A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Minnesota and visit the Wakefield Pork farm and learn all about pigs and pig farming and how pork goes from the farm to your plate.
The experience I had was eye opening and answered many of the questions I had regarding how pigs were raised and the process in which they go from the farm to our plates. To be completely honest, since early this year I haven’t been purchasing much pork and only eating it on a rare occasion. The reason being, I wasn’t finding the quality of pork that I felt comfortable buying and eating. When I buy meat I want to be ensured that it was raised not only in the most humane, but also the healthiest of conditions, not only for the animal’s sake, but mine as well. I prefer to buy pasture raised, free roaming/range meat because I hate the idea of an animal not being allowed to live it’s life outside. These days it’s become fairly easy to find this in beef and chicken, but nearly impossible with pork. The only way I was finding a pasture raised option was to purchase a whole or half pig from a local farmer who raised their pigs this way. Not exactly the most convenient way to buy pork if you don’t know how to butcher it or have the freezer space to store it. When I was asked to come on this pork tour and learn about pig farming I jumped at the chance. I could finally get all my questions answered and depending on what I saw and learned maybe start buying and eating pork on a regular basis again.
Pigs, in this case sows (female pigs) have a somewhat short lifespan, approximately 8 years. However, in those 8 years they can have anywhere from 6-8 litters of piglets. The typical amount of pigs in a litter is around 14…that’s a lot of babies! The gestational period for most sows is 114 days and their due date is generally only off by a day or two. They are extremely efficient animals. If you’re wondering how the sows are impregnated it’s with the help of artificial insemination. This allows the farmers to decide what breed is producing the strongest piglets and at the end of the day that means healthier pigs and pork for consumption.
The sows at Wakefield Pork are kept in indoors in separate pens. This was extremely hard for me to see and understand why they do it this way. After talking to both Steve and Mary Langhorst (the owners) as well as one of the veterinarians and a couple of employees, I was able to see their reasons for doing it this way. The cold winters and hot summer in the midwest aren’t exactly ideal for leaving pigs outside. There are also the parasites and diseases living in the dirt to consider, especially since pigs like to lie down a lot. I also learned that sows can be quite aggressive and often form a “pecking order”. If you’re the pig at the bottom of the order, you’re going to have serious problems.
Even though it was hard for me to see the pigs in tight quarters, you could see that they were well cared for. The farmers go to great lengths to make sure the barn conditions are as clean and healthy as possible, in fact we weren’t even allowed to enter the barn before we took a full shower and changed into jumpsuits provided by Wakefield. They take biosecurity very seriously which was a positive thing for me to see. So that’s the scoop on the pigs, now let’s talk about these amazing dedicated farmers!
I used to think when I was a kid that I wanted to be a farmer. I had this cute little image in my head of the tiny, perfect farms you see in Disney movies. While I’m sure those farms exist somewhere, that isn’t what the majority look like and after having now visited several farms I can say for sure that the work is anything, but easy. The dedication the farmers have for these animals and the product (in this case pork) that they are producing for us to eat every day was inspiring for me to see. They treat the pigs with kindness, often giving them a pat or scratch on the back as they walk by. They are there day in and day out feeding, cleaning, treating the sick, delivering babies and making sure everything if running properly.
On top of their dedication to the pigs they are also doing their part to make the farm as environmentally friendly as possible. They take proactive steps working with scientists, conservationists, government agencies and member of the local community to minimize their environmental impact. In the last 50 years pig farmers have used less land, water and energy than ever before.
I can’t say enough about how much I appreciated meeting Steve and Mary Langhorst. Their kindness and openness to answering all of my questions meant so much to me and I left Minnesota with a much better understanding of pig farming. While I would still like to visit a smaller farm where pigs are pasture raised and hear those farmers views, I can honestly say that I feel much better about purchasing pork than I did earlier this year. I think it’s important to learn where your food comes from. I encourage everyone to be curious and ask questions before making judgements and jumping to conclusions, as with anything in life. Check back next week for a delicious pork recipe!
Thanks to the National Pork Board and Wakefield Pork for sponsoring this post. I can’t say enough about the kindness and transparency that I experienced on this trip. As always all opinions are my own.