As I travel around Iowa, I often find myself admiring the diversity of Iowa’s livestock farms. Aside from seeing the usual—sheep, cattle, chickens—I have also been surprised to see llamas, Texas longhorns and even bison, which was especially pleasing since bison are my favorite animal ever. But it’s also interesting to see, even the ‘usual’ animals being raised in many ways.
While my husband, Craig, and I were out looking for a new fishing spot, we drove by a farmstead not too far from us with cattle in a monoslope barn. For those who are unfamiliar with this structure, imagine a rectangle-shaped barn with low fencing on the long sides and topped with a slanted roof. This design allows cattle to be shaded and cooled during the hot summer months, but kept warm and able to sunbathe when possible in the winter months. Like many others driving to and from their daily activities, I also see many cattle in open feedlots and in rolling, green pastures.
Within my own township I’ve observed chickens being raised in well-ventilated barns, in cage-free environments (meaning they can roam within a housing system, but are not kept in individual cages), and also trotting around farms sometimes accompanied by goats and Shetland ponies. Likewise, pigs on Iowa farms can be kept free-range or inside barns where they are safe from predators and disease.
Why is it that farmers raise livestock in different ways? Is there such thing as a “right” way and a “wrong” way? In my opinion, the only wrong way would be neglecting animals and not properly caring for them. But I’ve met far too many farmers working with university researchers and veterinarians to provide top-notch care for livestock to believe negative nay-sayers. I’ve also seen many excellent examples of farmers doing all they can for their animals including staying up all night, trying to revive a winter-born calf in a warm bathtub which barely fits them both.
Farmers being able to choose from different methods means doing what they believe is best for the animals and land while providing us as consumers with the food we want and enjoy. One farmer may find he can give his small pig herd the best life possible by raising them outdoors. His challenges include Iowa’s extreme and unpredictable weather, but he feels it’s important to let pigs lie in the mud and roam as they please. His choices also provide choices to those who want to eat free-range pork. Those who may not be able to afford this method’s higher price tag at the grocery store can rest assured that pigs raised indoors also live good lives as farmers can monitor individualized nutrition plans and control temperatures to keep pigs comfortable and healthy. Either way, famers make sure pigs are well-kept while providing us with plenty of options at the store.
I have an appreciation for the innovations and challenges each livestock farmer faces, as all are unique. As I continue to drive by farms across Iowa and observe what method or tools a farmer has selected, I’ll feel at ease knowing the men and women I see working on farms are doing the best they can for their families, their livestock, their communities and all our shared natural resources. And that, is the right way to farm! If you have questions about livestock farming in Iowa, I encourage you to visit www.iowafarmanimalcare.org.
By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist.