PEDV – Here’s Your Sign!

This sign greets visitors to our farm.  We want to PROTECT our hogs from germs so we ask visitors to not go near our barns.

This sign greets visitors to our farm. We want to PROTECT our hogs from germs so we ask visitors to not go near our barns.

I am pretty aggravated tonight so forgive me now if I am a little blunt in this post.  I’ve had a long day, and I know many other moms are feeling tired just like I am tonight.  When I came in the house tonight it was after 6:30 and I had supper to cook, laundry and dishes to do, and Conner had a headache and homework that needed completed.   Homework with Conner means ‘mean ole mom’ has to stand watch over him and remind him every five minutes to do his homework.  As a farm kid, the last place he wants to be on a nice night is inside the house doing homework.

The last thing I wanted to do tonight was chase down a strange vehicle that was trespassing on my farm.   I wasn’t chasing down this truck just because they were trespassing, I was trying to stop them from going near our hog barns.

There is a terrible disease running through the hog industry and it’s called PEDV.  PEDV is a four letter word in our home, as it is in many other homes of hog farmers across the United States and Canada.  PEDV stands for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (porcine means swine and is just another name for hogs).

PEDV is deadly to newborn pigs from birth until about three weeks of age, and infected swine herds can suffer a 75-100% loss of baby pigs for a four to five week period. PEDV poses no threat to humans, or has no food safety impact on retail pork supplies.  The causes and spread of PEDV are still largely unknown, and there are currently no known vaccines to prevent the initial occurrence of PEDV virus.

On our farm, we have increased our bio-security and we are praying every day that our farm doesn’t get this virus.  I think twice before I go anywhere now, I don’t go inside the bank because I don’t know who might have been in there prior to me that may have hogs.  I don’t go into a grocery store or convenience store unless absolutely necessary through the week because I don’t know who has been in the store previously that might have been around hogs.  If I go to the grocery store, I try to make sure I can stay away from our barns and feed mill or any supplies that need to go inside our barns.  Our family and our dedicated employees have become even more meticulous in trying to protect the sows and pigs on our farm.  I freak out when I see a strange vehicle pull into our driveway because I have no idea where they have been.  I instantly think, “Have they been around hogs?  I hope they read our sign and stop!”

Well tonight, a traveling salesman saw our sign and he didn’t stop.  I doubt he intentionally ignored it, he probably just didn’t realize how important the sign is.  I saw it happening like a bad car wreck, I tried to stop him but I had just taken my shoes off and come inside the house to start cooking supper.  Conner came running through the house and said, “Mom, someone is ignoring our sign, quick, we have to stop them.”  But we were too late.  All of our hard work was put at risk in the blink of an eye, and by someone who paid no attention to our signs.

Does this mean we will get PEDV?  I sure hope not but there is no way of knowing exactly where this truck had been or if they had been on another farm that had hogs.  I only hope that people may read this blog and think twice the next time they see a sign that says, ““STOP Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point.”  Livestock farms don’t display signs like this because it’s dangerous for you to go beyond a certain area.  They display these signs to protect their livestock, in our case our hogs, from diseases and germs you may be tracking in on you unknowingly.  We don’t display our sign because we are rude or mean, we want to PREVENT our animals from getting exposed to germs, we want to keep them healthy.

So the next time you see a sign that says, “STOP Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point” or “Biosecure Area – Do Not Enter,” please be considerate and stop.  The health of our hogs is at risk if you ignore the signs.  And this doesn’t just impact my family, it impacts all the families my farm supports – this includes the families of our employee’s, the family of the propane delivery driver who delivers our propane, the family of the packing plant employee who packages the pork I raise, even the family of the grocery store owner and the clerk who rings up your groceries.   This list could go on and on but I think you get the idea.

One of my kids’ favorite meals is pork burgers on the grill and it’s something they look forward to every summer – I want my kids to enjoy pork burgers this summer raised on our farm!   For this to happen though, I may have to remain the CRAZY lady who chases people around my farm if they cross the bio-security sign.  I’m willing to be this crazy lady if it means my kids have their pork burgers this summer!  Life would be easier though if people would just read the SIGNS!  As the old saying goes, “Here’s Your Sign!”

