Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weaning baby pigs

My daughter, the college art major, came to me and asked, "What can I do other than just sit around. This is getting boring." To understand that question you need to know that she just had wisdom teethe surgery yesterday and is not feeling top notch.

I said, "You can take my phone and laptop and edit some of the video clips into a useful piece. Do something to answer the questions you get from classmates at school."

An hour later, here is what she gave me. Enjoy.

While she was doing this with her talent, I went out side and enlarged the frame work of the garage door so we can park a full size car in the garage. The door installers come on Tuesday and I promised to be ready. Hammers and nails and saws are more my talent.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dancing and the Pig Farmer

People have started to notice that I am spending a lot of time with my son, Simon, lately. (Simon has Down's syndrome and requires an ever present care giver/overseer for his safety).

I meet the bus every afternoon. I take him to therapy. I do laundry with him. We fix the evening meal. We go together to check the pigs in the afternoon. Sometimes there are simple farm jobs we can do together. There are trips to the bank, library, grocery, pharmacy and associated farm businesses that we make together. In general, many of the tasks that my wife has always done are falling on me.

People are starting to notice and politely ask questions.

Here is the deal.

My wife and I have made it our goal in life to raise children we enjoy living with. To this end we have chosen a very "traditional" family style. We have made the sacrifices for my wife to be a "stay at home mom", we have home schooled our children, we have invested in our local church and the attached community of people. We feel we have been richly blessed, very fortunate, and largely successful at our goal.

So this past summer several events transpired to force us into new patterns of behavior. One event was the departure of our last college bound student to begin her studies. This removed the Simon care giver of choice from our home.

Another event was the sudden death of my mother last December. She was the ever present fall back care giver. If all else failed, call grandma. Despite our best efforts to the contrary we ended up calling more than we probably should have. Without her there is no back up plan. We are now experiencing what it is like to live apart from extended family. I don't like it.

The next event was a major upheaval of staff at my daughter's fledging dance studio. My daughter and another fine instructor made up the senior teaching staff at the studio. This instructor left to form a competing studio and took a lot of the student body with her. This exodus is not surprising since student's tend to develop an allegiance to their instructor more than their studio. The reduced student body forced cuts in other assistant instructors and front desk personnel. It was a disaster at one level.

In response to these changes and in an effort to stabilize the business, provide an adult at the front desk, and to give encouragement to my daughter, my wife is spending her afternoons and evenings at the dance studio. This change has been very positive to the family relationships and has brought home the value of raising children we enjoy being with.

The final event in this series was the much anticipated transition in my pig business from caring for a breeding herd with large numbers of mommy pigs, baby pigs, and daily chores to a business that buys baby pigs and raises them to market weight. A transition that was intended to provide me with a less intense, stressful, and time sensitive lifestyle. As a human I needed to slow down and have some time to sit on the back porch and read or whatever. While the mental adjustment is far from over, becoming Simon's care giver fits well with this transition.

How does all this fit in a blog that is supposed to encourage its readers to think more deeply about food and where it comes from?

I hope you will see in this that I am a farmer after I am a husband and a father.

I am not unusual among my peers.

All across America, the people that provide those things that show up on your table as food are making these hard decisions and negotiating these interpersonal connections. Before the first livestock is fed, the first seed is planted, the first farming chore is done, men and women are figuring a way to raise children and see to their care. This is the core of who we are and what we do. In that respect, I doubt that the farm family is much different than the non-farm family.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pigs Waterslide and an Awesome Farmer

A Dutch farmer set up a pig waterslide, took some pictures, and posted it to social media. The result is that I am now getting well meaning questions and suggestions for my farm. And more than one copy of the original post.

Here is the link

People find this idea hilarious, funny, and entertaining. And it is. What a great way to help pigs play!

I was curious about the details of this farm so I asked some social media friends to help me track down more information. Given the unknowns of culture and language the best thing I found was this link to the farm's web page. Pig Palace

Please click the Pig Palace link above to get an idea of how sophisticated this farmer's approach to farming is. It is quite impressive. It shows a person looking forward to the challenges that he faces.

With all this as background, I would like to make a few observations from my viewpoint as a U.S. producer who is also deeply involved in looking forward for solutions to challenges.

