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Raising Antibiotic-Free Pork

After an infection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Russ Kremer started raising antibiotic-free pork, marketing it to retailers, and changed the industry.

| August 2015

  • Piglets
    Russ Kremer's pigs are "beautiful and happy, and curious and social. Even [as piglets] they all have distinct personalities."
    Photo by Fotolia/runejc
  • Pig Tales
    Barry Estabrook explores the American pork industry in “Pig Tales,” from confinement farming to raising pigs free-range and organically. He makes a firm case for raising pigs responsibly and respectfully in a way that is good for producers, consumers and some of the top chefs in America.
    Cover courtesy W. W. Norton & Company

  • Piglets
  • Pig Tales

Pig Tales (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015), by Barry Estabrook, is full of lively portraits of those farmers who are taking an alternative approach to pig raising. Estabrook draws on his own experiences raising pigs and his sharp journalistic insights to investigate the state of the American pork industry. From the realities and effects of conventional confinement farming to nocturnal feral pig hunts in Texas and eco-friendly and humane systems of pork raising across the world, learn about the future of responsible and respectful pork production. The following excerpt is from chapter 14, "The Pope of Pork."

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Pig Tales.

I visited [Russ] Kremer on a cold, cloudy early spring morning at the 150-acre farm in Missouri’s Ozarks that he bought from his two great-aunts right after college. The land looked more like a state park or forest reserve than any hog farm I’d seen. Most of the terrain consisted of steep, rocky ridges that rose abruptly from flat creek bottoms. A crop of young bright-green rye had sprung up in a field. Shaggy stands of oaks and cedars covered the hilly terrain. Streams crisscrossed the land, and a pond occupied one corner. There was not a gestation crate or section of slatted flooring in sight, but Kremer assured me that about 1,200 growing hogs called the farm home. A group of about 100 half-grown 30-pounders—brown, red, black, spotted—scampered around a low building, the sort that holds pens in confinement operations, except doors on two sides of this building stood open. The pigs had the option to come and go as they pleased. Those in the barn seemed content to tug like puppies on a car tire suspended on a rope from the rafters, or play a piggy version of king of the mountain atop a large rolled bale of cornstalks. Others rooted in the two-foot-deep mat of dry straw that covered the floor. Several strolled over to sniff my cuffs and get backrubs from Kremer. Braving the cold, some pigs ran circles and frolicked in the fields and woodlots outside the barn in a manner befitting lambs.

Kremer and I jumped into his 4x4 pickup truck. He wore a Pig Tales sweatshirt, jeans, rubber boots caked with mud and manure, and a baseball cap, as he always does, with a few curled wisps of graying brown hair escaping from beneath the hatband. Permanent smile lines radiated from the corners of his eyes. He spoke gently and had the placid comportment of a quiet rural priest. As we lurched, bounced, and skidded up a muddy track far better suited to hog hooves than truck tires, Kremer preached the gospel of hog. “We had to relearn what pigs were put on this Earth to do,” he said. “I call it ‘retro hog raising.’ We try to mimic nature.”

He stopped talking while he coaxed the truck through a steep, deeply rutted section that eventually flattened out as we entered a forest. “In the fall, we let the pigs in here to eat acorns,” he said. “These rocky ridges are excellent places to raise pigs. They just love to root. Concrete slats just don’t cut it.” I made out several low, round-roofed, corrugated-metal Port-A-Huts set well apart in the tangle of trucks, branches, and fallen logs, each hut open at one end. In the warm months, Kremer’s free-roaming sows stake out a hut shortly before giving birth and build a nest there from straw, twigs, and leaves. After a week or so, with her litter old enough to keep pace with her, she and her new brood rejoin the sow sorority. “We don’t need to use the crutch of the crate,” Kremer said. “I’ve become an evangelist trying to show people that this type of agri­culture will sustain the world in the future. Despite what they’ll tell you, factory farms are not sustainable.”

Growing Antibiotic Resistance

During the years that Kremer operated one of those big farms, he found the work steadily grew less enjoyable, even though he followed all the rules he had been taught at ag school. When he first started confinement farming, a sick pig was easy to cure. He’d give it a quick jab of an antibiotic; the animal got better. But with his hogs on a steady regimen of low-dose antibiotics, healing them became harder. Whenever he went into barns, he packed a syringe in a holster on his belt like a cowboy in the Old West, and he found himself deploying it throughout the workday. Despite the drugs, his pigs started dying. Postmortems suggested that antibiotics no longer killed the germs that infected his animals. Watching creatures in his care die tortured the conscientious, proud farmer. At the best of times, the pigs, breathing fetid air and having no bedding, endured miserable existences, panting and squealing constantly, biting one another aggressively. Sows grew feeble, and Kremer had to cull some after they had just two or three litters, instead of the ten or more they produced when his father farmed the old way. His calling, “my vocation,” in his words, became a chore. “I was just trying to get through the day,” he said. “It took all the fun out of raising pigs.”

1/19/2016 9:57:19 PM

Where are the antibiotics from? It is the panacea to bacterial disease when first introduced in here. However, the phenomenon of antibiotic abuse is devastated everywhere in the world now. Around 50% of antibiotics are used in raising livestock and poultry. The pollution-free agricultural mechanism is to establish antibiotic-free animal farming system, and then use its clean animal’s feces as the fertilizer for agricultural planting. In this way, we can stop continuing pollution from the wastes of farm animals and farm crops. And moreover it can let the environment and ecology restored. AFFS means Antibiotic-Free Farming System which is an innovative animal farming system without using any antibiotics and synthetic drugs during the entire farming process.

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