Up until this January, for the past seven years, my family and I were vegetarians. After long, hard thought, discussion and exhaustive research we made the decision to fall off the wagon and get back on the meat. While we agreed on all the pros, my husband and I had different concerns about returning animal protein. The hardest thing for me to reconcile when deciding to readopt an omnivore lifestyle was that my food was once a living being.
So imagine my discomfort when I came face to snout with hundreds of little Wilburs that were being raised at Old Elm Farms. A big part of why I began our vegetarian mission was because of animal welfare. I saw documentaries and read books and articles touting the inhumane practices associated with today’s modern meat industry. I knew that if I was going to readopt this lifestyle I could not blindly pick up my neatly packaged, ready to cook meats and never consider the chain of events that got it to my grocer’s meat case. I wanted to meet the animals that nourish my family and see the farm operations for myself.
What surprised (and relieved) me most of all were the farmers themselves. I was spending a lot of time worrying about the poor little piggies in terrible conditions, but I never stopped to think that there are people out there devoting their life’s work to raising these animals. While is was a bit sad to see all the pink pigs, with curious, playful personalities nudging at the sides of the pens, it was reassuring to see Steve interact with them and seem to know them as individuals. The pigs I saw were clean, comfortable, alert and active. As social creatures, it was nice to see them together in large, open pens that provided plenty of room and access to food and water. It was clear that while a product, they were treated with care and respect. Steve talked about how he monitors the facility conditions and makes necessary adjustments. He checks each pen daily and separates any pigs that seem to be struggling or ill. Antibiotics are given as a last resort and pigs are never sent to harvest with antibiotics in their system. His wife talked about being woken in the middle of the night when an alarm goes off indicating that there is a problem at the barn such as temperature or problems with the water supply. Farming is a 24-7, 365 day job. That is the nature of raising living beings and crops.
The bottom line is that whether they truly care about the comfort or mindset of the pigs or not, pork farming is a business, and like most businesses, it’s intent is to provide a product that consumers want to buy. John, Steve and his family want to produce the best quality of meat they can. I’m happy that they have adopted practices that they believe will do this and that just so happen to also be the right, humane things to do.
- Raising pigs is a very health consious/clean business. We were wore coveralls and boot covers when we toured the finishing barns. Not so much to protect us-but to protect the pigs from diseases and germs we might bring them! Less disease means less need to treat them with drugs or antibiotics.
- And while it may seem unnatural or unfair to keep them inside-it’s actually better for them inside. When pigs live outside-they are exposed to the elements, which can alter how they eat and drink. Cold, shivering pigs, need more food. Hot pigs roll around in the mud, that they and their buddies also poop in, along with birds and rodents., which exposes them to diseases, which then have to be treated. Yuck! Indoors, everything is controlled for optimum piggy comfort-from temperature, food and water, ventilation, and best of all-their poop falls through slats in the floor.
- The overall respect and care for the animals. Even if it’s just to produce a better product, I heard over and over, from the farmers, to the corporate reps, happier, healthier pigs make better meat.
- That no drugs can be in their systems when sent to harvest. And the incredible amount of tracking and paperwork that is done to be accountable for this. Also that keeping them inside (see my #2) helps prevent the need for antibiotics in the first place!
- It’s all somewhat green/eco-friendly! Using the manure to fertilize the crops and feeding them bakery crumbs and discards are two ways this process is participating in some serious recycling!