I am unsure a pig would volunteer to go down this slide. My experience is that a pig will hesitate and test out a new surface/material pretty well before stepping on it. If they are afraid of losing their footing they will refuse to advance. Getting pigs to step off the wooden ramp (pictured below) onto the cement floor and vice versa often requires patience and neither is a slick waterslide.

In any event it is pretty dangerous for an animal with hooves (cartilage for feet) to be sliding around. This is one reason we put shoes on horses and the internationally recognized animal behaviorist Temple Grandin has argued against slick floors in facilities her entire career. As a point of reference, this loading ramp on my farm would be written up by the National Pork Board's Sight Assessment Auditor because there are missing treads/cleats.

I will simply point out that the key issues with hog wallows (mud holes) are odor, flies, environmental degradation, and diseases (both human and porcine) and move on. Who could argue with the obvious fun of a mud hole?

So I am not particularly enamored with this waterslide as a production strategy, ........ but as a marketing investment I think it is awesome.

The Netherlands/Holland/the Dutch are members of the EU (European Union) and are struggling to find ways to produce food affordably under some very stringent animal welfare and environmental regulations. Many of the EU nations just simply are not going to be able to comply. Compliance takes money and that means debt, and parts of Europe are in a terrible bind in that regard.

This forward thinking farmer appears to be running a very transparent and public friendly enterprise utilizing the latest and greatest technology to meet these challenges. In the back pasture he is showing how much he loves his animals by giving them a water slide! What an awesome farmer. You only need to read a few comments to realize how much good favor he has bought with the public. I can only stand in admiration of the strategy. Well done.

Maybe someone should open a large scale commercial farm that is accessible to the public in the U.S.......and add a waterslide? I will have to suggest it to my friends at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure.  The future of farming may lie in this kind of forward thinking marketing and public transparency.

Monday, August 12, 2013

George Washington and the Federalist Papers

 "The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in... some instances be made subservient to the vilest purposes.

"Should, hereafter, those who are entrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to shew, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no Wall of words, that no mound of parchm[en]t can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other."

George Washington, Excerpts from Drafts of the First Inaugural Address (April 1789)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Panera Bread, Antibiotics in feed, and #PluckEZchicken

I have recently been following the debate about the Panera Bread online advertising campaign that suggests that farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock because they are too lazy to care for them. This debate can be seen at the Blog "The Adventures of Dairy Carrie"  and a follow up called #pluckEZchicken . In the whole debate there seems to be a missing piece of information, "What antibiotics are fed to livestock?"

While the Panera Bread advertisement seems directed more at the chicken producer, I feel it reflects poorly on most producers of livestock. Since I raise pigs on a large scale in confinement barns, I will speak only to what I know and don't know or do and don't do as the case may be.

I purchase baby pigs from the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure (technically it is the company named Legacy Farms that is the operating partner) when they are weaned. These pigs arrive at my barn weighing about 14# and are about 21 days old.

pigs are housed in these pens for easy observation for 6-8 weeks

As I understand it, biologically, the piglets are just starting to produce their own immunities and to lose those of their mother at this age. In other words they are weaned just before they start to pick up mother's adult diseases and their immune system has just started to respond independently. Obviously, they are at risk of getting sick during this time since it takes about 3 weeks (21 days) for an immune response to develop. It is during this time that I feed antibiotics in their feed.

In some ways, I liken it to when I went to college and was first exposed to all the diseases that the urban students were already immune to. I was sick for a month!

even authorized personnel shower in and change clothes on entry

I go to great lengths to present the pigs with as clean an environment as possible during this period. The pens they enter have been cleaned and disinfected and entry to the facility is restricted. This includes people but also any other living things that might be a carrier of disease like raccoons, possum, birds, etc.. The tough ones are airborne viruses. To this end my barns are located in remote locations to create natural buffers to airborne illnesses.

Feed arrives from a commercial mill in a semi truck and is placed in storage bins. Each feed and delivery has a unique information tag/invoice that is delivered with it so I can know what was delivered.

this is the largest image I have been able to make, my son scribbled on the weight ticket

These tags are kept on file for two years as part of my compliance with the National Pork Board's Pork Quality Assurance Plus program so that if a question is raised about what was fed, I have an auditable trail for an answer.

These tags show that from 6/28/13 to 7/24/13 this group of 2100 pigs was fed an antibiotic call Carbadox at a rate of 50 grams per ton of feed. The label further says that this medication must not be fed within 42 days of slaughter. It may also be seen that this amounted to slightly less than 31 tons of feed.

