I have a suspicion. From my childhood on a cattle ranch in Texas to farming as an adult, traditionally here in Indiana, it has become clear to me that animals know much more than we think. This is not due to the way dogs knowingly look at a person or to the way a horse will sweetly nuzzle into its owner. No, what I’ve observed reveals something much more sinister. It certainly points to a dark sense of humor in some creatures.
I have decided livestock can sense when it is Friday, a holiday, or when their farmer is gone on vacation. They have to know. And, they have fun with it.
How else do you explain months of being retained by a fence only to “happen” to find them out the morning you’re leaving for somewhere? My Mother says they stand out in the pasture and watch the house. When they see you all dressed up, loading the car with suitcases they start passing word around. Then, they carefully decide to take advantage of the weak spot in the fence…the one they have known was there all along. It reminds me of a Far Side clip. But, it’s true. Sickness is another one of their little schemes. I can almost hear the alpha pig giving orders, “Hey Terry, here he comes…it’s Friday afternoon…he’s got a BIG weekend…get the sniffles…hurry! Rita, can you fake a prolapse? Rick, flop down over there and start heaving.”
Yeah, I know. I probably spend too much time alone.
One hot and dry Friday afternoon this past year (at 3:30pm) we were feeding our herd of pastured pigs when Chris noticed one laying in the shadow of an oak tree, short of breath. Pigs are very hardy critters, but allergies can lead to pneumonia in the hottest, driest days of summer. On that particular Friday this pig’s poor condition was no act. He was very sick and his condition was deteriorating quickly. I could tell he wouldn’t make it through the night. We took video and sent it to a few of the sages Chris speaks of—farmers who have been at it longer. I started calling my vet contacts. The verdict returning from all of these channels was the same. Our only choice to save this pig’s life was to administer antibiotics.
There’s only one problem.
We do not sell meat from animals treated with antibiotics, hormones, or steroids. Ever.
We’ve researched the effects of antibiotics on food producing animals, and in turn, their effects on humans. We know there are a lot of persuasions on topics in this vein, and, let me say, there is very little that can drive me crazier than a self-righteous, green farmer. We do not hold judgment toward people of other viewpoints. We do, however, have convictions and standards we will not compromise. This is one of them.
So, that evening Chris and I brought the pig back to the farm and humanely processed it ourselves. It was a somber, meaningful experience for our family. We used it as an opportunity to teach our children about life, death, and gratitude. Because of the younger age of the animal, and its processing location, we could not sell the meat. We packaged it for our family’s use. It was an unfortunate situation, but one we made the best of.
A few weeks later one of the farmers we contacted for advice asked about the pig. I told him how we handled things. He responded that a new regulation had been set in place, or lifted rather, that allows meat producers to give meat producing animals antibiotics for sicknesses as long as it is a lifesaving measure. Interesting. What he said seemed innocent on the surface. Even advantageous. Because our animals are raised on pasture with plenty of space and strong, natural diets we don’t lose many animals to sickness. However, if you do this long enough, you will lose a few. Wouldn’t it be great if those animals could be saved and live to maturity? This would be good for the animals, but also for business. I researched the matter. He was right. According to the “experts” manning the appropriate bureaucracies, farmers like me (regenerative, pastured, no antibiotics, etc) can now administer antibiotics to meat producing animals as a life saving measure. And, the meat from those animals can still be marketed as “antibiotic free.” I think you can see where this is going. Can you imagine how the large confinement producers who have stepped off into the land of “all-natural” will run with this one? Truthfully, I think that is the point of the relaxed new regulation. The huge producers are able to stack chickens, hogs, and cattle on top of one another, standing in their own filth, because they can administer antibiotics to all of them as a preventative measure. The new loophole enables those producers to live in a very fuzzy area with regard to which animals require the “lifesaving measure” of antibiotics. Furthermore, I can see where the small producers will be tempted by it. A person will entertain all kinds of possibilities when they are backed into a corner by credit, lack of cash flow, and a regulatory system built to oppose them.
We, however, will not entertain the possibilities.
America is a good country. It feeds and has fed a lot of people. However, in many ways it has lost its agricultural soul. When I consider the maze of loopholes available to farmers one word comes to mind.
How else do you explain the idea that I could technically raise thousands of chickens in a barn—with a small doggy door to a 100 square foot patch of grass outside—and still call the eggs and meat “pastured” or “free range?” Those same chickens, raised shoulder to shoulder in confinement, could be fed organic feed and be marketed as “USDA Organic.” How do you explain the fact that any animal food product can be marketed as “all natural” due to the fact that animals are a part of nature? And, how do you reconcile marketing meat from animals, treated with antibiotics, as antibiotic free meat? These can’t be explained. They are loopholes developed over years of an industrialized agriculture. These loopholes reduce away one important fact about food—people eat it. Families eat it. Children eat it. When you sell them loopholes, you sell them lies. They eat lies. Their cells are fed by lies. The industry reaps the benefit of people’s trust in it while people suffer the consequences of its deception.
WonderTree will never sell you a lie. We produce honest food from honestly raised animals on honestly stewarded land. It may not be the easiest or most profitable practice, but it is ours.
February 4th, 2021