Why my hogs are on a healthcare plan
May 3rd, 2013
09:00 AM ET
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Chris Chinn is a family farmer in Missouri, and serves as a Face of Farming & Ranching for U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. She previous wrote about the effects of the drought on her farm. Read more about her on her blog and follow her on Twitter @chrischinn.

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 healthcare 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 on how to protect that animal and keep it healthy.

Antibiotics are just one of the tools we have in our toolbox; 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 eliminate the biggest threats to our hogs' 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.

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.

Previously:
Three takes on the "ag gag" laws
Start a conversation with a farmer
Opinion: Where are the female and minority farmers?
Opinion: My family farm isn't under "corporate control"
Farmers aren't evil. Now can we have a civil conversation?
What should a 'local' farm (and farmer) look like?
Who are you calling 'rich'? A small farmer shares some hard data
Forward-thinking farmers are preventing another Dust Bowl
What a farmer wants you to know about how beef gets to your plate



soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Private personal training Long Island

    It's crazy to read it and then think about it.
    "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."

    What are we ingesting?

    January 24, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  2. goatsandgreens

    Thank you for this information, it is worthwhile to know. I hope you write more about hog rearing!

    May 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  3. Sarah

    Chris- Thank you for standing up and telling your story. From someone who works in agriculture, I appreciate you willingness to teach, educate and inform. Rock on!

    May 7, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  4. Sarah

    Chris- Thank you for standing up and telling you story. From someone who works in agriculture- I appreciate you willingness to share, teach and inform. Rock on!

    May 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  5. ryan parkin

    During high school i worked for a couple of farmers. One thing you learn about farmers is that they watch the bottom line carefully and do not waste money frivilously. No one wants to waste money on antibiotics and pay somone to seperate the animal to inject it unless they really have to.

    May 4, 2013 at 3:36 am | Reply
  6. Shirley U Jest

    Thanks for the info. I believe this is the first post by a farmer that addresses cleanliness and antibiotic use in their stock. I'm curious to know roughly how many hogs you send to market in a year. You mention a number of barns and that makes me think this is a large operation. If so, the care you mention is more impressive. Do you raise and feed any hogs specifically for hams? I ask this because it has been known for hundreds of years the type and quality of food given to a pig is important to its quality as a ham. And its getting pretty hard to find a good ham if you don't know someone who raises them on a very small scale.

    May 4, 2013 at 2:43 am | Reply
  7. queenbeeeeme

    But is this the standard for all or most of the hog farms in the country?
    What about the beef and dairy farmers?
    Aren't they the most notorious for using steroids, hormones and antibiotics?

    May 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Reply
    • Suzy Graven

      Yes, that is the standard though out the livestock industry. Livestock growers work every day to keep their animals safe, healthy and content. We keep them well fed, with clean water and in as dust free environments as possible. This helps to keep them healthy so antibiotics are used as little as possible. Just like people, it is not to our animal's best interest to keep them hopped up on antibiotics.

      May 4, 2013 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • Jodi

      In Michigan, hormones are no longer used in dairy cattle. I can't speak for beef, but my guess is that they aren't used either. IT's too expensive. A lot of milk processors have listened to the consumers and will not accept milk from cows that are treated with hormones.
      As far as antibiotics, yes they are used on dairy cows, but only when they are sick. Dairy is one of the most highly regulated farm products out there. Any milk that comes from a treated cow must be kept out of the milk tank until the milk is tested to not have any residual antibiotics. It's not only state law, it's federal too.
      Milk is tested by the processor and won't even be accepted until the tank is tested "clean". This happens every day!!! There are huge and I mean huge fines and penalties if a farmer even accidently puts a treated cow's milk in the tank. Workers tend to get fired over such stuff. Farmers take it very seriously.

      Steriods... I'm not sure if anyone uses steroids on cattle. The monetary return isn't great enough. Genetics in cows is so advanced steroids aren't needed.
      Hope that answers your questions.

      May 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Tim

      I was a dairy farmer and I can tell you the costs of having any trace of antibiotics in your milk are huge. The milk is sampled on the farm before going into the truck. The samples are analyzed before the ruck is unloaded at the milk processing plant. If your sample shows traces of antibiotics, you don't get paid for your milk, and you have to pay for the milk that has now been deemed unuseable. The truck that picked up my milk would hold about 4000 gallons and would have cost me around $7500 if it had ever happend. I was careful, as are 99.99% of farmers. Steroids are not used. Milk naturally contains hormones

      May 8, 2013 at 9:47 am | Reply
  8. clairemasker

    Great post! Thank you, Chris! I hope more people read this!

    May 3, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  9. Edwin

    Thank you for making sure my bacon stays clean!

    May 3, 2013 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Chris Chinn

      Your welcome Edwin! Thanks for reading the blog.

      May 3, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply

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