So with these facts let's think a minute.

My wife's 2# bag of powdered sugar weighs 907 grams.

my cheapo scale is off a little

I just fed 1550 grams of antibiotic to my pigs mixed in with 31 tons of corn, soybeans and minerals (also on the tag above) over about 30 days, to fight off diseases that almost certainly were present, while the pigs immune response developed naturally. The first pigs won't go to market for 5-6 months (180 days) so the 42 day slaughter restriction is met with ALOT of room to spare.

Since these are the only antibiotics these pigs will ever see, unless there is a disease that breaks out, it seems unreasonable to me to say they are stuffed full of antibiotics. The Panera Bread add shows the antibiotics holding up the barn roof. That seems a little bit of an over statement to me.

So the next obvious question is, "What is Carbadox and how safe is it?"

The answer, of course, is way beyond my technical knowledge. I am a pig farmer with a college degree in Agricultural Business from 1983. You are a consumer that expects food to be healthy and wholesome for you. Period. Full stop. That is why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these drugs requiring enormous amounts of testing and research before they are approved for production.

I just listened to a presentation of this process at a meeting of the National Pork Board's Animal Welfare Committee by Dr. Steve Sundlof (the former head of the agency tasked with this job). His presentation for laymen took an hour. I do remember that the testing requirements are for things like effectiveness, safety to the pig and ultimate consumer, safety to handlers, safety to the environment, and length of time needed for the drug to dissipate from the animals body prior to slaughter (slaughter hold times), along with other things. These all get condensed into the feed tag pictured above.

If you are concerned/interested about what is in the food you are putting in your mouth, I applaud you. I hope this discussion gives you a little more perspective about what goes on at my farm (I am not unlike a lot of farms). I hope you can begin to appreciate the time, attention, and great lengths that farmers are going to so that the food you put in your mouth is absolutely healthy for you and in fact has never been unhealthy itself.

After all, the road to healthy food is not easy but it sure is tasty.

P.S. Diana Pritchard comments on the social media aspect of this dust up in her Swine Web editorial.
P.S.S. here is a person with more expertise discussing antibiotics/residues Mom at the Meat Counter

Friday, July 5, 2013

Patrick Henry, Immigration, and Freedom

I have experienced a slow transformation in my thinking toward my relationship with the government and the degree to which it attempts to control the citizens. My recent trip to Washington D.C. that I detailed in the blog about data and surveilance is the most recent transformative event in my thinking. When I realized that E-verify would create a database of EVERYONE's work history a small light came on in the back of my head. Reading the full text of the famous speech by Patrick Henry brings my thinking into clearer view.

I have just recently come to realize that we live in the "information age" and that "knowledge is power". Our government is assembling enormous amounts of information/knowledge about each of us as citizens which gives that government enormous power. For what purpose? We are told it is necessary for our safety and defense. This causes me to focus on the question "Have we any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of data and lists? No, sir we do not. They are meant for us: they are sent to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the government has been so long forging. "

The endless scandals that the government (from both parties) seems to be facing all have a common denominator, data and its analysis. The weapons of mass destruction, interrogation, IRS, the NSA, the AP, Obamacare, immigration, EPA data releases, and on and on, all point to a government that is collecting and using data....for what. To make men free?

Here below is the text of Patrick Henry's speech, I have edited it to fit more clearly with the current day situation, so you may more clearly consider my thoughts.

"Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!" by Patrick Henry (italics are my edits)

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy people of the United States. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to anyone if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.  The question before us is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate.  It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

It is natural to man to indulge in illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren of hope till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their daily salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the U.S. government for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves. Is it that insidious smile with which our petitions are heard? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.  Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our concerns matches with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are databases and lists necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be cooperative that surveillance must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this electronic array of arms, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Have we any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of data and information? No, sir, we have none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. they are sent to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the government has been so long forging. And what have we to oppose them?

Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you , sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated: we have endured bad legislation, and have implored our leaders to arrest the tyrannical hands of the various agencies. Our petitions have been disregarded and spurned, with contempt, from the white house. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free-- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending---we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to peaceful but unswerving resistance and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us , sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our government shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our government can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no choice. If we were cowards enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our records are taken, our names recorded, our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the streets of Boston! The war is inevitable---let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace----but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next national crisis that sweeps from the media will bring to our eyes and ears the sight of a mighty government controlling its people. Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would we have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty god! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

(source unknown)

I do not advocate for armed resistance, but I am all for a spirited and energetic defense of our god given liberty. A freedom that includes the right to life, movement, association, speech, assembly, etc. without having government monitor our every action and move (a guard at every door).

