I am sharing this post in partnership with Pork.org. As always, all opinions are 100 percent my own. Thank you for the continued support of brands I work with, making it possible for me to continue creating quality content for you.
On a recent trip to East Lansing, Michigan, I continued my education with the National Pork Board on how pig producers raise and care for their animals and the food they produce. We touched on everything from food safety, swine health and animal well-being, just to name a few. At this point I’m starting to feel like a bit of an expert when it comes to “Real Pig Farming”. I ‘m continually grateful for the amount of resources and transparency the National Pork Board has generously offered when it comes to learning about what it takes to raise and bring pigs to market in our country.
This is the second time I’ve traveled with the National Pork Board to a pig farm in the Midwest. Many of you might remember my first trip to Iowa, which was an unbelievable immersion experience in all things regarding pork food safety, what it takes to manage a pig farm, sustainability and swine reproduction. And while there are similarities from farm to farm, you do get to learn new things and see how they are done differently at each location.
Advances in all aspects of pork production have reshaped the industry as a whole, making pork one of the safest and most sustainable meat products we have available to eat. If you can, thank a farmer today for their efforts. The pig producers I have been lucky enough to spend time with have the kind of energy and contagious enthusiasm for their work that is not only inspirational, but conveys a lot about the future of the industry and how far it will go. Working with passion and being joyfully productive, when it comes to achieving goals, seems to be a universal anthem at each of the family farms I have visited. Today’s pork is leaner and more nutritious than it ever has been and today’s pork farmer is committed to responsible production.
This was my first time visiting Michigan…ever. It has been on my bucket list for years and years and believe me, I still have so much to see and do there. This particular trip brought me to the East Lansing area, which is best known as the home of Michigan State University. Go Spartans! Up until this point, I never really thought of Michigan as a pork producing state, but it is a very large industry there. Virtually all pig farms in the state are family owned and have been in the same family for generations. As I mentioned before, the hearts and souls of these families are poured into these farms and the way they humanely care for their animals.
One of the major advancements in the pork industry has been that pork (whole-muscle cuts) is now safe to eat at 145 degrees F. No more dry pork! One of the reasons pork can has been rendered safe at this lower temperature is due to biosecurity on pig farms.
What Is Biosecurity
Animal care and health are always the number one priority on any pig farm. Biosecurity is a set of management practices designed specifically to prevent the transmission or introduction of disease into a herd. Preventing disease from entering a herd is a key component when it comes to managing the health of pigs on a farm. There are many procedures farms adhere to, to keep their pigs safe and healthy. This includes sanitation in barns and transport vehicles, strict employee and visitor policies, which often require everyone to “shower in and shower out” of each barn they come in contact with. This also includes creating “lines of separation” that employees/visitors cannot cross unless they have followed strict farm protocols for “being clean”. Rodent and pest control is also important when it comes to biosecurity on a farm.
When it comes to introducing disease on a farm, one of the most vulnerable times remains when new pigs are introduced into a herd. This is especially true when gilts, female pigs who have not given birth, are brought to the farm to farrow. However, with strict biosecurity measures in place and the introduction of filtering barns (which I will discuss a little further down) we can all be assured that the pork going to market is as healthy and safe to eat as it has ever been.
Here is a small look at what biosecurity looks like on a farm in terms of clothing. Hairnets, brand new coveralls, sanitized booties or booties that cover your shoes, to name a few. There are no exceptions on a farm, even if you are just visiting. Every employee of the farm goes through this daily and every time they go into or out of barn, which can be several times a day.
And how cute is this little pig I’m holding? This little guy was quite content to be held without squealing. The pigs are so well cared for on these farms, which absolutely warms my heart.
One of the biggest strides being made in the hog industry has been the implementation of filtering barns. This somewhat scary looking hallway is actually a filter bank room where outside air enters the barn through basic filters, kind of like the ones you would use with a home furnace. The air is then pulled through much more sophisticated filters and is pushed up into the attic. The first line of defense filters, filter out the largest particles, while a second line of filters help remove the fine particles. Fans installed on the ends of the barn push the clean air into the rooms where the pigs are housed and the “dirty” air is pushed out.
This type of positive pressure filtration helps prevent the spread of viruses within the hog population. This is also the same type of filtration used in hospitals and manufacturing, where it’s important to maintain an environment of positive pressure.
Filtration barns also help dissipate the air on the outside of the barn, which helps curtail the smell of a working farm in the surrounding area. You can guarantee neighbors of pig farms really appreciate this technology.
Each of the pig farm tours I’ve been on have included an in depth lesson in pig fabrication, which is basically the breaking down of half a hog into primals (larger cuts), subprimals and market cuts. Here, Chef Neel Sahni of the National Pork Board, does the butchery honors at a Michigan State University meat-lab, while explaining many of the uses of well-known and some unknown (to me) cuts of pork. Pork fabrication a pretty fascinating demonstration if you ever get the chance to attend one. While watching the fabrication we were treated to some very tasty recipes prepared by Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski, Michigan State’s corporate chef of culinary services. Honestly, I couldn’t think of better way to spend my morning.
Did you know that every time a cut is made into a piece of pork, the price of that particular cut goes up? However, in most cases, pork remains cheaper than beef and chicken, so eat up!
And don’t worry, it wasn’t all work and no play. Claire Masker, public relations director for the National Pork Board, who organizes these amazing trips along with her staff, made sure we had extra fun in between the farm visits. We got to experience the beautiful Michigan countryside, with all kinds of fun and pork-filled food stops along the way. Traveling with this group is always a dream and so well organized. As you can imagine, we were never hungry.
Here is our group on the steps of Michigan State University.
New favorite shirt…obviously.
My pork farm, travel bucket short list includes North Carolina, South Dakota, Pennsylvania and Minnesota…who knows where I will get see the pigs next. I look forward to it as each visit provides a deeper understanding of where my food comes from and what it takes to get there.
Thanks again to the National Pork Board and Real Pig Farming for allowing me to share parts of their story. There is so much more to tell.
Until next time…
Don’t forget to make my Simple Zesty Pork Tenderloin for some mind-blowing pork deliciousness.