Pork tenderloin or pork loin comes from the neck/shoulder region. Bacon, our family favorite, comes from the underside of the pig.
Farmland is definitely a local food producer. They work with farmers within a 150 mile radius of their plant. They ship to local grocers in Illinois. If you want to eat local food, this is one company that provides. Their All-Natural brand means no vaccinations for the animals. My family prefers to buy direct from the farmer, but if in a bind we will to purchase Farmland’s All-Natural pork.
Jammie Esker-Schaer, Elmhurst, IL