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I’m Sorry We Don’t Have a Normal Life

Our kids are like other kids, they love to build snowmen when it snows.  This picture was taken in 2010.

Our kids are like other kids, they love to build snowmen when it snows. This picture was taken in 2010.

Every once in a while Kevin will tell me, “I’m sorry we don’t have a normal family life.”  I always smile when he says that because I don’t think anyone has a ‘normal’ family life.  On days like today our kids would rather we spend the entire day playing in the snow but we can’t because of our responsibilities to care for our livestock.  Our family may not take long vacations or spend snowy weekends outside building snowmen but the one thing we do know how to do is laugh while we work!  And on cold snowy nights like tonight, right before we come inside, we make time for a quick snowball fight in the dark!  And as Kevin launches a snowball my direction he lovingly yells, “Look out Michelin Man!”  I love our life, Kevin, even if it’s not normal!

When I was in high school, I had dreams of going to college and living in a city.  I wanted nothing to do with living in the country, I wanted the bright lights of city life!  It took about 6 months of college to make me realize how much I valued my life in a rural community.  I grew up in a community where everyone waves at you when you drive down the street (even if you are a stranger) and most everyone knows your name.  When I went to college, I realized very quickly that waving at strangers resulted in strange looks and sometimes even stranger comments.  It was an eye opening experience for me, and it was an experience I am grateful for.

My heart belonged to my high school sweetheart and we both knew his life was on the farm.  It didn’t take long before I realized I wanted to be there too and a few years later we were married.  It’s hasn’t been an easy road but I know it was the right path for us both.  We have spent many late nights working with the livestock or in the fields but we’ve had many great laughs along the way!  The laughter is what keeps us going, especially on cold and snowy days like today or during the endless heat of the summer.

This is very similar to what our chore truck looked like!

This is very similar to what our chore truck looked like!

We still laugh about the time I was seven months pregnant with Rachelle and while doing chores one morning I fell through the floorboard of the chore truck.  If you have ever been inside a chore truck, you know it’s the oldest truck on the farm and its body is pretty rough.  Many times the windows are cracked and door latches are missing and there are holes in the seat.  This particular truck had more rust than paint on the body and the floorboard was very thin!  Only one door worked on the truck and it was missing the tail gate.

Our hogs were outside back then and we had about twenty head get out of a pen and they were headed towards the neighbor’s field.  At seven months pregnant I couldn’t run quick enough to get in front of them and turn them around so I hopped in the truck.  I managed to cut the hogs off and get them back in the pen but I had nothing to fix the fence with.  I parked the truck next to the hole in the fence to keep them inside, I thought this was a great idea.

The only problem with this idea was the passenger door didn’t work on this truck and I had the driver’s door next to the fence.  I was stuck, literally.  My only way out was to climb out the window…..now remember I was seven months pregnant and it was 100 degrees outside.  When I tried to stand up, my foot went straight through the floorboard.  I’m sure if anyone had been around they would have died from laughter.  I managed to get my foot back inside the truck and crawl through the window and over the hood of the truck but my leg was pretty scraped up and bleeding.  Kevin was at the other hog lot which was about a half-mile away so I took out walking because we didn’t have cell phones yet and I needed his help.

Michelin ManIt was August and it was hot and humid in Missouri and I felt like I was a marshmallow being held over a campfire.  When Kevin saw me walking his way, I was covered in manure, my leg was bleeding, and I had sweat pouring off me.  When he asked me what was wrong, I broke into tears and told him I had ruined the floorboard of his truck.  He burst into laughter (because the truck was already junk or it wouldn’t have been used as the chore truck) but once he was able to regain is composure, he said he was ready to hear the entire story of how I ‘ruined’ his truck.  Between sobs I managed to describe my situation but this only resulted in even more laughter once I shared with him how I crawled out of the window.  Later he revealed to me why he was laughing so hard, he thought I probably looked like the Michelin Man trying to squeeze through the window.  And for the rest of my pregnancy, he lovingly called me the Michelin Man.   He’s so romantic!  (I wouldn’t trade him for the world though.)

