Take a Look Behind the Scenes of Modern Pork Production
An open door policy is a cornerstone of Lehmann Brothers Farms in Livingston County. And while biosecurity also remains a top priority when it comes to modern pork production, Art Lehmann says overcoming misconceptions and helping people to see where their food comes from is worth the effort it takes to bring visitors onto the farm.
Why These Pigs Live Indoors
“Not very many people live on the farm, and even fewer people know anything about animal agriculture. They get misconceptions shot at them all the time,” says Art, who farms with his brother, Ken. “We raise pigs in buildings because it’s a better environment than raising them in the great outdoors, especially in the cold winter and the really hot part of the summer here in Illinois. We’ve got to do away with some of those misconceptions about raising pigs indoors.”
Farm guests must follow some rules, such as avoiding other pigs before they visit and showering in and out of facilities located on sow farms. Art says as long as they can minimize risk to the animals, bringing those who don’t live on farms to where food production really happens is worth it.
See more: Farm Facts: Pigs
“They get to see where their food comes from. That’s important,” Art says. “We can also tell them that while we’re not antibiotic-free, we use very few antibiotics. Instead, we’re using production techniques that allow us to have healthier pigs and use less of the things they would be concerned about, like antibiotics or hormones.”
How Farmers Protect Their Animals
Past visitors have included elected officials, food industry management and people with environmental concerns. Art says when his daughters were growing up, they brought elementary students for field trips to the farm each year, but today that is more difficult.
“Back then we didn’t have all of the biosecurity in place, and we had a smaller herd. Today when we do that sort of thing, we do it at a finishing site instead of a sow farm,” says Art, who notes the importance of keeping pig viruses off the farm. Though African swine fever has not yet made its way to the United States, it’s another disease the Lehmann brothers are watching closely.
See more: Farm Focus: Pork
“We need to keep the health of the sow farm high so that we get maximum production, and then make sure the pigs we wean off of these sow farms to our off-site wean-to-finishing sites are healthy,” Art says. “Biosecurity is important to protect the sow herd and to protect us economically because the best production always comes with a healthy herd.”
Art says thorough cleaning practices remove most bacteria that might affect the health of the pigs before moving in each new group of pigs, but viruses are more difficult to control and don’t respond to antibiotic treatment. Viruses must be kept out of the herd. That’s why some tour groups simply can’t experience a personal visit through a sow farm. But technology helps fill the gaps, with excellent virtual tours and online resources available for schools and groups to use as needed.
What to Expect on a Farm Visit
Guests often have questions about gestation stalls (enclosures that keep sows safe during pregnancy) and animal care, environmental practices or food safety. Many are answering to customers or constituents who want to see food sourced differently. But Art says visitors are often pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the sows in gestation stalls, the well-being offered by climate-controlled housing and the lack of odor from the large livestock confinement facilities. He says it can be eye-opening to anyone who hasn’t been around livestock to tour a farm with 3,200 sows. They might see piglets born, as the Lehmanns’ sows give birth to1,800 piglets each week.
With 1,500 corn and soybean acres, visitors also have an opportunity to ride a combine or tractor and learn about crop production. Ken enjoys sharing ways modern agriculture is more sustainable and environmentally friendly. One example is how variable rate delivery systems are putting nutrients right where they are needed in the field, in turn, protecting groundwater.
“They usually come away surprised or impressed by the level of technology and maybe change their mind on some misconceptions,” Ken says. “It’s just sometimes what they read. Some of it is misinformation. The more we personalize it and show people how we do things sustainably and environmentally … it’s good for our industry.”