Note from the iAt editors:
This article was originally published in “The Banner” on January 18, 2011. This article is republished with permission.
I love pigs. I became fascinated with them when I first saw them as a 12-year-old. My friends the Spronks, the Hoeks, the DeYoungs, and the Mulders love pigs as well. On the other hand, my friends the Boumas, the Boses, and the Folkemas love their dairy cows. I like dairy cows, but I love pigs. I’m not sure how I ended up so excited about them since my grandfather made his living with egg-laying chickens.
I live in the small town of DeMotte, Indiana. First Christian Reformed Church of DeMotte has not less than 40 employees, growers, and owners of large, modern pig farms. The other Christian Reformed and Reformed churches in town also have a large number of members involved in pig and dairy farming. Forty to 50 years ago, many members raised layer chickens and feed-lot cattle as well.
Reformed Christians have a rich history in the production of meat, milk, and eggs. Some of my friends listed above have even suggested that no other denominational group influences livestock production on a pro-rata basis in North America like the Reformed churches.
If you were to think about the pockets of rural locations in our denomination, you might be amazed by the significant numbers produced, the cutting-edge technologies, and the species industry leaders in the meat, milk, and egg production sectors.
From east to west, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Texas, Alberta, Idaho, Washington, and California are just a few of the significant regions where our churches are located and large numbers of livestock are produced to feed a hungry world. Many Reformed believers have also gone on to study, teach, and research numerous topics and issues regarding livestock.
With this rich background and significant leadership in agriculture, I think it’s time to address, from a farmer’s perspective, the necessity and reality of modern livestock production.
One hundred years ago, 1 in 5 people were directly involved in production agriculture, including crop farming. Today it is less than 1 in 50. Consequently, agriculture has intensified and become concentrated in the hands of fewer people.
The disconnect between food producers and consumers increases every year. Most North Americans and Europeans live in areas either non-cultivatable or too congested for growing food. When you add in the fact that our populations continue to increase (for example, the U.S. just reached 300 million people) and that tillable land is only 1/32 of the earth’s surface, then we must be mindful that we need to do a very good job with the resources God has provided.
Fortunately for the animals, livestock are raised indoors more than ever before; therefore, the care of the animals is not readily visible to the public. Sadly, the gap between producers and the general public continues to widen from uninformed or misinformed media and people of influence who accuse all farmers of sensationalized problems and mistreatment of animals.
While there may be some poor caretakers in the industry, that is the exception, not the rule. Poor treatment of livestock can occur in any type or size of system and causes poor production and high mortality. How can that benefit a farmer in any way?
As an animal scientist and agribusinessman, one of my passions is to design and build new farms for these amazing animals. When I begin to dream of the perfect facility, I always start with the idea of providing an environment that will eliminate every obstacle that might cause discomfort to our animals. If our buildings control room temperature, humidity, air quality, feed quantity, water, parasites, predators, dust, and other irritations, then our pigs will be able to naturally express their genetic potential and grow incredibly fast and efficiently because they receive excellent care.
Indeed, as we study the animals God created and improve their living conditions, we find that they grow to full size (275 lbs., 124 kg.) with a conversion of 2.5 pounds of feed for every 1 pound of growth. We also find that our sows can now wean litters of 12 to 13 baby pigs, twice as many as 50 years ago. This is accomplished without genetic modification or added hormones, a common false claim. It is simply how God made them and how they naturally respond to the resources we have available through modern technology.
Contrary to popular opinion, free-range animals often suffer out in the elements—from harsh weather, parasites and diseases, or predators. In modern, high-tech barns, pigs are free to live quite contentedly.
Moreover, our livestock today consume many grain and food by-products. Soybean meal, wheat middlings, distiller’s grains (think ethanol production), cereal by-products, soy concentrate (off-spec baby formula), potato peelings from potato chips, deep-fat fryer oil, ground-up marshmallows, and innumerable other human food by-products are all fed back to our livestock to add value, rather than fill our landfills.
