Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Wall Street Journal, Dried Blood Plasma, Pig Feed, and PEDV

I write this post as a result of a online conversation. A conversation that was kicked off by this article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal which looks at the possible role feed may play in the spread of a new disease in the US swine heard. As a producer, it seems like a pretty reasonable article on the current situation in the pig business related to a virus known as PED-V. Several questions coming out of that discussion were basically, "So what is in pig feed?" "How would I know?" And of course, "Should I be concerned?"

These all seemed like pretty sensible questions that I, a pig farmer, should be able to answer. I now realize that I know answers to some of these questions or maybe I should say I know some of the answer to all these questions. As I conversed, I came to understand that some part of these answers just gets a bit too academic for me. So let me share the part I do know.

Pig feed, in my commercial setting (I will see about 25,000 pigs this year), is made from three main things. Corn, soybean meal, and a product called a "premix". These three ingredients are blended together in various proportions to make numerous "rations" or "phases". Each "ration" and "premix" is professionally formulated by a nutritionist to meet the pigs dietary needs for a particular "phase" in the pigs life. When I need feed I call a feed supplier (a feed milling company) and they use these formulations to prepare the requested feed, then they deliver it to my farm. Here is a video of feeding newly weaned pigs. Feeding newly weaned pigs.

pigs are 21-24 days of age when weaned

Think about your children as they grow. They grow through various growth "phases" and you as a good parent attempt to adjust their meals "rations" to recognize the changing dietary needs your children have. Your baby gets breast milk or formula. Then there is a transition time (which can be challenging for everyone) to solid food. The contents of that solid food change as the quantity being consumed increases. You notice your child having growth spurts where they seem to eat everything in the house, then they slow down. In the teen years, at least for my boys, they ate constantly. So mom adjusted what was in the house to be eaten. And so on it goes on through life.

This is the big picture of what is being done with the three ingredients in pig feed. Now to the online conversation and the Wall Street Journal article.

So how does this work?

Here is the process.

I have pigs that need feed.

In my case I buy young pigs that have just been weaned from their birth mother's at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure. They are about 21-24 days of age and weigh 12-18 #. They arrive on a semi truck to my barns after a 4 hour ride. Here is a 5 minute video my daughter made of  how we wean baby pigs.

I call the feed milling company and tell them what "phase/ration" is needed and how many tons I want. They mill and deliver the request then send me a bill.

Feed arrives on my farm from the feed mill in a semi truck and is put in these bins. Each delivery comes with paperwork that is placed in the mailbox. This paperwork allows me to know what is in the bins. Which ration. Which bin. What is in the ration. What day. Where it was mixed. And many other things. The paperwork allows for trace back should some question arise at a later date about what the pigs where feed etc.

Bins for pig feed/mailbox for paperwork

The paperwork that comes with a load of pig feed looks like this. There are three pieces of paper. The center white one identifies the ingredients in the ration. The yellow one on the left is the "pick ticket" which tells the driver which rations are in which compartment of the trailer and where they go when they arrive on my farm. The yellow sheet on the right is the scale receipt that ultimately generates my bill. Maybe I ordered 24 tons of feed but the system actually manufactured 48,230# of feed. Life is that way. I get billed for 48230# of feed.

Standard paperwork with a load of pig feed

For this discussion it is the white paper that details the ingredients in a particular ration that is of interest. Below is the label for the first ration my newly weaned pigs will receive. They will eat this feed for 3-4 days and will each get about 2# of it.

This particular ration is named "Prestart 12/15 Pellet MX" which means this is a feed to be used as feed in advance (pre) of starting the pigs on ground feed and it is designed for pigs weighing from 12-15 pounds. It is a pellet type feed, as opposed to a ground meal or mash, and that it is medicated (MX).

All of this is explained in greater detail in the fine print. I describe the medication side of this in this blog about medications in pig feed.

Note: some of this gets down to PPM = parts per million

this tag states clearly what is in the feed my pigs are eating

The next picture shows the bottom of the same tag where the ingredients are listed. This is where my education starts to fall short and I am depending on the professional swine nutritionist and the research community to formulate a proper feed. The nutritionist is using all the research he can find (much of it from the land grant colleges of the US), his experience, and his knowledge of the laws and regulations from FDA and others to put this formula together.  I don't know particularly, what all these things are but you can see that Animal Protein Products, Animal Plasma, and Animal Fat are all listed. This is the product that the Wall Street Journal article was discussing. Here is a link to a paper that describes the Plasma Product in greater detail in layman's language. Please read it at least far enough to realize that the Plasma is reducing the need for antibiotics by boosting immune systems and increasing feed intakes (reducing dietary stress).

"The globulin proteins are commonly called “immunoglobulins”, and they are responsible for enhancing immunity in the recipient animal." 
Having an "enhanced immunity" would mean reducing antibiotic usage, and that seems like a good use of the product.

Ingredient list and feeding instructions

The next tag is for the second ration the pigs will be fed. This will be their first ground (not a pellet or mash) feed. It is corn, soybean meal, and a premix. It is the last antibiotic these pigs will see before slaughter in 5 months unless there is some specific disease outbreak. Again I refer you to my blog post on medications in pig feed.

feed tag for ground feed ration

From my online conversation, I am aware that these ingredient lists can be seen as quite scary and some are quite opposed to parts of this. I would remind you that there is absolutely no reason a company or myself would be putting anything in a feed that we thought might harm the pigs or the consumer that is eventually going to put that pork on their dinner table. That would be shooting ourselves in the foot. I will close with this humorous clip by Penn and Teller and a discussion of Dihydrogen Monoxide.

