You don’t need me to tell you how the U.S. and global hog industry has changed. From the type of hog being raised to the methods in which hogs are produced, pig farmers have seen a plethora of changes. For the most part, these changes have improved the health and welfare of the animals under our care.
American pig farmers have always produced a quality product for consumers, and that quality continues to progress. Along with the improvement in quality, producers have upped their game in the care of animals, striving to improve their practices.
As in a roller chain, the entirety is only as strong as the weakest link, as is the same with every hog farm and the entire U.S. pork industry. U.S. pork quality, both of product and level of care, depends on every caregiver, producer and entire production system all to operate with the same goal.
Providing farmers with information
It can be tough keeping up with the latest and best hog production practices. Still, even the most seasoned pig farmers can always improve their way of operating, and the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance program helps.
There have been various iterations of the program since its inception in 1989, but the framework has remained steadfast — providing a framework for significant, relevant food safety standards and improved animal well-being.
By now, every hog producer in America should be PQA-certified, and certification is good for three years. We are now up to PQA Plus, as the program has grown, and producers have options to receive training.
According to the Pork Checkoff website, producers have various options to receive training, either through face-to-face opportunities or access to an online course and exam.
A lot of state pork organizations sponsor PQA Plus training sessions, often as a part of their annual meeting or Pork Congress events.
More PQA options for producers
In addition to individual caregiver certification, PQA Plus also allows for a PQA Plus site assessment, which is “designed to evaluate animal care practices on farms and is conducted by a PQA Plus adviser.” This certification goes beyond what an individual knows, expanding to if that knowledge is being put into practice. The assessment will review records, facilities, equipment, animal care and well-being practices.
As we all know, farm families expose their children to the barns, and it is never too early to teach them the right way of working with animals. With that in mind, young caregivers are encouraged to participate in the Youth for the Quality Care of Animals program, which is a national multispecies quality assurance program for youth ages 8 to 21. This program focuses on food safety, animal well-being and character development.
Pork production doesn’t stop at the farm gate. While pig farmers properly care for their animals on-site, that care is turned over to others once those hogs are loaded onto a truck or trailer.
Anyone transporting hogs should obtain Transport Quality Assurance certification to ensure hogs are handled in a proper manner while in transport. If producers aren’t transporting their own stock, it should be recommended that haulers obtain TQA certification.
Consumers are continually wanting to know that their food is being raised in operations with high standards, and producers need to be able to boast that they do indeed have the quality of consumers’ end product in mind.
Schulz, a Farm Progress senior staff writer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.