When I’m shopping the meat case, I’m always impressed by the quality of the pork chops on display, especially how uniform the pork is in color and size. This makes cooking faster and easier for our weeknight meals.

It isn’t an accident that when you shop at the meat counter, all the pork chops on display are typically the same in size, leanness and color.

Iowa farmers have responded to our consumer demand for pork that is nutritious, safe and quick to cook for busy lifestyles.

Genetic selection has a lot to do with today’s pork quality. However, Iowa farmers understand that keeping pigs as comfortable and as stress free as possible can also impact overall pork quality.

“For farmers, pigs are their livelihood, and they care about the pigs a lot,” says Jennie Greene, health and welfare specialist at Eichelberger Farms, a pork farm based in Wayland.

“It’s not just a farmer raising a pig; there are a lot of checks and balances (in pork farming). There are many steps in place and so much we do to keep pigs healthy.”

At Eichelberger Farms, Greene visits all of the hog barns regularly to ensure pigs receive the best care possible.

Greene walks through each barn to conduct what’s known as the common swine industry audit.

The audit, created by animal well-being experts and adopted by pork farmers and processors, confirms that caretakers are following the recommended best management practices to ensure pigs are healthy, comfortable and less stressed.

For the audit, Greene inspects the cleanliness of the barns and pigs. The audit also checks the overall environment (ventilation, temperature, access to food and water) in the barn.

“If pigs aren’t kept at a comfortable temperature, if it’s too hot or too cold, they won’t eat or drink normally. So we want to keep a comfortable environment,” Greene says.

The barns at Eichelberger Farms are equipped with automated systems that control the temperature, ventilation and feeders, Greene explains.

If there’s a problem in the barn, the automated system will send an alarm to the caretakers’ phone.

Also during the on-farm audit, Greene inspects the pigs to make sure they are healthy, injury-free and well-fed.

All caretakers at Eichelberger Farms are Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) certified and receive regular training on the latest recommended animal health and well-being best practices.

To ensure food safety, Greene says she checks caretakers’ records to keep track of any medications given and the proper withdrawal times (or the length of time when medicine leaves the pig’s body) before the pigs can be marketed.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians to ensure they are following approved dosage and withdrawal guidelines when treating sick animals.

If a farm animal is given antibiotics, federal law requires that the animal must undergo a withdrawal period before it can be marketed.

“All pork is antibiotic-free, no matter the (food packaging) label,” Greene says.

Iowa farmers remain committed to continuous improvement and adopting the latest technology to make sure pigs are safe, comfortable and less stressed.

“Farmers are focused on how well the animal is treated, and consumers are driving this trend. They want to know that we (farmers) are doing our job, that we are caring about the well-being of animals,” Greene says.

To learn more about how farmers work to ensure meat quality, food safety and animal well-being, visit www.realfarmersrealfoodrealmeat.com.

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