Jumping On The Thankful Bandwagon

Hey all!

I apologize it’s been so long since I’ve posted.  It seems I have so much to say, but don’t know where to start or how to say it. No worries, luckily (or unfortunately) winter is right around the corner and that means a lot of time indoors to contemplate and write.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and especially in light of all the division in our wonderful country due to recent political events, I thought I would share something I heard on a podcast a few weeks ago.

I so wish I could give proper credit to whoever said this quote, but I know I was listening to Herdmark Media’s Story of Agriculture podcast and the guest on that particular episode said something that has stuck with me.  The basic gist of what he said was that though agriculturalists have a lot of ground to make up as far as telling the story of what really happens on farms to gain consumer trust, the one thing that both groups can be thankful for is that we as Americans can be so grateful that we have the choice as to what food we put in our bodies.  And I don’t mean whether you want to drive through McDonalds and grab a Quarter Pounder or order a large pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut, I mean that if someone doesn’t want to eat dairy, they have alternative options.  We all as individual people and families can choose whether we eat dairy free, gluten free, paleo, organic, vegetarian, vegan, or anything in between.

Stop and think about that for a second.  What other country can say that? I’m not going to assume I know, but I don’t think many, if any, other countries have the full range of diet choices like we do due to our industrial, technological, and scientific advancement in food processing.  It’s really amazing.

Heck, we are so advanced in alternative diet options that there are entire stores dedicated to a certain kind of diet or food type!

So while you are pondering your list of what you are thankful for this year, think about the food you are blessed to nourish your body with, and that your relative sitting across from you at the Thanksgiving table has the wonderful opportunity to not eat the same as you if he/she so chooses.  America is truly a great country and one to behold in all it’s glory.

 

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Meg

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Crates, Crates, Crates

Hello everyone!

I’m sorry I haven’t posted again in few weeks, the weeks seem to fly by! I can’t believe summer is not long from being over already!

Today, I wanted to address an issue I see come up a lot as concerns of the general public when it comes to the pork industry – the use of gestation crates.  First, I would like to clear up some terminology.  The term “gestation” refers to the time from conception to parturition.  Hence, why human females have a gestation period of 9 months.  Therefore, when the general public is concerned about the welfare of sows and their piglets in a gestation crate, it is the incorrect terminology because the sows have not farrowed (birthed) their piglets yet.  The proper term for those crates is farrowing crates.

In today’s barns, sows can be housed in both farrowing crates and gestation crates.  All modern pig production barns have farrowing crates, while only some have gestation crates, some have what is called open pen gestation, where the sows are housed in larger pens, usually with 50 – 100 per pen.

In Ohio, we have a Livestock Care Standards Board who is enforcing the implementation of open pen gestation in all hog barns in Ohio, these pens need to be built into the barns in about another 5 years or so.

I want to talk about the farrowing crates, since those are what I work with every day, and explain the pros and cons to farrowing crates.  While it is true the movements of the sows are very restricted, they can stand up, lay down and lay on either side, they are not trapped on one side.  The main reason for the use of farrowing crates is for the safety of the sow, the piglets, and the employees of the barn.  If you have ever seen sows getting into a fight, it’s a nasty experience.  And given the fact they weigh 300 – 600 pounds, it’s not as if people can easily intervene.  Adding in the hormones and motherly instincts of giving birth, the fights would just get nastier.

Along with this, that is why these crates allow for the safety of barn employees.  With the stress of giving birth, some of these sows can be downright mean.  I certainly would not want to be anywhere near these sows without them being contained in some way.  As it is, there have been times when I have narrowly missed injury even with the crates.  At work, I must always remain alert and attentive to sow body language and behavior.  I once interviewed with a farm who had a different kind of farrowing crate – the piglets could crawl into a little protective box in the corner, but the sow had more freedom of movement.  The employees at the barn told me that it was hard to deal with those crates, as angry sows had access to them.

Most importantly of the reasons for farrowing crates, is the safety of the piglets.  The number one reason for piglet death is not any disease, but being laid on and crushed to death by their mothers.  The design of the farrowing crates is to restrict the movement of the sow in hopes that the number of laid on piglets will be reduced.  And this has proven to be true.

So, while this restrictive of a living environment seems cruel, there is valid reason for it.

Until next time,

Meg ❤

Land of the Free

Good afternoon everyone!

