Today I received a call from a family farmer friend of mine who raises pigs. During our conversation he mentioned that he was trying to become certified as humanely raising his pigs. However, he was having trouble with this certification because it was both expensive and in some ways unrealistic.
Most of the groups wanting to do the audit insisted that the pigs not be in modern facilities. By this I mean no farrowing crates and baby pigs must be allowed outside. I suppose that all sounds good until you understand swine behavior.
Sows were placed in farrowing crates ( this is a structure that does not allow them to turn around) to protect the baby pigs. Until the advent of farrowing crates a large number of pigs were crushed by the sow. Baby pigs being allowed to roam the outdoors sounds good until you realize what a modern hog barn is like. It is a constant temperature (unlike the baking heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter), free from predators (even hawks, cats and dogs are predators of baby pigs) and free of disease carried by birds and other animals.
Basically what the "humane certification" dictates is that he has to operate his farm utilizing the same methods that were deemed obsolete in 1950. That got me to thinking. As many of you know I recently injured my Achilles tendon. Until this injury I knew nothing about Achilles tendons, therefore I sought the treatment of an orthopedic surgeon.
Now imagine if I had went into my surgeon and insisted that I knew that the way this injury was treated in the 50's was far better than today. You (and my doctor) would tell me that modern medicine has made many advances and the treatment today is vastly different and better than it was 60 years ago. Furthermore, how dare I question someone with extensive training, many years of experience and the advantages of on-going professional development. You know what? You would be absolutely right.
I went into my doctor's office confident that he knew what he was doing. Had I known enough about Achilles tendons to treat myself, I would have. However, while he was in medical school, serving as an intern and practicing medicine, I too was learning about my chosen trade, agriculture.
My fellow hog farmers are no different. They have gone to college to learn modern animal husbandry, many have worked for more experienced farmers, and all continue to attend workshops and other professional development to advance their knowledge. They are experts and professionals in their chosen fields.
Does that mean I should blindly follow my doctor. No, I did some research and made myself aware of the basics of the Achilles tendon, my injury and treatments. However, that knowledge did not make me an expert, it gave me a better understanding of what the expert was telling me. Every farmer I know welcomes the consumer becoming more educated about agriculture.
What is the bottom line in all of this. Trust the professional. Just as I listened to my doctor and my leg is getting better, trust the hard-working men and women that produce your food. We care about our animals and the changes we make to our farms are there to improve the life of our livestock. Because of the changes in modern medicine I will be healed in 12 weeks. Because of the changes in modern agriculture we can feed an ever-growing world population by producing livestock more ethically, with less stress, more economically and that means more wholesome, safe nutritious food on your plate.