We were welcomed with open arms by Ben and Kellie Deen of Savannah River Farms when we visited a few weeks ago. As humane and responsible farmers who have respect for the land and their animals they have nothing to hide. Their devotion to their 160 acre farm and their livestock was a wonderful thing to witness. Despite the hardships of farming in the blistering heat of southern Georgia, and the frustrations associated with dependence on Mother Nature, they work tirelessly and with devotion embodying what 'real' farming is all about.
For Ben Deen it really is in his blood, born into farming stock for him there is no other life. Kellie Deen on the other hand married into farming when she met Ben, but has taken to it like a duck to water and animal welfare is of paramount importance to her. That's why the Deen's farm has, amongst other accolades, the stamp of Animal Welfare Approved
The Deens raise pastured beef, pork and chicken and are just trying out lamb - although Ben Deen finds the sheep a bit of a handful as they are constantly escaping from their field into pastures new ('the grass is always greener' I guess). The hogs are of particular pride to the Deens and there were a couple that Kellie assured us will die of old age and not at the processing facility. Abattoirs are a whole other issue when it comes to animal welfare; which are euphemistically (in my opinion) referred to as processing facilities; there are not enough of them and the USDA inspectors on site (not enough of those either) are concerned more about the processing procedures and less about animal welfare (and yes a blog will follow!) In the early days of her farming career slaughter was problematic to Kellie but she has come to terms with it in her own way and she and Ben ensure that their animals have as dignified an end as possible. The Deens are very fortunate that they have a 'processing plant' only an hour and a half's drive away (which I think may be Animal Welfare Approved) and they always try to transport around 4am so that their animals avoid the harsh heat of the day, and are not subject to heat stress and dehydration. But back to the hogs - when we went to visit they were running about the pasture and had plenty of woodland for foraging for which their snout is designed!! Amazingly one of the sows had given birth to a litter of piglets only five days before our arrival and the day we went to visit was the first day that momma brought them out for viewing, so it was special for all of us, including the Deens - I guess it's stuff like that which makes the hard times worthwhile. Pigs are very intelligent creatures and momma has 'counted' every head and will search and search if one head goes missing. Sow's are nest builders - and this is an incredibly important part of the birth cycle for pigs. The Deen's sow had been allowed to build her nest in the woods ready for her delivery date.
|The Deen Hogs|
|Pregnant Sows in Factory Farm Gestation Crates|
...then following delivery the sow is moved to a farrowing crate where she can feed her young (after the piglets have had their tails and teeth cut - without anaesthesia).
|The sow is simply a milking machine. She will be impregnated again soon, returned to the gestation crate and the whole cycle will begin again. It will continue until she is spent, usually lame and in pain - then she will be slaughtered.|
|Teeth cutting in a factory farm, minus anaesthesia|
There are hog farmers all over America raising pastured pigs and producing quality affordable pork. Some of these farmers are small scale and sell mainly at farmer's markets and local restaurants but others are big enough to sell to national supermarkets including Wholefoods, one such producer is Thompson Farms in Dixie, GA (we plan to visit this farm in the fall and will post our findings). What theses humane farmers need is support from the consumer's dollars and support from the government, including federal protection from the bullying tactics of conglomerates such as Smithfield Foods Inc. Smithfield is the largest pork producer in the world and is responsible for pushing factory farming to incredible limits. It was the first company to introduce gestation crates and it looks like it will be the last to phase them out as unfortunately Smithfield has renegade on its promise to phase out all crates by 2017: it has now decided to continue their use indefinitely; Smithfield's broken promise. But let's face it, what incentive do they have to discontinue something which keeps the bank ledger very much in the black: in 2010 their profits were staggeringly large in view of our economic oppressed times - all as a result of their cost effective cruel methods of raising pork. I wonder how Mr C. Larry Pope (CEO) sleeps at night - I guess a very large bank balance is a wonderful sedative.
There are a number of websites which can provide information on pasture/humanely/ethically raised livestock in the U.S., here are just a few, Certified Humane; Animal Welfare Approved; Eat Wild.
And for our UK bloggers and readers RSPCA; Compassion in world Farming; Farm Animal Welfare Committee and The Pig Business
To end on a happy pig note here are some pictures from Caw Caw Creek Hog Farm, Savannah River Farms, and happy big butts at Thompson Farms. If I'm going to end up as bacon then a least let me spend my days as nature intended - roaming in pasture not caged up on concrete - THE ACTIVIST.
|Caw Caw Farms|
|Savannah River Farms (The Deens)|
|Happy pigs at the feeding trough|