Back on the farm with Tina

Are you ready to hit the farm for a few more hectic days? If you read the previous post you have already met wife and mother of five – Tina. She balances and juggles the needs of her business life on the farm as well as spending time with each of her kids, her church family and friends. 

If you were to ask Tina why she loves living the farm life, a person can’t help but hear the sincerity in her voice as she explains it.

“Our family works hard together. We work through whatever hurdles pop up – whether it’s weather or broken machinery – so others can have access to the food they need. We want our fellow Oklahomans to have quality, affordable and healthy food at every meal. It’s our passion. Our family is proud to be a part of feeding everyone – from our neighbors to those living half-way across the world.” 

Curious how Tina’s weekend went? Keep reading to see her diary entries for Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  

Tina and goat

Tina holds her goat in a kind embrace to show him off to the camera. 

If you were to have been in our house on Saturday morning before 9 a.m. you would not have seen me. It wasn’t until then I was able to get my exhausted self out of bed. I cooked a simple breakfast of bacon and eggs on English muffins before I rallied the kids. We scarfed down food.

After a quick meal EVERYONE managed to get dressed to work outside with the goats. It wasn’t long before our human herd invaded the 200 plus goats in the field.

field of goats

The goats are strolling through the pasture where they will receive care from Tina’s family. Those who are to go to market today will then be loaded onto a trailer after which they will sell at market, helping to feed the world. 

Our family works together in the field all of the morning and part of the afternoon to care for the health of the goats. We vaccinate against diseases, use de-wormer to protect against parasites and we sorted the animals into groups.

The heat truly took a toll while we worked through lunch. However we made sure everyone took lots of water and Gatorade breaks. Even when the weather is extreme we make sure to prepare and take care of one another.

Once we have goats sorted we load 22 of them for auction into a livestock trailer. The goats we take are billy kid goats – which are young male goats that are not castrated. My husband and I then load our twin eight-year-old boys into the truck and head for the auction.

We’re on the road for about an hour before we arrive at the auction. We wait in line to unload for about 30 minutes and at 3:30 p.m. we are able to check in and unload the goats into pens.

Ben with goat

Tina’s husband Ben inspects one of the goats up close. Doesn’t he seem to be pleased with what he sees? 

If you think our Saturday was finished, think again. At 3:45 p.m. the drive to our north farm begins. The plan is to finish raking and baling tonight. When we arrive at 4:15 p.m. one of the twins goes with my husband while the other rides with me and while I rake, my husband bales.

Guess what happens at 6:30 p.m. No, we don’t finish working in the hay field. A chain breaks on the baler my husband is driving. I call John Deere (thank goodness for cell phones, am I right?) and drive into town with the twins to meet the John Deere dealer – after hours I might add – to pick up a new chain.

At 7:45 p.m. I once again grace the farm with my presence and after installing the new chain my husband once again is baling hay. I continue to rake. Once the raking is finished I start removing the bales from the field.

The bales must all be removed in order for us to use the central pivot irrigation system to deliver fertilizer to the hay field. The fertilizer is the manure from the pig farm and helps us to recycle the waste back into a better hay crop to feed other animals.

What happens then? My tire blows and I am no longer able to help my husband. I am now simply waiting for my husband to finish.  By this time it is VERY late and VERY dark, but finally we finish. We start the pivot system and it seems to be in working order. By 1 a.m. we are back home and getting showers done before collapsing into our beds.

The next thing I know, it’s Sunday and I’m up at 8 a.m. I shower and get ready for church, wake up the kids so they can get ready, and make some eggs for a quick breakfast. By 10 a.m. we’re out the door and on our way.

After an uplifting service finishes, we head to my parents house for Sunday lunch. By this point it is past noon. Lunch is served and enjoyed by all – my three youngest kids decide to stay with their grandparents while I take my two teenage daughters shopping for back-to-school clothes. (I know it is early – but I do so hate all the crowds).

While shopping we decide we might as well take out two birds with one stone, so we grocery shop too. I am back to my parents house by 6:30 p.m. to pick up my three youngest children and once we’re home I make dinner. Everyone gets to take leisurely showers since we are home so early.

The kids get in bed and I spend some time checking emails, then I stalk around social media and finally I watch my show on Netflix before I drift off to sleep.

Guess what though – the first cut of the hay season is finished and it’s a good day.

I greet the sun at 7 a.m. I proceed to get ready, eat breakfast and go to my desk to return emails, pay bills, make and return phone calls and sort all of the mail. This is the boring paper work part, but someone has to do it.

