Reflecting on my experience with the pigs at the Doss Family Farm, I am reminded of an experience I had on a bicycling May Term focused on sustainability and agriculture. My colleague and I designed the May Term to help give students a better sense of place within the state and to shed light on all the issues and opportunities around that relate to their interests. We bicycled over 600 miles of Northern Indiana visiting and talking with different people every day. Towards the end of the course, we planned a visit to Fair Oaks Farm, “the Disneyland of dairy.”
On their website they claim, “Fair Oaks Farm is an escape to the country with acres of great outdoor fun, food and learning where you can explore family farms and reconnect with nature, animals and our planet.” With thousands of animals, their entire facility is run on cow and pig manure as well as the barns and plants, which is highlighted on their sustainability report. Their displays are a “glance” into modern day farming.
At the Doss Family Farm, pigs have plenty of room to root and run in big pastures with plants to graze on. They have big open-air shelters so they can stay dry at night. They’re exposed to people that love them and give them individual belly rubs and pampering. The pigs are NEVER fed corn or soy, but instead a natural blend of peas, wheat, and barley. They also enjoy fresh fruit from the farm and other produce from local organic farmers. Christie Doss breeds her own pigs naturally and would consider selling a baby pig, but has very strict conditions and it hasn’t happened yet. She raises her pigs until they are ready to go to the butcher. They sell meat, lard, and lard-based products directly to consumers and at farmers markets.
At Fair Oaks Farm, the pigs are enclosed in large rooms, separated by age. People can look at them daily through glass windows, but cannot interact with them. Farmers must shower and dress in “bio-secure” clothing and shoes before entering. The pigs are fed “a balanced diet of corn, soy, and other essential nutrients.” The farm conventionally grows corn and soybeans on the many thousands of acres they own. Fair Oaks practices artificial insemination and in fact is just a breeding farm, where pigs are there only until they are weaned and ready to be sold off to another, undisclosed farm.
What is the difference in the pig’s quality of life at the big Fair Oaks Farm vs. the small Doss Family Farm? How will being exposed to these differences formulate my opinion about eating pork? How will my thoughts and opinions reflect my actions?
Here are some excerpts from what our students had to say (click here to read fully):
“After hours of tours I was hungry again, and thought about finishing my pulled pork sandwich on the pig tour. I knew I would get death stares if I did… this made me question my own morals, and how personal morals and view points or actions change when they conflict with others.” – Reflection except by Taylor Boucher
“What left me the most concerned was that it was all marketed towards little kids. I knew that kids would leave the operation with happy memories and false impressions of what sustainability means.” – Reflection excerpt by David Masterson
“From my limited knowledge of dairy and hog farming, my guess is that the Fair Oaks facility is on the smaller side of large scale farming. Of course, we didn’t see any overt animal cruelty (although that is subjective). In brief, I think it could have been much worse. Nonetheless, I think Fair Oaks is an important exposure to large scale livestock farming.” – Reflection excerpt by Daniel Vargas Cambronero
“Pigs were split up into prison-looking rooms by age, where they’d never see the light of day. If you, as a human, imagined being in these cows and pigs’ situations, you would most likely realize that the facilities they’re stuck in is disturbing. Fair Oaks distracts its viewers from these realizations through their showy and optimistic demeanor.” – Reflection excerpt by A.J. Tiedeman
“I want to be more conscious of the life of animals if I choose to eat meat in the future.” – Reflection excerpt by Mandisa Marks
“The lack of room these pigs had to move in was shocking. Also, the cages that mother pigs were in were awful, the bars almost pressing into their skin and unable to move around at all. Once again, the saccharine smiles of the workers and the people on the screen were nauseating coupled with the old, white farmers remembering the old days where pigs were allowed outside and how difficult it made everything.” – Reflection excerpt by Leila Jacobson