We may not have a normal family life but I’m thankful for the time we have with each other, even if it’s spent working.  I hope one day my kids will look back on these late night snow fights and laugh!

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The Food Knowledge Gap

This last week I heard someone talking about a recent hospital visit a family member had.  A nurse, who was providing care for the person, told them they needed to eat only organic food because it was healthier.  The nurse also went on to tell them that ‘farmers feed their livestock lots of salt which results in salty food products and that they shouldn’t eat any animal products because farmers weren’t taking care of their animals correctly.’

Luckily this person had a connection to agriculture and knew this nurse was just repeating propaganda that is easily found on the internet by groups who are against eating meat or eating any animal products.  This person tried to help the nurse understand how farmers really do care for their livestock.  When the doctor found out what the nurse had said he wasn’t happy.  The doctor’s orders had not been followed out correctly by this nurse.

When I heard this story it really concerned me.  How many other patients has this nurse been misinforming?  And how many of these patients trust this nurse to have correct knowledge based on facts and not personal opinion or agendas?

My first reaction to this story was that I wanted to gather up all of the information I could get my hands on and go talk to this nurse and share with her how food is produced by farmers and ranchers.  I wanted her to know our nutritionist designs our livestock diets to meet the needs of our animals at every stage of their growth.  I wanted her to understand that the term organic simply defined HOW something was raised; it doesn’t mean it is healthier.  There is no nutritional difference between organic food and non-organic food.  I knew I couldn’t find this nurse and it would be impossible to get my information to her, let alone talk to her.

This story once again reminded me of the need for farmers and ranchers to reach out to people who don’t farm and share our stories.  It’s especially important to reach out to the medical community.  I’ve decided the next time I have a doctor appointment I’m going to talk to my doctor and ask if they know how food is produced on farms and ranches.   Maybe this will open a door for me to help share the facts about how livestock are cared for.  I know doctors and nurses are busy and they don’t have time to make farm visits or gather facts about food production.  I want to make it easier for them to be connected to a farmer.

This may not make a huge impact but if I can help even one person understand how livestock are raised and what some of the terms (like organic, free-range, antibiotic-free, etc.) really mean it will help bridge the information gap.  I’m not sure if this nurse had a personal agenda or if she truly thought she was sharing factual information.  With 98% of our population living off the farm it’s important for each of the 2% involved in farming/ranching to reach out and share our stories.  I hope other farmers and ranchers will join me in reaching out to the medical community to share the facts about how we raise food!

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Farming Differences – It’s OK to be Different!

In the last two weeks I have had a couple of my farming friends contact me about some issues in agriculture.  The issues have been a little different but the overall theme was the same.  I was reluctant to write about this issue because it’s one that really puzzles me and frustrates me to be honest.

So what is the issue?  It is farmers (or ranchers) criticizing other farmers (or ranchers) due to their methods of production.  I am a huge supporter of diversity in agriculture.  We need all types of farming practices and all shapes and sizes when it comes to farms.  Not everyone agrees with me when it comes to diversity in farming and ranching though.  I firmly believe quality of care is not dependent upon farm size.  There are small farms and big farms that do a great job caring for their land and livestock.

Some farmers prefer to produce farm products for a niche market (organic, all natural, etc.).  This allows them to capture a premium for their product and sometimes it means they can produce less product and charge more money for this product.  These niche farmers look for ways to preserve their market; they don’t want every farmer duplicating their efforts because then they would lose their market premium.  Niche farming works especially well for farmers who live near urban areas.

Rachelle checking nursery pigs when she was younger.

Rachelle checking nursery pigs when she was younger.

Some farmers prefer to implement technology on their farms.  Some prefer to raise their crops or livestock using conventional methods.  Other farmers may try to market all of their products to local people living within a certain radius of their farm.  The list goes on and on and I think each type of farming is needed to produce food.