I’m sorry it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted.  I took a much-needed vacation with my wonderful other half to Tishomingo, Oklahoma to visit Miranda Lambert’s Bed and Breakfast, The Ladysmith.  After a night there, we traveled south to Fort Worth, Texas to visit the Stockyards! First, I am a huge Miranda Lambert fan, so getting to stay in her bed and breakfast and shop at her boutique was a complete dream come true for me.  ❤

Tishomingo is such a cute little town, but just as a fair warning, if you plan to visit The Ladysmith and The Pink Pistol, that about sums what there is to do in that town! I suggest it for a nice relaxing night to either start off or end a trip.  The Ladysmith is such a beautiful, accommodating place with a rich history behind the building and alot of Junk Gypsy-style decor.  The food is absolutely to die for, and the first round of drinks at the lounge is on the house!

As for Fort Worth, the stockyards have a deep history as well, and the views around the city are beautiful.  We went and saw the Stockyards Championship rodeo on Saturday night, ate some very expensive steak, and went to the world famous honky tonk, Billy Bob’s! We also went into downtown Fort Worth to see Sundance Square and the Water Gardens, both very beautiful sights and both worth the see.  Even downtown has that “western” feel to it.  I will admit, Fort Worth was very tourist-y, sort of a let-down for those with a livestock background that wanted to see some historic livestock sights.

One thing I would like to share that caused me to pause and think.  We were on our way out of Texas and stopped in Denton, Texas to shop at a Boot Barn.  Upon cashing out, the young woman asked for my boyfriend’s address to sign him up for store offers.  When she heard he was from Pennsylvania and I from Ohio, she gave us a bewildered look and said “Is there even any like country up there?” I suppressed a laugh picturing all of the country landscape I have seen, been to, and even spent time in! However, I then thought about how much sometime we forget the different cultures and landscape this country has even within its own borders, and how sometimes, if we don’t get to travel to farther places, we forget that each state has it’s own unique “flavor.” It never occurred to me that someone in Texas would have a different point of view on my home state, nor I with Texas or Oklahoma, and I especially think of this in terms of the state’s agriculture.  I remember a little over a year ago, while I was a senior in college attending the Block and Bridle National Convention in Missouri, we were on our industry tours and visiting Pinnegar Limousin cattle farm.  I quickly learned that a good many of Missouri’s cattle are grass fed, only because they don’t have too much ready access to corn.  It was a strange thought to me as I thought back to all of the corn fields back here in Ohio.  It’s simple things like that that make me wonder and thirsty to learn about other states’ agricultural industries.  Thus, my passion to travel has been heightened!

So I encourage everyone to go out, travel, even to the next state over, and take time to see what that state has to offer! Strike up a conversation with someone from another state and learn what they know and where they come from, that was always my favorite part of national conventions – the different people to talk to!

Fort Worth Stockyards
Fort Worth Stockyards

After all, this is the land of the free, and a world of endless possibilities!

Until next time,

Meg ❤

My Life As A Neonatal Nurse……For Pigs!

Good morning all!

I just enjoyed a Saturday morning off with a cup of coffee with my boyfriend before a busy day of running around to prepare for our trip to Texas and Oklahoma next week!

I knew when I started this blog, I definitely wanted to do a post on what I do on a day to day basis on the hog farm. This was in hopes of easing some of the discomfort about what happens on “factory farms.” For the record, the term “factory farm” is something that illicits alot of negativity from the public/consumer toward modern day food production, and it’s an incorrect representation of what happens on these farms.  Yes, I work on a “factory farm” but it still owned by the family the company is named after, and that family is very actively involved in the goings-on of the farm.  So tell me, how can one part hairs between what is known as a “factory farm” and what is a traditional family farm?

Hord Livestock Company does alot for the surrounding community of Bucyrus, where the family has been from all of their lives.  It’s a place that provides a job to many of the area residents, and there is a certain sense of family and togetherness that comes from working there.  Many of us that work in the different barns know others from other barns, and it creates a strong network.  When something is wrong with an employee or a member of an employee’s family, all the barns get an email of the information and everyone is asked to join in helping the family in need, or even just making sure the family is added to a personal prayer list. During the holidays, we all pitched in some money and a list of area people in need, and the company put together ham dinners so at least those people could have a good holiday meal.   But that is not what you would think of when you hear the word “factory farm”, hence why I think it is a sad misrepresentation of agriculture.

