Opinion: Why My Hogs are On a Healthcare Plan - Food Dialogues

Opinion: Why My Hogs are On a Healthcare Plan

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Chris Chinn is a family farmer in Missouri, and serves as a Face of Farming & Ranching for U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance. She previous wrote about the effects of the drought on her farm. Read more about her on her blog and follow her on Twitter @chrischinn.

On our farm, it’s normal for us to have entire groups of pigs that never have had any antibiotics when they go to market. Yes, you read that correctly. I know this is not what you see on the internet about how farmers use antibiotics. It seems everywhere you look, you can read or hear a very different story. I’m here to tell you this is a myth.

I like to explain our antibiotic use like this: our hogs do not carry health insurance and all medications are expensive. We cannot afford to use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary to improve the quality of health for our animals. And we always use antibiotics under the guidance of our veterinarian. He decides what medication will be used when necessary and what dose will be used.

So, how do farmers use antibiotics? We have a healthcare plan for our hogs that is designed by our veterinarian. This means when we detect a hog might be sick or that a hog isn’t behaving normally, we call in our veterinarian and follow his advice on how to protect that animal and keep it healthy.

Antibiotics are just one of the tools we have in our toolbox; we don’t rely on them as part of our daily care plan. On our farm, we work hard to prevent problems from occurring, that’s why we are so strict about protecting our hogs’ environment.

We wash and disinfect our barns on a routine basis for prevention. (Plus, we like working in a clean barn too.) Our sow barns are washed weekly (these barns house the adult females that will give birth to piglets). And each sow (a sow is an adult female that has given birth before) is bathed before going to the farrowing barn where they will give birth.

Our gilts are also bathed before farrowing – a gilt is a female hog that has not given birth before. We do this to prevent infection during the birthing process, and it also relaxes the sow or gilt and helps keep them comfortable. We also wash and sanitize our nursery barns and finisher barns before every new group of pigs arrive to the barn.

We use very, very little antibiotics because we prevent problems from occurring. By keeping our hogs indoors in a climate controlled barn, we eliminate the biggest threats to our hogs’ health, and thus decrease the need for antibiotics.

For example, we prevent fighting between our sows by using independent maternity pens. Fighting results in injuries. These injuries used to be one of the main reasons we had to use antibiotics on our farm. We have also decreased the need for antibiotics on our farm by keeping our hogs away from predators and wildlife that spread disease.

We are required to log all antibiotic use on our farm. This means if we use an antibiotic on a pig or a sow, we have to record the date, medication given, dose and withdrawal length. We are audited by the plant that purchases our hogs, and they inspect these records a couple times a year. They also review my feed records to see what we feed our hogs. They want to make sure they are purchasing a healthy hog from me.

But this isn’t why we keep these records. We keep these records for our own benefit as well; my kids and I eat the same pork I sell for other families to serve on their dinner tables. I love my two kids more than anything in this world. I don’t want to feed my kids anything that isn’t safe to eat. I am a mom, this is one of the most important jobs I will ever have and I take that responsibility very seriously.

So, as you can see, it doesn’t make any sense for me to misuse antibiotics on my farm, nor would I ever choose to. I simply stand to lose too much if I don’t use them correctly.

If you have any questions about how your food is grown and raised, please don’t hesitate to contact me, or the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.