Recently there has been a lot of talk about how farm animals are being raised. I have received several calls here at the farm about whether or not Niman Ranch farmers use something called, gestation crates. If you are wondering about that too the answer is no. Niman Ranch protocols don’t allow the use of gestation crates. “Then how are the gestating sows handled?” a journalist recently asked me. FYI: Sows are a breeding female that has had at least one litter of pigs. Niman Ranch farmers know the best way to treat their sows is to allow them plenty of room to move and behave naturally. I offered to provide some pictures to the journalist, but they said they would rather take their own. So I arranged a tour with one of the earliest members of the Niman Ranch network, Farmer Paul Menke and his wife Lenice. He has been farming with his family for generations. Raising pigs just comes naturally for him.
When we toured Paul’s farm, it happened to be one of the last cold days of winter this year. The pigs don’t mind it though, their back fat provides built-in insulation and it was actually a pretty comfortable day for them. Paul’s farm is similar to the farm I grew up on, plenty of farm cats, a dog, and several outbuildings as well as lots of pigs. When I asked him how long his family has been involved in farming he said, “It goes way back as far as I can remember”. I asked him about how many generations and he told me he was the 4th generation of his family to farm.
Paul was happy to show us around his farm. This is where he keeps his gestating sows usually bred in November, later on they will be moved to the pasture in the spring to farrow.
Niman Ranch farmers utilize the best animal husbandry practices of the past coupled with modern technologies such as databases for tracking their animal’s growth and productivity and so forth. Paul and Lenice’s farm is a captivating example, settled in North Iowa surrounded by gently rolling hills and oak savannahs. My mother grew up in this neck of the woods and always called this cow country because there were quite a few cattle ranchers from here.
Here Paul keeps his sows together along with some boars for breeding purposes. Raising pigs is easier when they are given the room they need. Initially, people started raising pigs because the meat was fantastic and there were so many uses for the lard but also, they were lower maintenance farm animals that were almost capable of taking care of themselves.
Last time I visited Paul’s farm I brought my sister, Anne and my daughter, Sophia, with me to see Paul’s new windmill erected to improve their energy efficiency on the farm. The Menkes have been family friends for a long time and Lenice makes the best cookies. Sophia played with their cats while Paul explained the importance of the windmill and how it had saved him roughly 70% on his electric bill annually.
We did experience a bit of confusion during our visit that day though. Paul seemed to be yelling at me and then my sister an awfully lot. We didn’t know it then but his dog’s name is Anne and his cat’s name is Sarah. So he was calling, “come here Anne” and my sister was very obedient and followed him. Then he would say, “Sarah get over there” while showing us around the farm. It was a hilarious confusion that took awhile to figure out. Here is a picture I took of Anne trying to herd Sarah (a familiar feeling).
All of this attention placed on farm animal husbandry practices is really important, With every choice you make at the supermarket or at a restaurant you are casting your vote for the farming methods used to bring that food to your table whether you realize it or not. If you have any questions about Niman Ranch animal husbandry practices you will find Niman Ranch protocols right here on our website.
Niman Ranch was built on the philosophy that the eating quality of meat is directly related to animal husbandry. We strive to provide the best tasting meat in the world and it all starts here on the farm.