Thank you for considering these things with me.

postscript update 7/7/13

here is an interesting view from another angle

Monday, June 3, 2013

Surveilance, Disease, Freedom, and Hard Choices

I spent part of this week in Washington D.C. as a producer representative from the National Pork Board's Swine Welfare Committee to a meeting hosted by FAZD. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together the main people charged with protecting the United States from foreign animal and plant diseases. I was interested in attending to learn more of how this topic will impact me as a participate in the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure, where it is anticipated that 200,000 people a year will visit. My son, Samuel Wildman, is doing a summer internship here training the tour guides and greeters. You can follow his adventure at Reflections of a Country Boy.

Fair Oaks Pig Adventure

The meeting turned out to be a room full of three letter acronyms DHS, CBP, APHIS, NPB to name a few.

impressive list of speakers and topics

Here are some of my "take home" observations from the event:

1) There are some really smart, talented, and hard working people in government that want to do a good job of protecting us, the citizens of this country. Looking over the agenda shown above, to refer to most of these speakers as "Doctor" is an understatement.

2) These folks and their peers often risk their lives, whether it be at a port of entry or a border post facing down criminal activity, in a laboratory testing an unknown substance, in the field collecting samples, or in a foreign land asking questions their host is not interested in answering.

A few people show up early to meetings
3) It is a monumental task when you think about all the people and commerce that move in and out of this country everyday and the potential for disease transfer. 160+ staffed and 200+ non-staffed ports of entry along with miles and miles of coast and border that are defacto unofficial ports of entry. And not just people and commerce move across these borders, but wildlife and livestock ranging freely back and forth need attention also.

4) Surveillance, intelligence gathering and privacy rights become hot topics and require considered and negotiated trade offs. Indeed this was the flash point between the producers and the three letter acronyms in the room. We all recognize the other's legitimate desire for more or less as the case may be but disagreement exists about where the trade offs should start and stop.

police drone (

The point was made that all (the vast majority) of disease discoveries come from "passive" surveillance. Someone, a citizen, sees something and asks a question, (ie. why is my animal sick) and bingo the authorities have helpful new information.

The capture of the Boston Bomber suspect is illustrative of this surveillance situation. Caught in a gun fight with police (active surveillance) he escapes despite the most intensive surveillance the government can bring to bare ... until the citizens of Boston are released from their homes. Then bingo, a citizen sees something wrong with his boat (passive surveillance) and the authorities have helpful new information.

This passive surveillance is extremely powerful, if properly harnessed, but it is absolutely dependent on the citizen trusting the government to handle the information properly. The discussion made it clear that this trust has been severely damaged by the recent scandals in many agencies at the federal level. Targeting citizens with the IRS, targeting news reporters, spinning tales about Benghazi, the EPA releasing data to activist and leadership that pleads ignorance all cut into the citizen's trust that government will handle information properly. Why would a citizen give passive surveillance information to the authorities if there is doubt they will use it properly or maybe even use it against the citizen that produced it? Trust is fundamental and severely lacking right now.

Questions arise after information is available.

Who owns that information? The citizen? The laboratory? The authority?
What can/must the owner do with that information? The answer is different for each one so the answer is critical.

5) Government, does not think it can, "Do more with less". The thought of "Do the same with less" or "Do less with less" never even surfaced. Government always wants to, "Do more with more". Government doesn't see the irony that if they are going to "Do more with more" then the citizens are going to have to "Do more with less" or "Do the same with less" or "Do less with less". In other words the citizen will have to do exactly that which the government finds impossible! This amounts to a lose of FREEDOM!

The entire meeting was filled with the adjectives more, bigger, larger, faster, greater. I remember no statement that suggested less of anything. Listen/watch this ad that is billed as "conservative" and see what adjectives are used to illustrate my point. Rubio Immigration Reform Ad

6) Government struggles to think of itself as working for the public. The language is always "How can we push this down to the producer?" "How can we control this activity?" "We need to get them to ..." "What does the penalty need to be to stop xyz?" and so on. The language is always "we" (government) and "them" (citizens).