By 8 a.m. I get a call that the farm needs more semen to be able to artificially inboy on hay baleseminate the sows. I call the boar stud  and set up time to meet a delivery driver. (Securing the materials to breed the pigs is the job of the company with which my family contracts).

At 8:30 a.m. I am driving to Seminole, Okla. to meet the delivery driver with the semen. Once the delivery is finished I drive straight to the farm and get the semen into a cooler. I check the paperwork to make sure every single detail is in order before I leave.

Lunch is next on my agenda so at 10:30 a.m. I am making lunch and the family eats together around 11:30 a.m. By noon I am back to the desk and working on all of the paperwork. I plan for this to be my job the rest of the afternoon.

However at 3:30 p.m. my husband calls. He has a busted hydraulic hose and needs a new one as soon as I can possibly get one to him. Luckily by 4 p.m. I am at Napa Auto Parts store having a new hose made (and then I stop by the bank while I am in town). By 5 p.m. my husband has the new hose and less than 30 minutes later I am getting to water the flowers on my porch.

From 6-7 p.m. I make dinner. The family gathers to eat together and then everyone gets their showers finished. Once that is done, we sit down together and watch a movie. Want to guess which one? It is then time for bed.

Can you imagine spending a few days in Tina’s shoes? Does it sound fun to you? Would you be scared to have so many irons in the fire? Let me know what you think. Also, what questions do you have for Tina – or any other Oklahoma pig farmer? Let’s get connected! 

 

So fresh and so clean, clean…

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning? Do you snag a cup of coffee? Talk about last night’s television programs with your coworkers? Quietly check your email and hope no one talks to you before 10 a.m.? Not if you are a pig farmer.

If you are working on a modern pig farm the first thing you do is take a shower. You heard that right – you take a shower AFTER you get to work. Curious about why?

Shower clean side

This is the “clean side” of a shower room at a farm in northwestern Oklahoma. The uniforms stay on the clean side while farmers’ “street clothes” stay on the “dirty side.”

The showers are simply one of several steps of a biosecurity plan. Biosecurity is the term used to describe all of the processes in place to keep the pigs inside the barn as safe and healthy as possible – away from the germs and diseases outside the barn.

When coming to the barn you step into the dirty side – and if you are simply making a delivery you drop it through a window where it will be cleaned and disinfected. If you are coming to visit the animals or work – such as a farmer or a veterinarian – you will then step into a shower room.

Everything you have on when you enter the “dirty side” of the shower room comes off and goes onto a shelf or into a cubbie hole. You then jump into a shower and get scrubby with the bubbles all over – hair, glasses, jewelry included.

When you finish getting clean you step out of the shower into the “clean side” of the shower room where there are uniforms – usually scrubs or coveralls – waiting as well as all the undies and socks you might need.

This ensures that no matter what you may have touched – you are as clean and germ-free as one can be when you enter the barn and are around the pigs.

On the reverse – as the farmer leaves the barn they also take another shower. This is another step in the biosecurity plan to keep any germs which could be inside the barn from spreading to any other barns. Are you willing to take two showers a day for your job?

There is more to biosecurity than showers though. Before you even get to the barn you will almost always see a sign hanging on a fence letting you know that no unauthorized vehicles are allowed past this certain point. This isn’t because the farmers inside are hiding something – but so that no disease or germs are brought near the barn where farmers will be walking.

Moving pigs onto truck

Above you see farmers loading weaned pigs, those who are old enough and strong enough to be on their own, onto a truck to be taken to another farm where they will grow to market size.

When vehicles must come to the farm – such as feed deliveries and trucks which deliver pigs – those trucks are cleaned between loads and the drivers stay outside the barn while the farmers stay inside.

Of course the trucks are often scrubbed down with disinfecting soap and water but sometimes they are driven into a garage-like building called a truck baker. The doors close after the trailer is dropped in the building and sealed. The temperature is increased in the “baker” until it is high enough to kill bacteria.

As pigs move in and out of barns everything is soaped up and cleaned between groups of pigs. Just because bacteria may be carried without a problem by one group of pigs – it doesn’t mean the next group will be affected (or not be affected) by the bacteria in the same way.

Rising stalls

The above photo shows a farmer pre-rinsing the farrowing stalls – or stalls where sows give birth and spend the first days with their piglets to keep both sow and piglets safe. Every stall is cleaned between uses to keep all germs from spreading among different groups of pigs.