The challenge is how to coexist with each other without attacking different methods of production when it comes time to market your products.  I don’t understand why some people feel the need to bash one style of food production over another.  Sure, I have my preferences based off my farm and family but that is the great thing about CHOICE.  We can all choose how we want to eat.  The important thing to remember is to respect everyone’s opinion regarding how they want to eat and how they want to farm.

There are a lot of great farmers who raise organic products.  Several of the organic producers I know are simply trying to meet a demand for people who choose to eat organic food.  Most of these organic farmers do not think their style of farming is the only way to farm or the better way to farm.  The same is true for conventional (or non-organic or non-niche) farmers, they are meeting a demand and trying to remain on their family farm full time.

The challenge to coexist isn’t in how a farmer farms, the challenge usually occurs in how farmers choose to market their products.  I don’t think it is always intentional, but sometimes farmers will attack products that are not raised in the same way their products are raised.  One of my friends experienced someone marketing their organic veggies at a farmer’s market as being “cleaner” than veggies that weren’t organic.  She was upset that this farmer was pitting one method against the other by inferring conventional products were less clean.

One example I witnessed a few months ago was someone who said their pork was ‘healthier’ to eat because it was grass fed on pastures.  They also claimed their pork was hormone-free unlike pork that wasn’t pasture raised. Hogs are not like cattle; their nutritional needs cannot be met from a grass diet.  There are also no added hormones in ANY pork today, it doesn’t matter how it is raised because there are no approved hormones for hogs.  Claims like these are confusing and can cause fear.

I asked the farmer about their marketing strategy, they told me they knew it might be misleading but they had to find a way to make people want to pay more for their product because their cost of production was higher.

It doesn’t matter if you raise your livestock inside barns or out on pastures, if you care for your livestock you will produce a healthy product.  That is why I support both pasture raised pork and pork raised inside hog barns.  Both methods are successful; you just have to take care of your animals.    Each method can offer protection for the animals and great care, the only difference is HOW the method works.  What works well on one farm may not work well on another farm and that is perfectly fine.

Diversity is a good thing in agriculture.  No two farms are exactly alike and that means they operate in different manners.  This doesn’t mean one farm is better than the other, it just means they are different.  As farmers I think we have a responsibility to help people understand how food is produced and that all methods are safe.

In my opinion food choice is a personal issue but fear isn’t necessary to promote your products or methods of production.  More than anything I think people are just interested in hearing your farm story and how you care for your crops or livestock.  And for many people, they really just want to know the farmer who raises their food.

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You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

This week I had every intention of writing a blog about the government shut down.  That was before I started listening to my son read from his school library book.   Conner, who is in the 6th grade, has to have 30 reading counts points by the end of the first quarter.  Conner is a farm boy, he’d rather be outside helping his dad work on fences or helping his dad feed the cattle or hogs.  It’s a struggle to get him to sit down and read books for the reading counts points.  Since the quarter is going to be ending this month and he is behind on his points, I am making him read his books out loud to me so I know he is reading.  (He really hates doing this!)

I noticed Monday night he was struggling a little bit with this book.  His voice was trailing off and he wasn’t finishing sentences.  And sometimes it seemed like he was skipping sentences.  I assumed he was trying to rush through the book and I confronted him about it.  He told me there were words he couldn’t say so he just skipped over them.  I told him he needed to sound the words out and learn how to say them.

So the next time he got to a word he couldn’t say he paused and looked at me.  I told him to sound it out and he shook his head ‘no’ at me.  This made me MAD!  I walked over to him and told him to show me the word.  When I saw the word I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It was a profanity, one he wasn’t allowed to use and he knew it.  The light went off in my head and I realized Conner could say the words just fine, he just knew he would be in trouble with me if he cursed.   I asked Conner where he got this book and he told me it came from the school library.

