Sunday, December 13, 2015

who looks at your food before you eat it?

This post is about a not-so-happy incident, but I'm talking about it here as a learning opportunity.

Farming means that sometimes things don't work out, even if you've tried your best.  I say this because I had a man who purchased some weaner pigs from me earlier this year call me and say that the farm kill guy he'd hired to process it had advised him discard one of the pigs he'd raised.   He'd called me to ask me for a second opinion, and I followed up on this.  

After talking to everyone involved, the basic issue seemed to be that this pig had a history of getting hurt, slow growth, and for the last few weeks of its life hadn't been able to move -- and that's a hard thing for someone new to livestock to deal with.   It's hard to make the decision that an animal has to be put down, and each of us wants to be optimistic that the animal will recover, and we can all imagine a good outcome, and none of us like the finality of culling, but it's part of the process.  

So I talked to the farm kill guy, and the customer, and we worked it out.  I told the customer that the farm kill guy was a professional - he's handled thousands of animals, and I've worked with him for 5 years personally, and I recommend him.  That his opinion, boots on the ground, was something I'd respect. 

The last thing a farm kill guy wants to do is condemn an animal - it's not a happy job, but it's an important part of the farming experience.  For home-raised meats, the customer may not be in a position to tell when things are going wrong, and even though this particular customer wasn't happy about the decision, I fully support the decision that was made.   It was the right decision, and even though the farmer/customer wasn't thrilled with it, he did the right thing for everyone involved.  

I talked to the customer at length, and talked through the various things that they'd done, and recommended that the next time they run into a pig that isn't thrifty or gets injured that they consider harvesting it earlier; as a BBQ pig, for instance.   His wife had hand-fed and watered the pig twice a day for the last two weeks, and that's heroic level effort.  I commend their intentions, but sometimes the best of intentions aren't enough -- and then the difference between farming and pets gets pretty clear. 

When you raise your own meat for your own consumption,  you may be the only inspection that the meat goes through before it hits  your families table - and this isn't just farm animals.  Wild game hunters should be looking at the game that they are processing, too.  

In my slaugher classes I talk about what people should look at, and what they should see; the liver should look like this, the meat should look like that, you should check here, and here, and here.  

For as much grief as the USDA gets about inspected slaughter, I do like the idea of a (possibly) neutral observer who is on the consumers side somewhere in the slaughter process.  Recently chicken producers have managed to get regulations passed to remove most USDA inspectors from their plants, and honestly, as a consumer, I think that's a step backwards.  

If you'd like to hear more about chicken and inspection, I would reccomend this PBS frontline special on this topic to give you an idea of what the issues are, even with inspected meats:  


Bill Gauch said...

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to a pig roast. One of her friends had raised 4 pigs from the same litter. 3 of them grew nicely and fattened up well to 150+ lbs. One of them lagged behind around 75 lbs. and was always weaker and less vigorous. He sent the big ones off to processing and decided to have a pig roast with the runt. He killed it himself, wanting to see first-hand what it looked like before going ahead with the roast. Upon gutting it, he found the source of the growth stunting... Apparently, in its youth, this pig had managed to eat a large steel bolt. Otherwise, the meat and, more importantly, the organs looked fine. Aside from the bolt, the animal seemed healthy. If I was harvesting an animal for personal consumption, I would be willing to take a chance on what might be a physically injured but otherwise healthy animal, assuming it looked good internally.

Bruce King said...

I agree with you, Bill. We call some of the animals "volunteers" - like the turkey that somehow managed to snap its leg off at the knee. I wasn't planning on eating turkey, but that's what showed up on the menu that night.

Phsyical trauma - even to the extent of getting hit bit a truck - is fine. Like what happened in this entry - the beef was perfectly good, by the way. At least as hamburger.