life is good for pigs born on pork farms

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: A Trip to a Pig Farm

This post is about a sponsored trip paid for the National Pork Board. All opinions expressed are my own and I did not receive any compensation to write or share this blog.

I get to do many challenging, interesting and even fun things in my job as a registered dietitian nutritionist and consultant to the food and beverage industry. But this June I got to do something that so exceeded all my expectations I can’t help but share it. And in in keeping with the writing assignments of my childhood each September, I am titling this one, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

A Day at a Pig Farm

My day on the Brenneman Pork farm in Washington County Iowa began with a shower. Not a shower in the comfort of my hotel room, but in the locker rooms at the farm. Everyone who enters the gestation buildings – whether farm workers, Brenneman family members or visitors like me and the nine other dietitians on this excursion – must shower and wash their hair before they can enter. We were provided toiletry kits with the soaps and shampoos we could use and were asked not to apply anything else to our bodies after drying ourselves with the towels they provided. That’s right, no moisturizer, no makeup, no deodorant. We then put on the undergarments and jumpsuits they issued to us, surgical caps to cover our damp hair and colorful rubber boots perfect for puddles!

Ready top greet the pigs

Ready to greet the pigs – covered from head scarfs to rubber boots!

Now that we were clean enough to meet the birthing sows, we entered a barn housing hundreds of them. The air temperature was maintained at constant 70 degrees to keep it comfortable for mothers and babies alike (but a bit warm for the workers and guests) and the air quality was continuously filtered to remove any foreign particles that might harm the pigs.  We all did our best not to sneeze or cough.

Each sow had her own birthing pen equipped with a food and water supply so she could eat on demand. If she had already started to give birth, low-hanging heat lamps were turned on to both dry the newborns and keep them warm as they adjusted to life outside the womb.

A clipboard at the end of each pen was used to record the time of each birth and other pertinent details about the new arrivals. These sows were capable of delivering 14-20 piglets and every one of them was an important part of the success of the Brenneman farm. After all, they were in the pork business.

Giving New Meaning to “Pulled Pork”

The highlight of my trip came when I got to “assist” in the births of two piglets. It can take the sow up to 20 minutes to complete each delivery, and she must continue to nurse the piglets that have already been born throughout the delivery process, so a little help is welcomed.

The job required slipping a long plastic sleeve with a glove at the end over my entire arm. Then I had to get down on my knees and up close to the back end of my sow. Next, a generous squirt of a lubricant was applied to my covered hand so I could work it up the birth canal in pursuit of the next piglet making its way down.

Delivering pigs takes a long arm

Putting on the arm sleeve and glove needed to assist in delivery of a piglet

I felt strong, muscular contractions up the entire length of my arm as I maneuvered my hand deeper into the sow in search of a tennis ball-sized orb that would be a head. I was stunned by how hot it was in there. I imagined this is what it would feel like if I were plunging my arm into bubbling quicksand.  But when I reached my goal, all my thoughts zeroed in on the carefully explained instructions I had received before beginning this important job.  “Wrap two fingers around the head, toward the neck, so you have a firm grip and gently pull the piglet down towards you.” Slowly my arm exited the sow’s body and when my hand emerged there was a 3-4 pound piglet in it. This is what they call “pulling pork” on a pig farm and the experience was absolutely amazing!

Pulling pork requires a long arm

A sow can use a little help when delivering her piglets

Making Bacon Takes a Village

The care and well-being of the piglets was now the focus of everyone on the farm so these animals could reach their full potential and be ready for market in four to five months. Farm workers monitored what they ate, where they slept, and who they played with, among other things, and were vigilant in their efforts to make sure each pig was free of illness and neglect. The pigs I saw looked, smelled and sounded healthy and happy, and I’m convinced that is reflected in the quality of the pork chops, spare ribs and bacon they produce.  I don’t know what more a pig could want out of life?

healthy, happy pigs

Happy, curious juvenile pigs in their playpen

My biggest take-away from the trip was the first-hand knowledge that raising pigs isn’t an easy job. It takes many dedicated people working many demanding hours to produce the best pork possible. It takes a village. Whether you eat pork or not, it’s nice to know the animals are raised with such care and compassion. I only wish all children received the same.

Moderation and good genes provide clues to longevity

Bacon, Soda, and Longevity – What’s the Connection?

This post was written as a guest blog for Americans for Food and Beverage Choice. You can read the original post here.

Did you see the headlines earlier this summer proclaiming the world’s oldest person eats bacon every day? The story caught my attention since bacon is one of those “guilty pleasure” foods we all enjoy, and we now have evidence that a 116 year old woman has been eating it every day!

There are many other things that may have contributed to this woman’s long life, such as her genetic heritage (her grandmother lived to be 117!). She also naps regularly, eats three meals a day and has a loving family.

As with most things in a long life, it’s never that simple – Spoiler alert: bacon is not the key to longevity!

The same holds true for headlines that say drinking soda can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. What’s missing from those unfounded statements is any evidence from randomized clinical trials to demonstrate cause and effect.

Like longevity, the research on what does cause these illnesses reveals a strong genetic component. They are also influenced by numerous environmental factors and lifestyle behaviors. It’s just not a simple matter of sipping a sugar-sweetened beverage or not. In fact, our overall dietary patterns   matter much more than any single food we may eat.

I’m sure it will make many people happy to know they can still enjoy bacon and their favorite soft drink and live a long life. The lesson here is that it’s not the bacon that will guarantee you’ll reach your 100th birthday or the sweet drink that will keep you from getting there. Eating balanced meals and getting plenty of physical activity are habits that can add years to your life.

Keep that in mind the next time you see an inflammatory headline providing a quick fix for all of your dietary woes.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.