I started listening more closely to the story line of the book.  It became very obvious to me that this book was too mature for my twelve year old.  The book was discussing teen pregnancy, child birth and abandonment.  At first I thought Conner had chosen a book intended for students in high school but when I checked the reading level it was right in the 6th grade range.  So I decided I was going to read the book myself after he went to bed.  The book was only 123 pages so I knew it wouldn’t take long for me to read.  Conner was already 70 pages into the book, he was hoping to finish the book the following night so he could take his quiz and get a better book.  (He didn’t want to quit reading the book because he knew he was behind in points and he didn’t have time to waste on starting a new book).

After Conner went to bed I read the book but I wasn’t able to fall asleep after I read it.  The book was not suitable for a child in middle school.  I learned many of the sentences he skipped when reading out loud to me had curse words in them or used the Lord’s name in vain.  My son had learned that one of the characters in the book had sex just to “get rid of their virginity.”  He also learned that women can hemorrhage after child birth because the book went into a very descriptive paragraph about a girl who was hemorrhaging.  I lay awake that night wondering why this book was in the school library and on the approved list of books for reading counts quizzes.

I went online and searched the book and found some great reviews on it.  Here is one:  “Cameron’s twin Katie calls and tells him he has to go out to the woods by the lake. He’s hesitant, but he goes. When he gets there, he finds an abandoned newborn baby. Good read for reluctant/struggling readers, boys and girls.”  If I read that review, I would think this book was ok to have in the school library too.  I can see why it was suggested to Conner because he is a reluctant reader.   Nothing on the cover of the book indicated this was a book that contained profanity or that went into descriptive details about what happens to your body after child birth.

I decided to talk to the school and see if they were aware of the content of the book.  I copied a few of the pages of the book that disturbed me and I showed them to the Superintendent.  He was surprised to say the least.  He shared my concerns about the maturity level of the book and that it was definitely not appropriate for 6th graders.  The book will no longer be available for 6th graders.

I learned once again, you can’t judge a book by its cover.   More importantly, I learned I need to be more involved in what my kids are reading.  I learned that the approved reading list is probably accurate when it comes to reading level but I may not agree with the reading content.   I am sure my school didn’t intend for my son to read a book in which the content was too mature for him but it happened.  I’ve found books before on the reading list that lied about farms which used modern technology like my farm does.  I didn’t appreciate the lies or the misrepresentation of the facts, especially when impressionable minds are the audience.

For now, I will be reading all of the books my son chooses to read.  I want to make sure the books are appropriate for his maturity level.  I encourage all parents to read some of the books their kids are reading.  I assumed that since the books were coming from school they were safe for my son to read.  I assumed wrong.  Had my son repeated any of the profanity that he read in the book at school, he would have received a detention or suspension.  If he can’t say the words in school, he shouldn’t be reading them either!

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Food Dialogues Come to Missouri

Last week was a hectic week for our family. I had four meetings in four days and between the kids they had three doctor/dental appointments and three ballgames. I felt like I spent most of my time on the road! Thank goodness Kevin was able to handle the ballgames for me; I hate missing the games but I felt better knowing Kevin was there cheering in my place.

On Thursday I had the opportunity to sit on an animal welfare panel for the Food Dialogues held in Columbia, Missouri which was hosted by Missouri Farmers Care. The purpose of Food Dialogues is to inspire conversations about food and how it is produced. My panel consisted of three farmers: Chris Heins from Heins Dairy, Mark Manken from Missouri Legacy Beef and myself. There was also a veterinarian on the panel, Dr. Alan Wessler, an animal science professor from the University of Missouri, Dr. Don Spiers and Travis Tucker, owner of “Bleu” restaurant in Columbia.

The Food Dialogues was broadcast live online but if you missed it, you can watch it below. I encourage you to watch this panel discussion because there were a lot of great questions asked by the moderator, Tom Bradley, as well as questions that were submitted online and from the audience.

About fifteen minutes into the discussion I was asked if I thought moving animals indoors had jeopardized animal welfare. My response was no because we tried raising our hogs outdoors and our hogs are leaner (than other breeds of hogs) which makes it difficult to keep our hogs warm in the winter in below freezing temperatures. Since hogs cannot sweat, it is hard to keep them cool in 100 degree temperatures, that’s why we moved our hogs indoors where we can offer them conditions like what you and I have in our homes and offices – air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.

