Penning Pigs: From "confidential" to "confessions"

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In my blogpost yesterday called Animal Care Confidential, I mentioned Amanda Eben as someone who grew up loving agriculture and who is still actively involved. Amanda is a volunteer for Common Ground, a movement comprised of farm women telling the real story about agriculture. The following is an article about Amanda, as it appeared on the CommonGround website, entitled "Confessions from a Cowboy's Daughter."

Amanda Eben’s childhood sounds pretty typical. She stayed busy with school, friends and year-round sports. She also really looked up to her dad, Jerrold Folkens. And while her dad made every effort to plan vacations and attend her track and cross-country meets, sometimes work got in the way. But Amanda knew these things would happen, because her dad is a farmer. His work consisted of feeding, housing and caring for more than 100 head of beef cattle and 300 pigs every day.

“Sometimes dad missed out because he had to care for the baby pigs. He is an amazing dad and always told us that he wouldn’t be able to make it to 100 percent of our events because proper animal care is non-negotiable,” Amanda says with a smile. “It’s what he always taught us, and it has stayed with me to this day.”

Amanda gets plenty of food questions through her full-time work as a swine technician and her volunteer efforts in CommonGround. “We all want to know that what we are eating was raised the right way. I like to tell people that there are three things they should know about animal care on our farm.”

Those include:

1. Good treatment includes proper medicine. The Folkens family sometimes treats its cattle and pigs with medicine when they get sick. “It’s necessary for us to give our animals medicine to protect them from suffering,” Amanda explains. “When one of our hogs is sick, we separate them into a hospital pen where they can get rest and sometimes medicine to get them back on their feet without getting the herd sick.” Kind of sounds like when parents take their kids to the doctor instead of day care. But consumers need not worry. According to Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service regulations, farmers are required to allow specific withdrawal times, or a set number of days that must pass, between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply. This ensures the drugs have sufficiently cleared an animal’s system.

2. It takes a village. Just like parents rely on family, friends and baby sitters to help, the Folkens family relies on help from family, employees and its veterinarian. “Our main cattle vet, Dr. Mike, is a wonderful guy with great compassion for animals. He is my dad’s wingman on our farm for overall health, nutrition, handling and medicine when they are sick. People should know that! Kind of like it takes a village to raise children – it takes a village of experts to raise animals for quality food.”

3. We are the norm. Folkens loves to tell Amanda about the special treats he gives the animals at mealtimes on holidays. “I often think, ‘wow, my dad has got to be the best caretaker,’” says Amanda. “But then I think about my uncles, neighbors, my father-in-law and friends. I’ve never seen any of them mistreat their animals. I know it happens. But it happens far less than people might think.”

So the next time you bite into that juicy burger at a weekend cookout, know that the animal that was produced on Mr. Folkens’ farm was raised with solid care and respect.

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