The closest the conversation came to the realization that the citizen runs the government and not the other way around was, "We are glad producers are here, we want to hear what they have to say".

7) Those in power build monuments to themselves. Pharaohs built pyramids, Kings built castles and palaces, Governments build buildings. According to the U.S. Constitution there are three coequal branches of government, the legislative, judicial, and executive. Now let's look at the "monuments" (buildings) in our great capital city of Washington DC. The Judicial Branch has the Supreme Court and some office space, the Legislative Branch has the Capitol Building and three office buildings, the Executive Branch has the White House and some office space next door, .... and the Pentagon, and the Federal Triangle, and the EPA, and the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education, and the etc, etc, etc..

Who in our government has the power? Are these branches coequal?

This observation can be easily explained away but it does make you think.

U.S EPA Building (

8) There are always those things you hear and don't quite understand but they leave a little bell ringing in the back of your head. This event left me pondering "One Health" and the comment that was repeated in various ways and times about how CPD is "collecting ???gigabytes of data every hour" into a database that is available to multiple agencies for data mining. Both these little bells warn me of government doing more with more and my FREEDOM becoming less. But I will have to hold that opinion until later when I understand more.

9) I was surprised at the lack of the use of social media by the participants. It seems to me that people's personal use of social media is inversely related to their position in an organization. That is just a theory of mine.

So these are some of my personal impressions of the event and should be read as such. I do not always listen well and have been known to misinterpret things even when I did listen well. But hopefully, these observations will give you things to think about as you consider  the question, "Where does food come from?".

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First and Last.....Beginnings and Ends

I find myself, as a human, being very interested in "First" and "Last".

The first pitch of the season, a child's first haircut, the first day of school, all the way through to a last second shot, who finished last, and a persons last breath are just some of the many things we as a society seem to mark our lives with.

Maybe this interest is a reflection/mark of my creator God who said, "I am the first and the last" (refering to Himself) since we are made in His image. Revelation 22:13

Which brings me to my farm.

I farrowed (birthed) the last sow on Sunday. Actually, I did nothing but stand and watch. But still it was the last birth event on my farm for the forseeable future. It is the end of a dream that I have chased since 1998.
Sam helped me pour the cement pad for the feed bins

Not a bad effort to finish with

 I have always thought that if I could manage and care for pigs better than the average person I would have a chance to make a living and feed my family.While national statistics confirm that I have been able to produce pigs better than most, life, economics, and many other things have caused me to change course.

Right now, I am experiencing a long list of lasts. The last farrowing, the last feed order, the last visit by the vet, and on and on. By the end of May all these "lasts" will be in history.

In June I start a long list of "First" as I prepare for the arrival of the first pigs born at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure. The first pen installed, the first waterer, the first test of the ventilation, will all be exciting times.

In case you are worried about my son, Sam, who was with me in '98 when I began chasing this dream, and in '01 when the cement for the farrowing (birthing) barn was poured. You can follow his adventures on his blog He is now on the ground floor, literally, at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure.

So, for now, I experience many "lasts" but the future is full of "First".

Thanks for thinking with me.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Transparency in Agriculture has its Challenges

I have been told many times that when it comes to telling the story of agriculture that I must remember,  "I am an expert in only one thing.... ME." I am not an expert in much of anything once I leave my farm. The technical side of farming gets so complicated so quickly that I just have to focus on what I know, and what I know is...ME.

I have not thought to much about the explosion in West Texas and what it meant to me until I saw this vidoe clip of the damage to the town.!/photo.php?v=10200514577483578&set=vb.1132088248&type=2&theater

The aftermath is scary to see.

West Texas arial picture (source unknown)

That started me thinking about my town, and towns just like mine, all across the plains of the United States. How many towns have a facility something like this one nearby?

Trupointe fertilizer distribution facility in our town

the size and cleanliness are both impressive

Located on the outskirts of town

I know it houses dry fertilizer and annhydrous ammonia. I have been to the open house. I have seen my neighbors picking up product here. I wonder, "Can this place explode too?" So I searched the Trupointe websight for answers. All I got was a phone number. So I called the phone number. And got this press release:

Our thoughts and prayers are with those in West, Texas as the scope of the devastation from a blast of a fertilizer plant unfolds.
We want to assure you that Trupointe takes utmost precautions to prevent incidents like these, as our locations are permitted and regularly inspected, being compliant with OSHA and EPA requirements. With a team of four employees who focus daily on the safety of the company, facilities, employees and the communities we are a part of, it is easily stated that safety comes first. Safety is part of the culture at Trupointe, being one of the seven values the company stands upon.

