This post is inspired by one of the most common questions I get when I’m sharing my farm story.
At almost every event, panel or online chat, someone asks me what makes me an expert on how to properly care for farm animals.
In today’s day and age, having the job title of “farmer” or “rancher” is not enough to convince someone of your expertise.
I quickly realized that in order for consumers to understand that farmers work hard to properly care for our animals, they need to know all the different ways we learned what constitutes proper animal care.
Since I’ve been celebrating National Pork Month on my blog this month, this post will focus on pork production. Even so, the learning process is very similar for beef, sheep and dairy farmers as well.
1. Growing up on a family farm
I’ve written many times about how every day on our farm, my five year old brother learns more about how care for our pigs.
From a young age, farm kids are taught how to treat animals with respect and to put the needs of the pigs before their own.
My grandparents taught my parents, they taught me and someday Aaron and I will pass those skills along to our child.
Since 98% of America’s farms are family owned, this is how most farmers begin learning!
In farm families, handing down the tradition of farming and caring for pigs is as important as passing down Grandma’s cornbread recipe or a die-hard love of a certain college football team.
Just like dedication to a certain sports team, the skills farm kids learn at such a young age become a part of who they are, not just what they do for a living.
2. Studying agriculture on the collegiate level
In my grandparents day, its wasn’t necessary to have a college degree if you were going to farm. Today, however, most farmers have some sort of post-secondary education.
In many instances, this means studying agriculture.
Why study how to farm if your parents already taught you? Because agriculture is a constantly changing industry.
Take my family as an example.
Both my parents grew up on farms but they still obtained animal science degrees.
They combined what they learned from their parents with their college education so that they could ensure the well-being of all the animals on their farm.
Growing up, my parents passed along a lot of their knowledge to me but still made sure I realized that I needed to pursue a degree of my own.
Today, the three of us combine all of our experiences, from both on the farm and in the classroom.
The advantage to having an agriculture degree is that it gives you timeless background knowledge to understand new innovations and technologies and how they can keep pigs healthier and happier.
So even though what is considered cutting edge today may be old news tomorrow, farmers will still use what they learned in college to better utilize the industry innovations of the future.
3. The Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Program
Have you ever heard of a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) program? These programs are used in food processing facilities to ensure food safety standards are being met.
Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) is basically a HACCP program for hog farms.
Pork producers attend training sessions to learn the latest, safest and most humane methods to raise their pigs.
In 2007, the PQA program added an expanded section on animal well-being and evolved into the PQA Plus program.
In order for a farm to be PQA Plus certified, the producer must complete the training sessions as well as an on-farm evaluation of animal well-being by a PQA Plus adviser.
Every three years, pork producers are required to “re-certify,” which ensures that the producers are staying up to date and are continuing to provide proper care for their pigs.
Today, over 53,700 pork producers are PQA certified and 77% of America’s pigs have had their farms assessed through the PQA Plus program.
This is just a brief overview of the PQA Plus program. If you’d like to learn more about it, I’d encourage you to check out the Pork Checkoff website.
So the question remains, what makes me an expert on how to properly care for our pigs?
All three of these things!
When you combine a childhood of learning proper animal care with a college degree and a continuous dedication to ensuring animal well-being through the PQA Plus program, you get a picture of America’s average pork producer.
American pork producers never settle for the status quo, they are constantly working to educate themselves (and their kids) on the latest, safest and most humane methods of raising pigs.
Whether they’re small show pig farms like mine or a larger family farms like my friends Chris Chinn and Heather Hill live on, American pork producers are dedicated to raising safe and healthy pork products for both our families and yours.