After sows and the piglets separate into their appropriate groups – all of the pens are power washed. The next group of pigs to come to the farrowing stalls will have the cleanest pens possible.

soapy stalls

The above photo shows some soaped up mats and pens being cleaned.

All of the above steps are taken to keep all of the animals in the best possible health. When the animals are healthy they will get sick less often and the less antibiotics are needed. These are all important factors to Oklahoma’s farmers.

What else do you want to know about biosecurity practices? What other questions do you have? Let’s talk pig farms folks! 

You’ve heard of pigs in a blanket, what about pigs in a pile?

penned sows

The above photo shows sows in a group housing situation. 

Legislators talk about it. Farmers talk about it. Activists talk about it. Moms in the city talk about it. Moms in the country talk about it. Dads everywhere talk about it. There is so much to wade through – how do you know what to hear?

There I go, talking about it and not even naming it. You see, I am talking about sow housing systems.

In Oklahoma a significant number of sows live their days in group housing. Another option is individual housing. Both of these housing options are healthy, safe and humane options where sows can live. The next post will cover individual housing options and why farmers sometimes choose to raise sows in stalls.

The number of pigs living in group housing in Oklahoma change with time due to renovations of older facilities and improvements in feeding systems. Group housing is also known in the industry as group gestation or pen gestation, which refers to the time when the sows, or mother pigs, are pregnant. During this time the sows will be living in large pens with other pregnant sows.

These groups of sows usually get to know each other. After having babies, being bred and becoming pregnant again the same group will come back together to spend their gestation period.

Pen gestation is very different from farm to farm and one main difference among them are the feeding arrangements. In Oklahoma there are electronic sow feeders and free access stalls. Both allow for the pig to eat in privacy away from the other pigs. This helps even the least aggressive pig to get plenty to eat.

If a farm has an electronic sow feeder, each sow must each have an electronic chip in their ear. When the sow walks up to the feeder the chip is read, and if the sow hasn’t eaten yet the gate will open. The correct amount of food is dropped into a pan inside the feeder once the sow has entered. When the food is all gone the pig exits through a gate on the other end of the feeder from where it entered.

The information is recorded about which sows have eaten, how much they ate and when they ate into a computer database. Each day a farmer checks the database to make sure each pig has eaten. If one of the sows doesn’t eat all the day’s food, the farmer goes out to the pen to see why. If the problem is simply a sleeping pig, the pig is woken up and the farmer will steer the pig to the feeder. If one of the sows is sick or hurt, the farmer will then remove the sow from the pen into the “hospital” where individual pens will help with individual treatment.

mansion checking pigs to feed

in the above photo, a farmer is checking the electronic tag in the pig’s ear against his list of pigs who haven’t eaten. This helps to ensure each sow gets plenty to eat each day. 

You will often find a pigs sleeping in a pile when they live in group housing. Farmers jokingly call the pile of animals a pig pile.

pig pile

Sows in a pig pile. You can also see a water nipple in the foreground where the sows have access to as much water as needed any time of day or night.

Free access stalls are another system to care for sows in groups. In this style there is a large group area lined by individual pens. Any time the sow wishes to be alone and not share space with the other females, they are able to open the individual pens themselves. The sow can simply push open the back panel of the stall and enter and as she does so the stall will close behind. The moment the sow wishes to leave the stall the sow simply backs up and the back panel will open.

When it is feeding time, each pen in a group is delivered the same amount of food and the sows will pick an individual pen to let themselves into to eat.

Checking_the_pens_MBStoryThe above photo is of a farmer checking the functionality of a free access stall. He is standing in the group pen and sows would are able to open and close the pens any time they choose.

With both styles of pen housing you can see the positives. There is a social aspect to the housing and room to move around at will. Each sow is still fed individually and has access to plenty of food and water to help keep both her and her growing babies healthy.

There are a few negatives as well to the group sow housing. Pregnant pigs are often mean to each other. They can be very territorial and violent. It is something which must be closely monitored. In addition, each animal must be trained to use the feeding system in place before they can be expected to become part of a group.

It is the farmer who is in the barn every day. It is the farmer who knows which pigs get along and which are bossy. It is the farmer who knows which sows are picky eaters and which ones are the first in line to the feeders. This is why we believe farmers should have the right to choose how they raise their animals.

What questions do you have about group sow housing? Of which parts would you like to see more photos? What other topics would you like to read about.

Dottie with a baby pig in arms2

Let me know! This is meant to be a discussion – but I need to hear your voice!