Written by: Guest | September 9, 2019
AFIA Chair of the Board 2019-20
Part Owner and Chair of the Board, Belstra Milling
Belstra Milling has long held the notion that it’s important to educate others about our part in producing their food. I think a lot of this goes back to my dad who gave many folks a “nickel tour” of our feed mill.
Our company has a relationship with the Pig Improvement Company (PIC), so it was not unusual for them to bring pig producers through our mill as they traveled on to the World Pork Expo. In the early 90s, we had a group of Danish producers visit and they asked what we were doing about animal welfare, since it was a big issue for them. Animal welfare? It wasn’t an issue for us at the time, but was a precursor of things to come.
As we continued to build gilt multiplier farms, more folks wanted to see modern pork production. Our farms are very biosecure to prevent disease. The farms are “shower-in,” which means you must remove your street clothes on the “dirty” side, take a shower and put work clothes on to enter the “clean” side. Many folks have questioned this process, but it’s best for the pig’s health and helps limit disease transmission.
Taking large groups into the farms presented logistical problems, so one year we had a “Day on the Farm.” Guests climbed on a tractor-driven wagon and visited multiple stops, where we discussed topics such as feed and nutrition, manure management, biosecurity and disease, genetics and processing. We allowed people to look into some of the buildings. We tried to invite educators, legislators, restaurant owners, grocers, etc., but in spite of our efforts, we had limited success in reaching those we wanted to educate.
In 2013, we were approached by Dr. Mike McCluskey from Fair Oaks Farms about building a “tourable” pig farm. Fair Oaks had built a visitor center showcasing dairy cows and now wanted to expand into hogs. Also, Mike wanted a modern large-scale farm, not a “toy” farm.
We did some serious soul-searching and took a leap of faith to build Legacy Farm, better known as the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks. Much credit goes to Malcolm DeKryger, Belstra Milling’s president, who led this project. The result is a one-of-a-kind, tourable, 2,700 sow farrow-to-wean facility. Visitors arrive by bus into a foyer telling the history of hog production through videos and interactive screens. Then, they experience a virtual shower to stress biosecurity before entering hallways leading to gestation, farrowing and gilt growing - looking through windows 10 feet above the production floor. The most popular area is the farrowing (birthing) barn, where visitors witness the miracle of life. A glass window allows visitors to view a newborn pig while interacting with production staff, who are there to answer all kinds of questions. The fun part: the kids get to name the pig! In the gestation room, visitors can “pregnancy-check” a sow to virtually see the size of her litter. It’s a wonderful “WOW” experience for all.
Why did we do it? For too long, modern agriculture was quiet on how food is produced. Our silence allowed radicals and vegetarians to tell their story with untrue information. We are part of the food chain and, as such, have a moral obligation to care for our animals and educate consumers, who are many generations removed from the farm and on modern production techniques.
Each October, Pig Adventure is inundated with more than 6,000 Future Farmers of America (FFA) members attending the annual conference in Indianapolis, Ind. Many of today’s FFA members do not live on a farm, so it’s important they are educated. Or, the dad and mom with two small children who saw the sign on I-65 about Fair Oaks and decided to take the tour. They, too, had the “WOW” experience.
Every person who visits now becomes an ambassador who can tell of their experience. That’s why we do it. Does it have challenges? Sure. Nothing of value ever comes easy, but we’re excited to be part of the industry trying to make a difference.