There Is No Health Insurance for Pigs

Understanding Antibiotic Use on American Farms and Ranches

These hogs are ready to go to market.  They are clean and have access to lots of day light.

These hogs are ready to go to market. They are clean and have access to lots of day light and fresh air.  In the winter when it is cold, there is a curtain that covers this opening to keep the hogs warmer.

On our farm, it’s normal for us to have entire groups of pigs that never have had any antibiotics when they go to market.  Yes, you read that correctly. I know this is not what you see on the internet about how farmers use antibiotics.  It seems everywhere you look, you can read or hear a very different story.  I’m here to tell you this is a MYTH.

I like to explain our antibiotic use like this:  our hogs do not carry health insurance and all medications are expensive.  We cannot afford to use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary to improve the quality of health for our animals.  And we always use antibiotics under the guidance of our veterinarian.  He decides what medication will be used when necessary and what dose will be used.

So, how do farmers use antibiotics?  We have a health care plan for our hogs that is designed by our veterinarian.  This means when we detect a hog might be sick or that a hog isn’t behaving normally, we call in our veterinarian and follow his advice in how to protect that animal and keep it healthy.

Antibiotics are just one of the tools we have in our tool box; we don’t rely on them as part of our daily care plan.  On our farm, we work hard to prevent problems from occurring, that’s why we are so strict about protecting our hogs’ environment.  We wash and disinfect our barns on a routine basis for prevention.  (Plus, we like working in a clean barn too.)  Our sow barns are washed weekly (these barns house the adult females that will give birth to piglets).  And each sow (a sow is an adult female that has given birth before) is bathed before going to the farrowing barn where they will give birth.  Our gilts are also bathed before farrowing – a gilt is a female hog that has not given birth before.  We do this to prevent infection during the birthing process and it also relaxes the sow or gilt and helps keep them comfortable.  We also wash and sanitize our nursery barns and finisher barns before every new group of pigs arrive to the barn.

We use very, very little antibiotics because we prevent problems from occurring.  By keeping our hogs indoors in a climate controlled barn, we eliminated the biggest threats to our hog’s health, and thus decrease the need for antibiotics. For example, we prevent fighting between our sows by using independent maternity pens.   Fighting results in injuries.  These injuries used to be one of the main reasons we had to use antibiotics on our farm.  We have also decreased the need for antibiotics on our farm, by keeping our hogs away from predators and wildlife that spread disease.

This is my piece of heaven, being on our farm with our two children and my high school sweetheart, Kevin!

This is my piece of heaven, being on our farm with our two children and my high school sweetheart, Kevin!

We are required to log all antibiotic use on our farm.  This means if we use an antibiotic on a pig or a sow, we have to record the date, medication given, dose and withdrawal length.  We are audited by the plant that purchases our hogs, and they inspect these records a couple times a year.  They also review my feed records to see what we feed our hogs.  They want to make sure they are purchasing a healthy hog from me.  But this isn’t why we keep these records.  We keep these records for our own benefit as well; my kids and I eat the same pork I sell for other families to serve on their dinner tables.  I love my two kids more than anything in this world.  I don’t want to feed my kids anything that isn’t safe to eat.  I am a mom, this is one of the most important jobs I will ever have and I take that responsibility very seriously.

So, as you can see, it doesn’t make any sense for me to misuse antibiotics on my farm, nor would I ever choose to.  I simply stand to lose too much if I don’t use them correctly.

If you have any questions about how your food is grown and raised, please don’t hesitate to contact me, or the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.

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About Chris Chinn

My husband, Kevin, and I are 5th generation farmers. We live on our family hog farm in Missouri with our two children. Our dream is that our children will have the opportunity be the 6th generation of farmers in our family.
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8 Responses to There Is No Health Insurance for Pigs

  1. Andrew says:

    That all sounds well and good, but your post is quite short on the specifics of antibiotic use on your farm. Are any of your animals fed a medicated feed, or given medication through their drinking water? What percentage of your finished animals have ever been treated? What do you think of the efforts of the American Medical Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists to limit the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture?

    • Chris Chinn says:

      We do not give any medication via feed or water unless directed to do so by our veterinarian. Feed and water medication is a form of oral antibiotics the veterinarian may choose to use if necessary. About 90 – 95 percent of our hogs never have antibiotics. I personally do not trust the Union of Concerned Scientists but I do trust large animal veterinarians who work with large farm animals on a daily basis. We do NOT use antibiotics as a growth promoter and I don’t know any hog farmers who do. Our veterinarian doesn’t recommend it and I trust my veterinarian.

  2. joycefleming says:

    Andrew,
    As a registered nurse I can tell you that the antibiotic resistance happens first in humans, then animals. Also, most the antibiotics used in human medicine are not currently at risk. Of course, we want to keep it that way and that is why farmers like Chris use such a careful protocal to use only what is absolutely needed.
    Medicines are developed very specifically for the species and the infection to be addressed. One of the best respiratory antibiotics for cattle cannot be used in humans at all. Our vet today recommended a new medication (not antibiotic) that will build the immunity of my newborn calves so they will be prevented from getting infections that would need antibiotics. We don’t regularly treat humans with medicines to build their immunity to reduce the need for antibiotics.
    Please read a variety of sources and weigh the evidence. There are some organizations that have an agenda that is not based in reality.
    As a nurse and farmer, I will continue to do everything I can to promote health for my animals and people.

  3. William says:

    That’s good to hear that antibiotics are not used as widely as we are sometimes led to believe.

    There are three things that cause me concern when it comes to meat: antibiotics, hormones, and animal based feed. How common is the use of hormones or animal based feed in the industry?

    • Chris Chinn says:

      Great question William! First, you should know there are no hormones added to pork or poultry and there haven’t been since 1980. In addition, there are no FDA approved hormones for pork or poultry. (This means they don’t even make them for pork or poultry). The following blog link may help answer your question regarding hormones in more detail, however all food contains hormones that are naturally occurring. A 3 oz. serving of milk contains 11 nanograms of estrogen {both non-rBST and rBST milk}. Raw peas have 454 nanograms of estrogen. Raw cabbage has 2,700 nanograms of estrogen. http://thewifeofadairyman.blogspot.com/2010/12/rbst-free-horomones-in-milk-whats.html

      As for animal based feed, I am not aware of that being used, animal feed is also regulated by the FDA. We make all of our own feed and we do not use animal based products. Our animals receive corn, soybean meal, vitamins and minerals in their diets.

      This blog post might also be helpful to you regarding beef production. http://agriculturedblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/how-much-hormone-are-we-talking-about/

  4. Thanks for telling it like it is Chris. @DrScottHurd

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