Every conversation was helpful, polite, and professional.

This didn't satisfy me, so I made some more phone calls. What I learned was what I know to be true.

A) there are ALOT of different fertilizer combinations in common practice. Go to the local garden supply store and start looking at the selection just for your yard

B) it is unknown at this time what was in the Texas facility and what happened

C) these facilities are operated, regulated and inspected with safety as a foremost concern (see press release above).

D) as a responsible business Trupointe must be very cautious in making statements that would jeopardize national/local security, mislead the public, give away competitive information, and on and on.

E) there is a very strong possibility that the product/process that is eventually blamed in the Texas disaster has never been in our local facility. After all southwestern Ohio is a completely different agricultural environment than west Texas. Crops, soils, climate, are all different therefore the fertilizer in storge is likely very different.

Having chased this conversation about as far as civility could carry it, I suggested that the websight could be enhanced with some pictures and links that would allow the public to better understand, in a generic way, what the facility does. I have asked that Trupointe consider creating some posts that I can use on facebook to better tell their story for them. I will try to pass along new information as it becomes available.

I hope all this is helpful to my local community and perhaps many of those scattered across the plains of the United States. I expect you will be getting the same answers to the same questions.

I apologize for making this post all about ME, but that is all I am an expert on.

Thanks for your thoughts

Update: 4/22/13

I spoke to a local (S. Charleston, volunteer)  fire fighter about the Trupointe facility. He had personally been involved in an inspection and review of the facility just two weeks ago and was impressed with all the safety designs and procedures that are in place. He pointed out that the challenge of these industrial type/size fires is that they completely overwhelm the resources of the local firefighting/EMS community. Response times are too slow, backup is too far away, training is not extensive enough, specialized equipment is none existent, etc. This was not a criticism or complaint, just a cold hard fact of rural life.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Different Path to Sustainable Food Security

A friend posted this article to a group of agricultural communicators and asked for our thoughts.

Women in Agriculture

 I would like to answer this article with a personal story.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to visit David Forris and his wife in a remote Chinatec indian village in the mountains of southern Mexico, Oaxaca Province (our visit was not a tourist destination). Mr. Forris is aWycliff bible translator and has spent his career documenting the society, developing a written form of the language, translating helpful literature into the native language, teaching natives to read the language, then documenting the changes in society, here is his book. Of course his primary aim was to translate the Holy Scriptures for the people so that they might have easy access directly to the teaching of God and Christ for belief.

Mr. Forris (right) and I eat food cooked in a bannana leaf

What the documentation shows is that when people start to read the Gospel (the first thing translated) society starts to become more civil. Men stopped drinking, chasing women, neglecting their families, and the whole list of human failings. Women and children also responded favorably and began to benefit from the increased civility. I do not remember the details only the broad analysis.

a church service

One of the other observations/memories from my visit is evident in these pictures. Where are the man? I was told it was that time of year when the men went to find work in the cities or the U.S.. I realised then that the workers I always thought of as Mexican or Spanish, were in fact all of these things and many more.

a scenic corn field

Food is grown where ever it can be in the mountains. It was reported that people have "fallen out" of their corn fields.

a private home

Housing was rudimentary for many.

walking was the common form of transportation

Tranportation utilized old technology, but it still worked.

language school children

The society at the time of our visit was warm and welcoming.

So my response to the article at the lead of this blog post is to suggest that there are multiple paths forward. The path I witnessed in Mexico was uplifting men and women and children by addressing first their heartfelt need for a spiritual understanding of their condition. Then allowing them to work out the social details as fit their need. The article leaves me concerned that the men are being singularly blamed for the problem and overlooked in the solution. Beyond that I will hold my comments at the present time.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pig Farmers Vote for National Pork Board

I spent a few days last week as a delegate from the state of Ohio to the National Pork Forum in Orlando Florida.

National Pork Forum is the annual meeting of the delegates of the National Pork Board. Delegates are nominated by state organizations and appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. The primary tasks of delegates is to elect the board of directors for the National Pork Board and to set the mandatory national checkoff rate.

