Up close and personal with a pig

A brave group of individuals stepped out of their comfort zone to learn more about modern hog farming and pork. Openly, national food bloggers accepted the invitation from the National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council and Iowa Pork Producers to put on their traveling boots, suit up and become a hog farmer for the day.

As Kristin Kubert wrote in her Comfortably Domestic blog “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to get up close and personal with pigs on a pork farm. I just didn’t realize how up close and personal that I would get!”

The Pass the Pork Blogger tour took participants on a three-day adventure like no other - scrubbing in as pig caretakers at Brenneman Pork Inc., becoming a member of the Brenneman harvest crew and cooking with Chef Jim Murray and Nina Swan-Kohler.

The goal of the blog tour was to give food bloggers a VIP experience and introduce them to daily activities on a modern hog farm with no filters, says Claire Masker, NPB manager of public relations. The event was made possible by the Iowa Pork Producers, NPB and National Pork Producers Council.

In the hog barns, the bloggers had an eye-opening experience including showering in and showering out, and putting on stylish coveralls and footwear before entering each facility from farrowing to finishing. Through this process, the group learned that humans can infect pigs. A fact Sandra Shaffer shared with her blog readers.

Many of the bloggers commented that the experience was nothing like it is portrayed on the internet, and they began to understand the importance of keeping the pigs inside in clean, climate-control environment. As Rob Brenneman simply explained to them, “We brought the pigs inside because it’s better for the pigs. Isn’t saving more pigs better for animal welfare?”

Pig caretakers

As guest pig caretakers for the day, the bloggers actually got their hands dirty or at least the plastic gloves filthy. As brave souls, they eagerly sleeved up and helped deliver new piglets into the world. This was something Cathy Pollak never thought she would do as she tells about her experience in her blog the Noble Pig.

On the Brenneman farm, the group saw both alternatives for sow housing – individual stalls and group housing. 

The Brenneman family discussed the trade-offs of the two sow housing options but it was really the sows that told the real story. 

As Kubert said in her blog, “Individual stalls also keep the babies alive because their mamas can’t inadvertently roll over and suffocate them. In fact, many of the pigs have access to open pens from their stalls, and yet they prefer to stay in their own space.”

The hog barn visit was not complete without a healthy discussion on biosecurity, antibiotics and overall animal health plans with Brenneman’s veterinarian.

The open chat left the group with two valuable take home messages: 1) When appropriate and with veterinarian oversight, antibiotics are used to treat sick pigs 2) Pork is tested and confirmed safe at the processing plant.

Harvesting crew

The experience also took the bloggers to the corn and soybean fields. As a family farming operation, Brennemans also raise corn and soybeans on 3,500 

acres. While everyone enjoys a good combine ride, the experience on the grain farm gave a 360-degree look into pork production. For the Brennemans, the corn raised in their fields is utilized in 13 special diets for 650,000 hogs and pigs on the farm. The manure from the barns provides nutrients for the grain crop. The local source to feed and the sustainable approach was respectfully noted by many bloggers.

In the kitchen

On the last day, the bloggers completed the journey from birth to plate by learning more about cooking and preparing pork properly from Chef Jim Murray. The most mentioned take-away was the

 lower cooking temperature for pork. As the result of safe farming practices in the U.S., the USDA lowered the cooking temperature to 145 degrees F, leaving the pork moist and more favorable. 

The group also fixed pork dishes with Nina Swan-Kohler, Chef Murray and the Bachelor Chris Soules, learning great cooking tips. 

Lasting impressions

At the end of the journey, the blogs showed the positive impression the “Pass the Pork Blogger Tour” left on the bloggers’ heart. Judge for yourself by clicking the link to each blog:

  • “The Brennemans overall commitment to quality and improvement is summed up when Rob said, “Just say ‘can’t’ once. We’ll find a way to make it happen.” I feel humbled to know that families like the Brennemans make it their life’s mission keep up on the latest farming technologies in order to feed the world.” – Kristin Kubert, Comfortably Domestic
  • “The final takeaway from my trip to Iowa was something so simple; don’t take your food for granted. There are folks working night and day to make sure you have healthy food at your dinner table.” – Lauren Grier, Climbing Grier Mountain
  • “Every single employee on this farm that I encountered truly cares so much for their pigs and it is so evident. “ - Ashley Presuitti, Wishes and Dishes
  • “I love how contagious his (Rob Brenneman) love for pigs is” – Jen Nikolaus, Yummy Healthy Easy
  • “When someone builds something from the ground up and it is their family’s livelihood, they most likely want to continue to do it well. But a major part of the Brennemans desire is to create healthy pork for families like yours. I saw that care through the family involvement, the cleanliness and organization of the operation and the desire for continued improvement.” – Emily Roemmich, Busy Mommy
  • “Pigs are cared for SO much better than I thought. I have the “movie picture” in my head of pigs crammed into a wooden pen outside in the cold, playing in the mud and eating out of wooden troughs.” –Taylor Kiser, Food, Faith, Fitness
  • “Since I returned from the tour I have a new appreciation for the life of a farmer and the pork industry! In fact, I’m humming the catchy slogan, “Put Pork On Your fork!” with pride!” – Sandra Shaffer, The Foodie Affair
  • “They want you a part of the farm – part of the family. It’s this feeling I had the entire time I was there that changed my perception of farming and allowed me to appreciate more what I used to take for granted each time I sat down to enjoy bacon in the morning or a nice prosciutto wrapped tenderloin, smothered in a port wine fig sauce.” – Sandra McCollum, A Dash of Sanity
  • “Honestly, I want to thank the whole Brenneman family for opening their barn doors and showing us what they do every day. I feel good knowing where my food comes from and what it takes to get that food to our markets. It's not an easy task and is something everyone should have the opportunity to see and learn about.” – Cathy Pollak, Noble Pig
  • “I walked away with so very much from this trip: a love and respect for farmers, their families and employees; a new awareness of all the hard work it takes to move our food from farm to table – something I always have taken for granted; that pork is SO much more than just bacon, it’s a meat that can be used in many different recipes and no longer has to be dry!” – Lynne Feifer, 365 Days of Baking and More
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