This post is sponsored by the Ohio Pork Council. All opinions are my own.
Awhile back I told you how I got to visit a pig farm and promised to tell you all about it. Well, I’ve finally sat myself down to tell the tale!
Food blogging has allowed me to do more than just create recipes for which you to drool over. I’ve had the opportunity to the meet master chefs behind creative menus, inspired entrepreneurs creating their own food products, and even farmers ensuring the well being the animals under their care before becoming your dinner. Honestly, getting this up close an personal with my food has been the most enlightening and I’m excited to share my visit to the Surber hog farm after first meeting them back in September. Families like the Surbers really have a passion for what they do and truly care for their animals.
First thing you need to know about visiting a pig farm: you will need to shower in and shower out. What does that mean? Simply put, you will need to shower before entering and again upon leaving. Specifically, the clothes you wore before entering must stay outside, which means you change into another set of clothing after showering. Upon leaving, that set of clothing stays inside to be cleaned for a later visit, and yes you then shower again before putting your original clothing back on. Keep in mind that you more than likely have more than one barn to check up on in a day which means all the showers! Why all the showering? It’s all for the piggies. We can carry germs on our hands and feet which may not affect us, but can affect the pigs. By showering we are limiting the exposure of these pigs to disease, keeping them healthier and thus requiring less antibiotics. With someone doing a walk-through at least twice a day to check on and socialize with the pigs this is very important.
This also brings up the fact that yes, these pig farms are indoors. At first this may seem off-putting but again it’s honestly better for the pigs. Their living spaces are cleaner, they have fans, misters, and heaters to keep their environment comfortable year round, and by being inside they are less exposed to those pesky diseases from which we are trying to reduce their exposure to by showering in and out. When a pig does get sick, a vet will administer antibiotics. But never fear, they are always tested prior to entering the food supple to ensure it has been cleared from their system. As a microbiologist who has experience researching antibiotics I am all about reducing the amount of prophylactics we use on both ourselves and our livestock, using antibiotics only when needed. (I’ll save you from my soapbox speech, for now.)
Once I was properly cleaned head to toe, I pulled my hair into a bun, got dressed, and pulled on some thick rubber boots. Rebecca suggested I tuck my pants into my boots unless I was prepared for the pigs to chew on my pant leg. A piece of advice I quickly was grateful for upon entering my first bay of pigs. Evidently they explore the world with their mouths and thus spent most of their time exploring my feet, nudging and gnawing on protruding pieces. But when they did look up I got to feel their snouts which feel like thick smooth rubber.
Each bay of pigs had their own personalities. Some would startle easily, running away from you, but would quickly warm up and come check you out. Others were practically jumping over the gate to say high to you. See exhibit A below of a brown and blue eyed piggie desperate to say hi to me. How can you not be excited to hang out with pigs when they clearly are so happy to see you? I ran out of questions to ask because my mind just was yelling “they’re so cute!” the entire time.
All of the pigs I visited with were being raised to become mothers. But only the best of the best become mothers, chosen based on having correct feet and leg structure and being sturdy enough to carry a litter of piglets. They become mothers at the young age of 6 months and weigh in at around 280 pounds! Those that do not pass the test? Bacon.
Did visiting a pig farm make me not want to eat pork products? Quite on the contrary, I was impressed by how well they are taken care of, their eagerness to interact with you, and how much the farmer’s care about their overall well being. It makes me feel that much better about the food I am putting on my plate. I’m also excited that I was invited back to see piglets another time! I might have to bring Bob with me, he’d be in literal hog heaven.
Since I wasn’t allowed to bring in anything on which to take notes (cause you can’t really wash paper as part of the shower in and out process), I e-mailed Rebecca after our visit to remind me of some of the facts I learned while playing with all the adorable pigs. See below for more info! Thank you so much to Rebecca Surber, the entire Surber family, and Ohio Pork for allowing me to have this experience!
Q&A with Rebecca Surber:
- What do they eat?
- We specialize their feed for each size and stage of growth. Piglets drink milk for the first month. They grow so quickly that they soon need solid food. They transition to a milk based pelleted feed similar to what you would feed a rabbit. After a week on the pellet the pigs start eating ground feed which consists primarily of corn and soybeans with trace amounts of a vitamin and mineral mix.
- What is the temperature inside?
- Depending on the size of the pigs and the season, the barns start at 77 degrees and we lower the temperature slowly as they grow. By the time they are 280 pounds it may be 62 degrees.
- How many pigs are in each room?
- Our barns can be different sizes and have different sizes of pens. So, there are several variables. This also depends on the age. More smaller pigs fit in a pen than full grown pigs. A typical room that you saw would hold 500 pigs.
- How old are they when you receive them/how much do they weigh?
- All of our barns are specialized. The mother barns are where the mama pigs give birth and nurse the piglets for about a month until they are too big to drink milk and need solid feed. Once the pigs are weaned they go to a special barn called a nursery that has special equipment to help small pigs transition to solid food and keep them extra warm. The pigs stay in the nursery until they are 50 pounds. Then they go to a growing or finishing barn until they are 280 pounds.
- Any other info that I haven’t asked that would be interesting/important for people to know?
- We completely wash, clean and disinfect the barns in between every group of pigs.
- I used to work at a bank, but when my daughter was born I wanted a job where I could work and take care of her. So, I started taking care of a pig barn. We put a baby swing and play pen in the barn and my daughter started coming to work with me when she was two months old until this day. She is now 16 and can check a barn and take care of pigs on her own. We work with our family and our responsibilities and involvement in raising pigs has grown over time.