Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Pig Farm Visit

Over six years ago, we had a unique opportunity to visit a conventional hog farm in rural Minnesota.  We 'won' this opportunity by bidding at an auction being held as a fund-raiser for a local Montessori school.  The woman who donated this auction item was related to the owner of the hog farm.  She convinced him to allow three families with small children, to visit and tour their operation.  We were one of those families.
We were warned up front that there would be no cameras allowed.  However, the owner offered to snap a few for us and then send them too us.  This should have been a clue as to what we were about to witness.

After a 1.5 hour drive, we arrived at rather empty looking field among corn fields, with one large building on it.  It didn’t look like what I envisioned a pig farm to be.  I was thinking we’d drive up and see barns and little piglets running around.  No sign of a pig was anywhere.  We were greeted and went inside to a sort of entry/office room of this large building.  In that first room, with still no pigs in sight, the smell was so strong that many of us thought we might not be able to continue.  We were given masks, coverings for our feet, coverings for our clothes, and gloves as well.  As for the smell, we were told we would “get used to it.”  (I later found that this was not true for me.)
After some introduction, we were taken in to the main rooms of this pig operation.  We were guided through a maze of cages, pens and crowded pigs.  It was full of sights, sounds and smells, like none I’ve ever witnessed.   We were told many things about how it is all run.  None of these pigs have ever seen the sun or dirt or anything but a grated floor.  Many are in pens so small they cannot turn around or even lay down.  As Joel Salatin would say... "Folks, This Ain't Normal."  Even at that time, with my lack of knowledge around how meat should be raised, I knew in my gut that this couldn't be right.

It didn’t take long for me to realize why no pictures were allowed.  I cannot begin to describe what I witnessed.  The sights and smells were overwhelming.  The conditions were deplorable.  It was very hard to walk through that place without crying.  It was hard to get the images out of my mind.  It still is.

One of the slightly less sad places was a room for the
momma's and babies.  The owner was kind enough
to take this photo for us.

Now I do believe in raising and eating meat – but I also believe that God intends us to be good stewards.  I’m certain that these pigs were not intended to live this way.  
Later, after the tour, we sat down with the owners to eat.  I wasn’t hungry so I listened to the conversation.  Several things were discussed about this type of operation verses a free-range pig “farm”.  Even the owner himself seemed to be saying things that were justifying his decision to run this operation in this way.  He didn't sound like it was a joy or a pleasure to be there.  I remember so clearly him explaining that the pigs are safer here as they could get sunburned if they were outside.  He also stated that these pigs were bred to be indoors, they were so large that they could break a leg if they were to run around outside.   He explained the trouble they ran into when someone learned that they had made the cages even smaller years before, and then explained the reasons why they had to do it.  It was as if they had their hands tied, or thought they did.

The truth is:  Pork from pigs that are raised outdoors produces the highest amounts of Vitamin D available to us, even more than milk.   Pork that comes from these conventional factories has little to zero vitamin D. Sunlight is also a natural detoxifier and germ-killer.  Far fewer drugs are needed on pigs raised outdoors.  In fact, no drugs are needed in most cases, for animals raised outdoors in proper conditions.
Pigs were given a snout on the end of their noses for a reason.  To root and dig!

This small hog farmer later explained that he used to raise his animals outside in the fresh air, but he no longer could afford to do it because of the increased regulations.  He had “no choice” but to sell out to a larger corporation and then had to do it this way or he could not stay in business.  So even this farmer saw the problems with the way he  was raising these hogs – but felt helpless to do anything about it.
We didn’t eat pork for nearly 5 years after that experience.  No one in our family wanted to.  It was too much to bear to remember it, both the cruelty and the terrible conditions of the place in which our food was bring raised.  This couldn’t be healthy to eat, we thought. 

Today, we’ve learned so much more about the condition of much of our food.  We do eat pork now.  But only from pigs who are raised outdoors and are allowed to really be pigs!

We’ve seen pigs rooting around for acorns, in a sustainable, affordable way that actually enhances the land.  We’ve seen one creative farmer after another, raising pigs using things such as old political signs as shelter from the sun. We’ve seen others using electric, movable fencing which keeps fresh ground under the pigs daily – allowing the land to rest in between moves. 

Now these are pigs the way God intended!  A good, respectful
life and a much healthier meal!
We are so encouraged by these farmers who are leading the way in what is unconventional today.  Search out your local small farmer – you’ll find one if you look.  Find meat that you can visit and see for yourself the health of your food.
Pictures will always be allowed on our farm!


This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards
of the mysteries of God.
- 1 Corinthians 4:1

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Chickens are NOT Vegetarians

Are your chickens fed a vegetarian diet?"

Happy Chickens!
We want to avoid unnaturally feed for our chickens.

 Not everyone is aware since the marketing is so contrary these days.... but chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Ask any farmer with a flock of pastured poultry how much their hens squawk in a frenzied delight at the discovery of a worm, lizard or snake. A full-scale party in the hen house breaks out in the barnyard when a hen nabs a coveted live morsel.

Chickens are notorious cannibals, even pecking injured flockmates to death. This is one of the reasons commercial chicken operations de-beak their birds when they stuff them into cages and buildings by the tens of thousands. This is rarely a problem when birds are raised properly.
Our birds will get worms, bugs, weeds and vegetables and sometimes even flowers!  By the way, that is a dirty little trick the commercial laying hens get to bump up the color of their yolks... adding dried marigold flowers to the feed.  Looks great, but means nothing.

Truth is, chickens running around in the sun, absorbing sun light, eating a varied diet, produce a naturally bright colored orange egg yolk.  The healthier the chicken, the healthier the egg!
I was introduced to a Purdue Farms commercial in a store recently which emphasized their chickens were fed an all-vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian chicken is NOT an "All Natural Chicken", it is an abused and unhealthy chicken. 
The marketing teams are creative and understandably so.

However, the truth is this:  Commercial chicken operations used to feed their poultry animal by-products including .... chicken manure!)  Now that it is discovered that isn't the way to go, they now advertise vegetarian diet as a way to say they aren't feeding their chickens this very yucky stuff!

Did you know,  the poop from vegetarian chickens is being fed to cattle in both the beef and dairy industries. Why? It's a cheap form of food. However, the practice was prohibited with the advent of Mad Cow disease. Turned out that this practice polluted the animal by-products used in poultry feed and eventually infected said bovine with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and potentially infected humans as well. So under the guise of food safety, our chickens must now be vegetarians.

So next time you see "all vegetarian feed"  on your poultry products (yes, even if you buy them at Whole Foods or they are Certified Organic), remember you are contributing to unnatural agricultural practices implemented solely for bigger profits in the industrial food production complex and not to the benefit of the livestock or more importantly, your health.
This is "cage-free" and "free-roaming".
But there is a solution.  More and more people are finding their local farmers and getting eggs from a source they can actually visit and see for themselves!  Or even better, others are starting their own backyard flock of hens.  Even in small yards, many times it is possible to have chickens (minus the rooster!)
So look around and see if you can find a farmer in your community who is raising a healthy flock.  You'll be surprised at the difference and enjoy eating healthy food.


Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. - Genesis 9:3