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A Year in the Life of a Farmer: Animal welfare top priority

Mike Haag checks his pigs Friday morning, Aug. 28, as temperatures rise to 90 degrees for the fourth consecutive day. Animal health is an essential part of livestock production and additional care is required to keep the pigs as comfortable as possible in times of temperature stress.
Mike Haag checks his pigs Friday morning, Aug. 28, as temperatures rise to 90 degrees for the fourth consecutive day. Animal health is an essential part of livestock production and additional care is required to keep the pigs as comfortable as possible in times of temperature stress.

Follow the Haag family throughout the entire year. Each month, look for updates about the family members and the decisions they make on their farm.

EMINGTON, Ill. — This “Year in the Life” series gives a monthly snapshot of what the farmer is doing at that particular time. But if one were to delve deeper and check in on a daily basis, there would be one important theme.

“Animal care is what we do from sunup to sundown. Our days are usually controlled by what the animals tell us we need to do,” said swine and grain producer Mike Haag.

“We can get up and have all of the plans in the world, but if a bin is out of feed or a feed system is broke or if there’s a sick animal or a broken gate, that’s what we do and take care of those animals the best we possibly can.”

The Haag family grows about 1,800 acres of corn and soybeans and have a 17,000 head wean-to-finish hog operation.

As the temperature once again rises toward 90 degrees on the morning of Aug. 28, Haag spoke of the additional care required to keep the pigs as comfortable as possible.

“This is the fourth day of 90-degree temperatures that we’ve had here in a row and it has an accumulative affect on them where over time it’s harder and harder, the buildings don’t cool down,” Haag said.

“When I did chores at 6:30 this morning some of these rooms with the smaller pigs were 82 degrees. It’s really important to keep sprinklers on them, make sure they have plenty of fresh water, as much ventilation as possible. Even though we’re not comfortable working in it, it’s really important for these animals right now.”

Raising healthy animals is a top priority for the Haags.

“Every day as a producer we’re always trying to do the best we can not just for the animals, but also for food safety. We’re producing food for people and we realize that, so it’s really important that we’re careful what goes into their feed and how we take care of them because not only are we selling to consumers, but that’s what my family eats every day. We eat the same pork that we’re selling to the public,” Haag added.

Balanced Diet

A balanced nutritious diet is a vital piece of livestock production.

“We work with a nutritionist who helps us balance the pigs’ diet. From the time a pig comes to the time they leave there are 12 different diets that they’re on. So, we’re constantly changing the amino acid ratio to utilize what that animal needs the most. One of our big goals is to absolutely utilize what that animal needs,” Haag continued.

There are some factions that criticize livestock producers for using antibiotics on livestock. Haag addressed the issue.

“Antibiotics should be used in a very prudent way under a veterinarian’s supervision. We have to get a prescription for any antibiotics used just like people do for their children when they get sick,” he said.

“In a year like this where there’s no profits we don’t want to spend anymore money than we have to, but if we have a sick animal it’s very important to be able to treat them and get them back on their feet. We don’t give them anything that’s not needed.

“We do some preventative antibiotics, but it’s under a veterinarian’s supervision and it’s usually because of problems that we’ve had in the past where if we can give antibiotics for a week at a certain time in their life when that disease could hit to maybe avoid having sick or dead animals.

“Consumers worry about that. Every antibiotic has a withdrawal period and it can’t be given so many days before they are put into the food system. Therefore there’s no antibiotics ever that are in the food that we eat because it’s already moved through the pig’s system before it enters the food system.”

Social Distancing

Global efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus are not unlike the efforts of livestock producers in protecting their animals from diseases.

“With this COVID and respiratory diseases I find it quite interesting because as a swine producer we’ve dealt with that forever trying to manage how we control how disease moves and keeping it from one site to another, changing clothes and taking time out of one building before we go to the other. I think the general public is learning a lot of what livestock producers have found out years ago on how disease transmission works,” Haag said.

Essential Workers

The term “essential workers” has been a part of the dialogue since the pandemic hit and livestock producers and farmers are vital parts of that team.

“These animals really consider us essential workers. They expect us to show up every day and still feed them no matter what’s going on in our lives and in these communities. It’s really important that we’re out here every day and taking care of these animals so we can provide good food and nutrition for consumers,” Haag said.

“There’s nothing to put in the grocery stores if there isn’t essential workers like farmers out here producing the food at the ground level and producing that product for the processors to put in the stores.”

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