It routinely impresses me how God made our animals so efficient at converting our safe but unusable products into nutritious, wholesome food. Food safety is a hot topic in the media these days. According to Dr. Lonnie King, division director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “Healthy animals are the basis for a healthy population.” Preventing animals from illness leads to the prevention of diseases in people everywhere.
Lean meat, pasteurized milk, and fresh eggs supply us with amino acid-balanced protein, fat (yes, fat is an essential nutrient), iron, calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals. You can get all of these nutrients elsewhere, of course, but only with careful planning to ensure meeting minimum daily nutritional requirements.
In the affluent societies of North America and Europe, there are those who promote vegetarianism. Yet much of the rest of the world wants a balanced diet that includes meat protein, since they already eat a largely starch-based diet. Economics dictate their foodstuffs—the first thing newly middle-class people purchase is meat on a regular basis.
Many countries purchase meat and other food products from North America because there is a shortage in their own lands. Consider the recent food riots in countries such as Haiti and Egypt. As blessed citizens and children of God’s kingdom, we have the privilege of producing extra food for export to those who want and need it. As we strive to love our neighbors, Christian farmers sense a pastoral responsibility to help those who don’t have enough food or can’t raise it in their own countries.
Let me take it one step further. If you, the reader, don’t regularly produce your own meat, milk, eggs, leather, and wool, where will you obtain these necessities to share with others?
Properly caring for, feeding, and housing livestock will help feed and clothe a needy world. It is necessary and proper for people to produce sufficient quantities of consumable livestock products for you to buy, to use for your family, and to share with the world.
We have a mandate to fully manage and make use of what God has given us. And what a gift it is! We harvest meat, milk, eggs, leather, wool, heart valves, skin replacements, insulin, and reconstructive organ tissue from livestock. Speaking from my own experience in the pork industry, it is often said that we use everything on a pig except for the squeal and the curl in the tail. As Christian farmers, we find it our responsibility to make full use of all the products supplied by our livestock. Anything less would be wasteful and immoral.
Livestock producers have chosen to be part of the supply chain because it is an honorable and traditional business. We believe God gave us the gifts and abilities to care for and understand livestock. No one does it perfectly, but those of us in the industry strive to learn how to improve every day. We live and work daily knowing “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1, 1 Cor. 10:26).
I believe God is praised when we care for and produce enough pigs, cattle, sheep, and chickens to feed and clothe our needy world.
What Does the Bible Say?
The references in the Bible to raising livestock and consuming their products begin in Genesis and continue through Romans and 1 Corinthians. In Genesis 1:26 and 2:20, God separately mentions livestock from other wild animals. God specifically sets them apart for our use. And the apostle Paul tells the people of Corinth to “eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (1 Cor. 10:25-26).
Hear more from Malcolm De Kryger at the 2015 Ag Summit: Cultivating the Farming Legacy on March 2nd, 2015 at the Dordt College Campus Center. Speakers and panelists include Malcolm De Kryger, David Krahling (moderator), Phil Kooima, Darin Dykstra, Joel De Jong, and Dale Vande Berg. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the Sioux Center Chamber of Commerce.
Malcolm, my hubby and I by choice live in a farming area of western New York because we wanted our children to be closer to nature. They joined the local 4-H clubs. When they were young we ordered baby chicks in the mail and kept them warm in side our home in a mesh playpen until they were old enough to transfer to a chicken coop. We purchased fertilized duck eggs from Amish farmers and followed directions to put them in a foam cooler, which had a little heater and cup of water inside to moisturize them. The kids had to check them daily and roll them. One day we opened our foam chest to find that one duck had pecked through its shell. We were very excited. I was not long before we had four baby ducks to put in the little creek on our land. Our son wanted to raise pigs in the worst of ways. He earned money by helping the farmer next door and he bought a young sow and male piglet and raised them. At the point they had babies, there were 13! I read your story with such interest. The farmers in our area are very careful to treat animals well. We have a couple next door who have a modern milking parlor and they milk 100 cows. They put in long days. They rise about 4:00 in the morning to get started and I often hear him on his tractor about 9:00 or 10:00 in the evening. They say it is very hard for them to hire help because the regulations for small business make that prohibitive. So I see that as one of the reasons we have lost so many small family farms.