For the Love of Bacon

* Correction made – it was brought to my attention that although permitted for 9,000 this pig farm will actually be home to up to 5,400 sows. They will farrow (have piglets) throughout the year. 

There are certain things that happen in my state, a state that I love dearly, that just makes me shake my head in awe and wonder. And recent events definitely qualify for shaking my head.

A family farm from Minnesota is moving forward with plans on starting a pig farm in North Dakota. They’ve located a site that follows all the state rules, guidelines, setbacks, etc. They’ve worked hard on dotting i’s and crossing t’s, and are in the final stages of getting set up. Oh, and did I mention that they run their farm like a business…like all of us that farm do, or at least should.

Except now we have people standing up in opposition, insisting that somehow this farm will destroy the dreams that they’ve had for peaceful living in a rural area. It’s truly a case of “not in my backyard.” Apparently many people forget that agriculture is still the backbone of our state. So let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we?

This pig farm will house up to 5,400 sows – with the average potential to almost double the number of pigs that our state raises to feed people. Remember that? Pigs are raised for food. Like bacon.

Local food is all the rage now. Many of the opponents to the pig farm are big proponents for local food. Right now the state of North Dakota has about 150,000 pigs that are used for food each year. The average pig brings 150 pounds of meat to the table…literally. According to statistics, the average person eats about 46 pounds of pork per year. This means that a pig generally provides a year’s worth of food for three people.

There are 739,000 people in the state of North Dakota. That means we would roughly need 34 million pounds of pork. We only produce 22 million pounds right now. So who doesn’t get bacon? Or pork chops? Or pork roast?

Oh, that’s right – local food is only important when it can be raised by “mom and pop” farms. “Family farms” quit being family farms once you consider it a business. And let me remind you, that this farm is a family farm. That term does not change regardless of size. And size does not determine the “friendliness” of a farm to its neighbors. They are good neighbors. Big does not mean bad.

Opponents claim that this is a direct result of changes made to our state’s anti-corporate farming law that relaxed restrictions in hog and dairy operations. But guess what? Rolling Family Farms ends with LLP, not LLC. That’s right, it’s a partnership, not a corporation. The changes to our law make no difference whatsoever.

But why should it matter? What happened to the ability to go into business when you’re following every rule and regulation already in place? What happened to the freedom of being able to develop a successful business model and moving forward? Apparently you can do so – but not with food.

Fair time, county fair, 4-H

A boy and his pigs. But not sustainable large-scale.

My farm raises pigs. This year we’re increasing our farm size to eight. I have four boys in 4-H and they will show pigs at the fair. But I can tell you that our business model for the pig-side of things is not sustainable.

I love bacon. I love agriculture. I love this state I call home. But we need to wake up and read the writing on the wall. We cannot continue to think that the old-fashioned way of doing things will sustain us long-term. We use new technologies in medicine, how can we not embrace the same changes for our dinner plate?

I support agriculture. I support food. I support choices. I don’t understand those that stand in the way.

Trust me, I have more to say…stay tuned.

 

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When a calf is born in cold weather

After I came home from church today, Boss Man called and told me he had to be out of the yard for awhile. In Boss Man terms, that can mean anything from 30 minutes until sometime later in the week. What he was getting at was that I was going to be responsible for keeping an eye on our herd, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of having calves.

No biggie. I’ve watched the cows before. I can handle it. And then he gave me a little reminder, “Keep an eye on 176. She’s off by herself to the east.” In cattleman terms, a heifer off on her own is a sign that she’s probably getting ready to have her first calf.

So I watched our cow cameras diligently. And after an hour or two, decided I should walk down and check things out in person. (You see, much like most of technology, the cameras only work in the right circumstances…cows facing the right direction, right lighting, right angle, etc.)

I put my wraps on (long underwear, jeans, heavy socks, t-shirt, sweatshirt, coveralls, jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, Bogs), grabbed my phone and headed out. And quickly realized my mistake.

The cow I thought I was watching wasn’t the cow that needed watching. The cow on the west end of the straw, in the midst of all the other cows, was actually the one calving. And by calving, I mean the birth was imminent and I had no time to get her to the barn.

So I stood and watched the miracle of birth, and called Boss Man to let him know that I hadn’t exactly succeeded in my duties. (Ideally, all calves would be born in the warmth of the barn, not out in the cold…but you must make due with the cards you’re dealt. I can’t turn back time – yet.)

This heifer (which means this was her first calf) ended up having her calf outside. Not ideal with the temps below freezing.

This heifer (which means this was her first calf) ended up having her calf outside. Not ideal with the temps below freezing.

This meant I needed to get the new calf to the barn – and the quicker the better.

The trick is that sometimes cows don’t want you to take their calves to the barn. And since this was her first calf, I wasn’t sure how she was going to take the news I was about to break to her.

She's a good mama, which means that she's protective of her calf. Not always an easy task to get them to the barn.

She’s a good mama, which means that she’s protective of her calf. Not always an easy task to get them to the barn.

To begin with, she wasn’t too sure what this thing was on the ground next to her. But she figured it out pretty quickly. And then she was pretty certain that I wasn’t supposed to be there. And she let me know. (A cow can easily injure, or even kill, someone not paying attention and respecting the power of the animal.)

But when it’s only a few degrees outside, you don’t have luxury of time before the calf is at risk for frozen ears or worse.

So we compromised.

I finally got the calf in the sled. (Thank goodness I’ve dropped a few pounds.) And to the barn. Usually the cow would follow, but this new mama was a bit confused about all the action. So I brought her down once the calf was given a ride to the barn.

Thank goodness this little one cooperated...mostly. Imagine dragging a 100-pound child in a sled while they're trying to stand up. It's a workout, to say the least.

Thank goodness this little one cooperated…mostly. Imagine dragging a 100-pound child in a sled while they’re trying to stand up. It’s a workout, to say the least.

My next job was to bring the heifer down to the barn. Thankfully, she was pretty easy to bring in.

My next job was to bring the heifer down to the barn. Thankfully, she was pretty easy to bring in.

And the reunion was a sweet one.

Success. Both in the barn, no injuries, no cold calf, and everyone happy.

Success. Both in the barn, no injuries, no cold calf, and everyone happy.

Last week I was in DC in a suit, I’ll be dressed up tomorrow for work – but today was one of my favorite outfits of all.

Purple coveralls and blue polka-dot Bogs. I don't have to worry about one of my boys stealing my cold-weather gear.

Purple coveralls and blue polka-dot Bogs. I don’t have to worry about one of my boys stealing my cold-weather gear.