Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hog Wild with Jo Windmann the Bacon Blogger

Today we welcome Jo Windmann of the Bacon Blogger who shares about her 26,000 head family swine farm and how she is trying to change the stereotype of her industry by sharing her life through social media. 

Hidden amongst the corn and soybean fields of mid-Missouri you will find a farm family that is simply hog wild about farming—particularly the swine side of farming. My name is Jo Windmann and I created The Bacon Blogger as a way to shed some much needed light on modern pig farming and to share my family’s story to anyone and everyone willing to listen. With the help of my husband, Aaron, we try to keep the posts and videos rolling so that everyone can learn more about farming straight from the hog’s mouth. It is important to us to not only tell people about the who, what, when, where, and why of hog farming but to show them as well through both pictures and videos. Along with our blog we also have a YouTube channel called BaconCam where you can see what we do for yourself.

We are part of Cin-Way, LLC, a family owned and family operated pig farm that has been fortunate to expand enough to support not one, not two, but four separate households. The farm consists of Aaron’s entire family. He works with his parents, brother, sister, and their spouses. I help on the farm when I can but I don’t work on the farm. Turns out I don’t have the muscles for it but if I keep eating my Wheaties maybe someday……no, probably not even then. I’ll stick to playing with the little pigs and writing about the farm.

As a family, we raise around 26,000 pigs over the course of a single year in specially designed, climate controlled barns. That is a lot of snouts; however, despite our numbers we are adamant about individualized care for our pigs. It takes more time and a lot of creativity but we care enough to put in the extra effort. We are in the barns every single day and go through every single pen so we can closely look at all the pigs—even on weekends because the farm never closes or takes off for holidays. These barns also help us take better care of our pigs. The barns have heaters throughout so they are toasty warm in the winter and sprinklers and fans to keep them cool in the summer. Our pigs didn’t even notice the 100 plus degree weather or the drought in Missouri. They had fresh water and a cool breeze all summer long. Not only do they stay comfortable but there is a special monitoring system that ensures the temperature stays within a “comfort zone” and the water and feed are always flowing so they never go without. While we can’t be in the barns 24/7 we are on call 24/7 because something is amiss then we are notified via cell phone so that we can fix the problem as quickly as possible—day or night. We also work closely with animal experts and veterinarians to make sure we are taking the best care of our little piggies and are always on the lookout for ways to improve.

While we sometimes do get little piggies, we do not have any sows or nursing piglets because we only have finisher barns. This means that we only get pigs after they have been weaned off of their mother’s milk and are eating solid food. Depending on availability and which farm they come from, we get pigs as little as 12 pounds or as big as 50 pounds. We then raise them until they are market weight and ready to feed thousands of people. This is a process that is very near and dear to our hearts because the Windmann family has been doing it for generations.

The great thing about farming is how diverse it is and the options that are available to both farmers and consumers. Our family had outside “dirt hogs” for many, many years but in our area and our personal situation it just wasn’t working for us and after generations of having pigs we gave them up. Then, an opportunity came and we were able to keep raising pigs and go from barely supporting one household to supporting four. This was huge for our family’s business and it allowed us to keep the farm not only surviving but thriving. We understand that our way of farming doesn’t work for everyone but that is what’s so great about agriculture—there is no one “right way” to do it. 

There are other perks to our family farm. We get to raise our kids on the farm because we literally farm our backyard. We live where the pigs live…well, not right in the barns but we are in the same general vicinity. Not only that but our kids get to help raise their own food which is unique to farming and is an amazing opportunity to teach respect and responsibility while building an appreciation for just what it takes to put food on the table. Our kids get to experience and be a part of the entire process from start to finish and they are already #agproud for all you tweeps out there.

Along with caring for our kids alongside our pigs we are also caring for our environment. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed or thought about it before but pigs poop. I don’t mean a little squat here and there but I’m talking some serious dung. But we do something really cool with it (yes, I’m saying crap is cool and no I am not mentally insane…as far as you know). We use the poop as a natural fertilizer that not only rebuilds the top soil but it is also a great example of how old can become new. Farmers for generations used manure as fertilizer and here we are still doing it today but we have slightly different application techniques.

We have an amazingly accurate system that literally knifes the manure directly into the ground so that all the nutrients stay right where we need them. Because we test the soil and test the manure regularly we know exactly how much nutrients we have in the manure and how much of that we need to add to our soil. We are also cutting down significantly on the odor because this system covers the poop after it plops. Our natural fertilizer also reduces our use of chemical-based fertilizers like anhydrous ammonia and it is renewable because pigs aren’t going to stop pooping anytime soon. This really is an amazing system and I encourage you to watch The Scoop on Pig Poop to see for yourself.

While I could talk about farming and pooping (not me, gross! the pigs) all day long I’m sure you are anxious to check out all the fun stuff on The Bacon Blogger and BaconCam. Please feel free to ask any questions or share any concerns you may have about pig farming. You can contact me through my blog, Facebook, or twitter. Be sure the show that you’re Hog Wild by liking The Bacon Blogger on Facebook too. Thank you so much for learning about farming and I look forward to future conversations whether you’re hog wild or just wild about hogs. I even love to hear from you if you just want to tell me I’m crazy. From our farm to your fork keep the pork sizzlin’ and your family salivatin’.

Thanks for the fantastic feature Jo! If you want to learn more about hog farming and Jo's operation visit her blog, her youtube site, or twitter. Remember, to keep this blog going and the stories flowing, we need you to contribute! No need to have a blog or be involved in social media, we just want to share stories of those in agriculture. Contact us today if you or someone you know is interested!