When we moved our hogs indoors, we also prevented the spread of diseases tracked by wildlife and predator attacks. We actually use fewer medications today on our farm with our hogs housed indoors than we did when our hogs were outside. And I think the biggest benefit for our farm is that we can give our hogs hands on care multiple times a day. We prevent many problems by caring for our animals like this.

While this method works well for my family, there are other farmers who have different genetics (different breeds of hogs) and they are able to raise their animals outdoors. Every farm and every family is different, not all farms look alike and that is ok. Just because a farmer has changed his farm and uses barns to care for his animals doesn’t mean he has sacrificed animal welfare, it means he has found a way to care for his animals using modern technology. And in some cases, the use of technology has meant the farmer was able to bring the next generation back to the farm full time.

This is just one example of the questions asked of our panel last week. To see the other questions, watch our discussion online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukzleerc_VI&feature=c4-overview&list=UUM0llOAYIfPA68doLzDmsJg

 

 

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I’m Not Paying Your Bills For You Mom!

Earlier today I was looking through my Facebook page while waiting on one of my kids and I saw a friend had posted the following:  “The treasury secretary has now asked Congress to raise the debt limit for borrowing more money as soon as possible. The secretary of the treasury said if Congress doesn’t act soon, the government will have to work with only the money it has now. You know, like the rest of us do.” — Jay Leno

My Future Farmer!

My Future Farmer!

I laughed at the Jay Leno joke but then I thought about how serious this issue really is.  Trying to balance my farm budget each year is a lot like trying to balance any family or business budget.  A budget is a budget, some budgets just have more numbers than others but the end goal is always to have more income than expenses.

I try to predict what my income will be and then I try to predict my expenses.  If my expenses are higher than my income, I look for places to trim or cut expenses.  Is this practice of cutting or trimming fun?  Not at all, it really stinks.  And it’s really hard to determine what to cut.  But guess what?  I have to do it because if I don’t my family and farm will suffer.

The tough budget decisions I have to make aren’t any different than those tough decisions a mom/wife living in Houston makes.  We both have to decide what a want is and what a need is.  We both have to decide what we can live without and what we can make due with until better times come.  The only difference between me and a mom/wife in Houston is that I have to do this for my farm too, not just my family.  Any cut I make has an impact on my farm, I have to weigh the consequences the decision will have on my farm and determine if it’s worth it.  My farm impacts more than my family, my farm impacts many families because one farmer feeds 155 people.   This is a responsibility my family takes very seriously, we are proud to have this responsibility and we don’t want to let anyone down.

Many American’s are just like me, we don’t have the option of not balancing our budget.  We don’t have a money machine in the closet that we can pull out to make ends meet.  We have to live within our means or we will lose our homes, cars, etc.  It’s not fun, it’s stressful and it hurts…..but we do it.  I understand the tough decisions that are before Congress regarding our budget, and so do many other moms, dads, wives, husbands, business owners, etc.  But just like our budgets, Congress needs to balance the budget and make the cuts necessary to prevent bigger problems down the road.

My son summed it up pretty well a few nights ago when we were talking about the farm.  He and I were discussing feed costs and farm payments and bank loans.  I explained to him that dad and I borrowed money from the bank to buy our farm and that we made payments to the bank for the money we borrowed.  I told him our goal was to pay the farm off before we….and before I could finish the sentence he said, “THAT’S GOOD BECAUSE I’M NOT PAYING YOUR BILLS FOR YOU MOM.  I LOVE YOU AND DAD BUT I DON’T WANT TO PAY YOUR BILLS FOR YOU WHEN I GROW UP.  I WANT TO SPEND MY MONEY ON MY FARM AND MY ANIMALS, NOT YOUR FARM AND ANIMALS AND LOANS.”   This is a message Congress needs to hear, our kids don’t want to pay off our debts and they don’t deserve to be given our debts.  It’s time for Congress to make the tough decisions we all have to make; it’s time to live within our means.   Millions of families have to do this every day, our government needs to live by the same standards.

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