I am very grateful for the really smart people in agriculture that work tirelessly to come up with innovative ways to put food on our plates that is safe, wholesome, and as environmentally friendly as possible.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Thoughts on Amnesty, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Freedom, and Cost of E-Verify

One of our political leaders said, rather famously, that "WE have to pass this bill so you can find out what is in it." in referring to the Affordable Care Act. When we turn our attention to Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I don't want to be in that situation.

I fully support the need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I don't know anyone that is defending the current system as reasonable, fair, workable, or representative of the charitable values that flow deeply in the American mind and heart. I do not want my support to be understood as saying, "any legislation is better than doing nothing". What is in a piece of legislation is VERY important.

I feel we, as a nation, need to resist those who would create a stampede toward legislation and thereby create a chaotic situation that allows bad ideas to be introduced and passed. The list of those pressing very hard for passage of something is quite long but the ones I am most familiar with would be the American Farm Bureau in the farming community, Bibles, Badges, and Business in my church community, and the American Chamber of Commerce in my social community.

At the present, resistance is coming from the very large group of voters that see the needs of the 92 million US citizens that are out of work as a more pressing problem than the needs of the estimated 12 million non-citizens that may or may not have work. This group I recognize loosely around the "Stop Amnesty" expression. Here is an article that describes more of the Politics.

speaker of the House Boehner

Both Houses of Congress have put forward public statements that show their intent to greatly expand the current E-verify system.

The Republican Principals contain this statement:

Employment Verification and Workplace Enforcement
In the 21st century it is unacceptable that the majority of employees have their work eligibility verified through a paper based system wrought with fraud. It is past time for this country to fully implement a workable electronic employment verification system
Here is a link to the Republican statement of Principles.

Here is a link that briefly describes E-verify.

 As I understand it, an employer agrees to hire an applicant. Then the paperwork begins. One piece of this paper work is the I-9 which collects the applicant's identity information. This information is entered into the E-verify system. Some nameless, faceless, thing/person then returns one of three answers. 1) employment verified 2) DHS Temporary Non-confirmation or 3)SS Temporary Non-confirmation. Notice that two of the three responses leave both the employee and employer in a very uncertain position. Both are wondering, "Will this work out? How do we move forward?"

My concern with expanding this E-verify system is that it is the government collecting a lot of information on every person who gets a job in the US and then the federal government ultimately being the one that decides whether you can keep that job or not. I see this as a great loss of individual freedom.

A big part of the value of being a US citizen is that as a citizen you can take any job you are offered and leave it whenever you want to take another job that might improve your personal situation. The federal government has no role to play in your career choices. I am also concerned about the loss of personal privacy that comes with the government's data collection activities.

 I described these concerns about privacy and freedom in my blog entitled Patrick Henry.

When I hear arguments about the definition of Amnesty, I often hear that the proposals aren't amnesty because the non-citizen is paying a price in time and fines in order to earn their right to be citizens. But this argument rings hollow. Legal citizens are forced to pay a price for the non-citizen's right to citizenship with a loss of individual freedom and privacy from the expanded E-verify system. This price is paid now and for every generation into the future. Once freedom is lost, it can not be gotten back.

I feel like this loss is an enormous price to ask people to pay to solve this problem and that another solution needs to be found. Let us not get into the situation of the Affordable Care Act and have to pass legislation to find out what is in it (or what it will cost for that matter).

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pondering the Farm Bill and Integrity

Sometimes I get frustrated trying to piece together pieces of information that show up in my "social media news feed". So many things just don't make sense to me. I want the public to see agriculture as an environment that has integrity, but there is a lot that goes on that seems to fight against that. Let me explain a couple of these things.

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the piece of legislation known as "The Farm Bill" today (1/29/14). It is a massive pile of money that affects every American in some way or other since it affects food production, land use, the environment, charity toward the hungry, and we all eat. Here is a chart and an article that speaks to some of it.

An article from the Washington Post

The $956 billion farm bill, in one graph
The article talks about how this money helps promote U.S. crops abroad.

"Trade, $3.5 billion over 10 years (little change). This money is used to promote U.S. crops overseas and provide food aid abroad. "

But the article does not tell you (they probably don't know) that this legislation does not adjust U.S. laws (MCOOL) to comply with our treaty obligations. Since the U.S. has been found at fault in this matter by the courts in the WTO, this legislation virtually assures that our foreign trading partners will place retaliatory tariffs on U.S. crops/products entering their country, costing the U.S. jobs and hard earned market share. Why are we spending money to promote crops and then losing it by fighting over a lost issue? Here is a link if you want to get details WTO MCOOL summary

Much is made of the amount of money being spent on Food Stamps (SNAP) and mighty arguments are fought over reductions and what should be done. It can be seen as American charity toward the poor or Congress trying to buy votes with our money. In either case it is money for U.S. citizens. But as best I can understand it, USDA is advertising the program in Mexico. Couldn't we at least cut the advertising program and there by save those dollars and perhaps reduce the pressure on the border from people trying to enter the U.S. illegally? Here is an article that explains some of this issue.

an article about the USDA advertising in Mexico

USDA partnering with Mexico to boost food stamp participation
These are just two of the things that jump out at me as I read my "social media news stream)

I sit and shake me head. I know the "Farm Bill" is needed for many reasons. I get that. But I sure hate having to take the bad with the good. Where is the integrity in that?

Thanks for thinking along with me.

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)