Now, on to what I do on a daily basis at work.  You read the title right – I act as nurse for the piglets and their mothers! Since I am looking to be a source of information, I am going to explain everything down to the basics in my posts, so  I am sorry for any of those who have an agriculture background who might be reading this. =P

Now, to begin.  I do alot of what is known as “Day 1” pig care.  As the term, and the title of this post, alludes to, it’s the care of the piglets on their very first day born.  Thus, my primary and most important job is to check the sows (mother pigs) that are farrowing (the swine term for birthing).  I walk through the farrowing rooms where the sows are held and observe each one for signs of distress or problems with the farrowing process, record my observations, and the time, on the sow’s farrowing card.  Farrowing cards have the sow’s ear tag number, previous litter information (if this is a sow’s first litter, the proper term is gilt – so she may not have any previous litter information), and her breeding information, along with a space on the back for the date she farrows, number of pigs in her litter (both liveborn and stillborn), and notes on her farrowing for the Day 1 person (that’s me!).  It is the company’s policy that I check the sows every 25 – 30 minutes – so trust me, these mamas don’t go without proper attention and care!

Now, when a sow is farrowing what am I looking at and what do I look for? I could go on and on and on about this, but I’ll try to explain with as little word vomit as possible.  The first 2 to 3 half-hour checks, I basically just count the piglets that are born.  When the sow or gilt starts reaching towards farrowing for 2 hours, that’s when some action needs to be taking place, as research/pig experts claim, a sow/gilt should start finishing up the farrowing process at about 2 hours.  Sometimes, especially if the sow is an older sow, she just starts getting tired and her muscles don’t contract as they need to.  In this case, I give her a shot in the neck (an intramuscular shot) of calcium solution.  Calcium is an important component of muscle contraction, hence this helps keep her contracting to push those piglets out.  If her body doesn’t need it, it just excretes it in urine – no harm, no foul!

Another option, especially if she hasn’t had another piglet in awhile, is to “sleeve” her – that is, palpate her vaginally to try to pull any piglets out that may be stuck and blocking the rest of the litter from being born.  This helps tremendously with helping the sow finish up her farrowing process and getting the piglets out safely.  This a lot of times keeps both the sows and piglets healthy and alive through the farrowing process.

Now, onto the baby care! A certain number of piglets need to be born and nursing in order to keep the hormones inside mom flowing as they should.  However, as soon as 4 – 8 piglets are born, I can start paying individual attention to the piglets.  One big thing I do is placing a freshly born piglet into a little tub with a heat lamp over it so they can warm up, called hot boxing. Their body temperature drops amazingly fast after being born, and a cold piglet is not a hungry piglet! It is so so so SO vital for a piglet (and any other livestock species) to get colostrum in order to survive and have a shot at being healthy.  Colostrum is the first milk from a mother that is filled with antibodies to fight off disease.  When the baby animal drinks this colostrum (colostrum only lasts for the first 24 hours after birth), the baby is getting all these anitbodies for immunity directly into his/her bloodstream.  So when I hot box a piglet, they are only in there until the next check 30 minutes later, and it gives them a  chance to warm up and start moving around a little to enable that suckling instinct to kick in.  Then, I place them next to mama’s teat, and they suckle away!

Another important thing I do for colostrum is known as split suckling.  That is when I place the 6 biggest, fattest pigs out of a litter into the tub and leave them there for a few hours.  This is to help the smaller, weaker pigs get a better chance at getting full bellies of colostrum.  Its basic logic/pecking order rules that if you take out the big bullies, the little ones don’t have to fight so much to get their meals.  This also helps hugely with keeping piglets alive to grow to be strong, healthy, and happy!

Whew, my brain went into overdrive to think of everything. There is still so much more I could say about Day 1 pig care, as I spend my whole 9 hour work day just doing Day 1! I hope this goes to show how much the people, like myself, that work with these animals really do care for their health and wellbeing.  Stay tuned for the next insight into the workings of a hog barn! Until next time, stay safe and have a blessed day =)

Meg ❤

Hello world!

My name is Meg, and this blog will be focused on telling the wonderful story of agriculture! I grew up in my county’s 4H program showing everything from goats to rabbits to miniature horses, as well as a few general projects such as creative writing and veterinary science. Then, I fulfilled my dream of attending The Ohio State University, graduating in May of 2014 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture with a major in Animal Science and a minor in Agribusiness.

Currently, I am a Swine Technician at Hord Livestock Company in Bucyrus, Ohio.  I am also a member of the

My place of work! The feed mill of Hord Livestock Company in Bucyrus, Ohio
My place of work! The feed mill of Hord Livestock Company in Bucyrus, Ohio

Farm Bureau, and Ohio Pork  Producers Council, as well as volunteering for the AgChat Foundation! I can’t wait to see what other opportunities await for me in agriculture, livestock especially are truly my passion! I can’t wait to share my story and my experiences with all of you!

Until next time,

Meg ❤