Here are a few pictures I took while there.

There are 150 ish delegates from across the U.S. representing every size and kind of pig farm.

Electing a board of directors gets complicated and technically is not what happens. The delegates rank nominees from a list established by the nominating committee and the rankings are submitted to the Secretary of Agriculture at USDA. This year there were 13 nominees to fill 5 board seats. So by rule the top 8 names in the ranking will be forwarded to the Secretary of Agriculture. The Secretary  then picks 5 from the list to fill the seats.

Voting is done on the electronic key pad at the top center of the picture

Some years the Pork Forum is held at a vacation destination (this year is an example) other years the meeting is in a less noteworthy but always nice location (next year it is Kansas City).

Since the National Pork Board is funded with mandatory checkoff dollars it would seem unreasonable for those dollars to be used for political lobbying purposes. Just as I don't want to be forced to fund abortions with my healthcare and tax dollars, I don't want to be forced to support candidates I don't approve through mandatory checkoff funding.

 A second, completely voluntarily funded organization, to does the political work. This organization is the National Pork Producers Council. The National Pork Producers Council has its annual meeting in conjunction with but very seperate from National Pork Board. The National Pork Producers Council raises some of the funding it needs each year with an auction. Some really nice items are donated and auctioned off each year.

At the end of a long day of sitting in a conference room, listening, voting, and talking it is always a treat to take your wife and a few friends and head out for a nice meal.
If all this sounds and looks interesting to you, the place to start is by getting involved with your local and state organizations. You may be surprised how quickly you can make a difference.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fair Oaks Pig Adventure

I recently visited the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure in Fair Oaks Indiana. The dream of the Adventure is to create a large scale pig farm that is accessible to the public so that anyone can see for themselves where food comes from. The facility will house 2700 sows (mother pigs) and should open in the summer of 2013.

My interest in this project is driven by the fact that my farm will be growing some of the baby pigs born here from the time they are weaned until they reach market weight.

As you can see it is not complete yet. This picture was taken 3/2/2013.

Visitor center to left, Gestation Barn in rear, Gilt Developer Barn on right

Visitors will arrive by tour bus from the reception area at the Fair Oaks Visitor Center and pull straight inside the building. The intent is to contain any diseases being carried by visitors inside the building (all the air will be filtered as it leaves the building) and away from the pigs. Since the farm is located 1 hour south of Chicago it is expected to recieve guests from all over the world. Preventing the spread of disease is a matter of national food security.

Visitor Center with bus door

Inside visitors can move through an educational display area to the viewing mezzanine of the breeding and gestation barn. As you can see the mezzanine provides a panoramic view of the pigs, the workers, the housing, and the equipment being used.

Breeding/Gestation Mezzanine

It is fun to watch sows

It is fascinating to watch. I could watch others work for hours.

Sow loafing pens

Sow feeder/sorter driven by individual electonic ear tags

Breeding stalls are used for worker safety and sow protection during the heat cycle. They allow for artificial inseminatin and prevent sows from fighting during the critical breeding time.

The construction crews are now racing against the due date of the first sows bred (early June) to complete the Farrowing Barn (the maternity ward). There is, obviously, a lot of work to do. The fork lifts need to be replaced with multiple walls, floors, penning, equipment, and all sorts of stuff that isn't there yet.

Each farrowing (birthing) room will have an observation window from a mezzanine area. With 200ish pigs being born every day a visitor won't have long to wait to see this miracle of life.

Future birthing room

walls will block this view as construction divides the space into rooms. Note the ventilation inlets in the ceiling and the fans on the outside wall that will provide regulated airflow to each room

Farrowing mezzanine with windows into each room

It is a big comfortable space for visitors

Here is a late arriving picture of the penning used in the birthing suites. Sows (mother pigs) are tightly confined during their 3 week lactation to provide for safety to the baby pigs and the care givers. There are many care giving activities during this three week period. The sow's primary urge at this time is to lie down and nurse.

view of public birthing room from viewing area

So, here's to the boys that make the noise........ with hammers and saws, let's cheer them on because the pigs are coming and the visitors will be welcome to come and see!

For more information here are some other links you might find interesting.

First sows arrive at Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
Breeding starts at Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
Construction at Fair Oaks Pig Adventure
Fair Oaks Websight, directions, etc.