Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Masked Farmer--Friend or Foe?

Recently, it was brought to my attention that I had not explained the reasoning behind the masked man in many of my photos. This question has come up in the past and we've answered it but I believe it is time to approach it on a broader scope...via blog.

So, who is that masked man in the pig barn? Why does he wear that stylish mask? Any guesses?

Well, I'm sure there is a lot of speculation out there as to why my dear husband, Aaron, is always masked in nearly all his pictures in the barn. Many speculate that it has something to do with the poop/gases produced by the pigs. So, is that the answer? We'll deal with that a little lower in this post.

So, why does he wear it?
Is it the toxic fumes?
Is the the unbearable smell?
Is it the health hazards these barns pose?
Fumes, smells, hazards, oh my!

Let's take a look at some other pictures and see if we can't sort this out...

This is Kristy--Aaron's sister--and yes she is carrying a pig. She likes to play ma ma hen with the pigs. She also happens to be mask-less.

This curly haired cutie is our niece....also mask-less.

These two may look familiar. They belong to Team Bacon Blogger and as you can see....mask-less. I don't wear a mask either but I rarely take pictures of myself. It just feels weird and wrong to tell myself to say cheese.

Wait! I found one. Here's a picture of Aaron sans that fabulous mask. Even he doesn't wear it all the time. 

The point of all this is to show that while some may want you to believe that there are toxic fumes, rancid odors, and health hazards associated with these barns the facts remain that it just ain't so

Aaron, God love him, is a pig farmer. A pig farmer that spends every single day around pigs. Those pigs eat--a lot--which means the feeders are always full of feed. So, Aaron the pig farmer, is around pigs and feed every single day. Unfortunately, poor Aaron happens to be allergic to pig dander and feed dust.

That's it. That's the big reveal. Allergies.

That poor man happens to be allergic to nearly every air born allergen you can imagine. We had him tested once and he reacted to every pin prick except one. Can you guess what that one was?

Pig hair! 

It was quite the joke on the farm. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between pig hair and pig dander--bad news for Aaron. He just can't win.

On a more serious note, lets deal with that previously mentioned speculation.

It is common knowledge that as microbes digest and breakdown poop it releases methane gases. Without getting too technical (because that stuff is way over my head) it goes without saying that there must be methane gases in those pits. 

True story. There are gases down in those pits.

So, what do we do about it?????

First, there are pit fans that keep fresh air in the barns and pit gases out.

Second, the gases stay trapped in the manure and is only released if the pits are agitated which we only do twice a year when we pump out the pits. We also take every safety precaution when doing this to prevent any accidents or dangerous conditions.

Third, (and this is the coolest) there are very cool and innovative additives that we can (and do) put in our pits that minimize the gases, improves the value of the fertilizer, and even eliminates the smell! We started using this additive in one of our barns to test its usefulness and were amazed by the results. 

The smell is the first thing you notice. Animals in general stink. I don't care if you have a dog, cat, cow, bunny, or pig--they stink. But it isn't anything so terrible to make it unbearable. However, minutes after the additive was put in the smell...GONE!

The additive also ate all the solids in the pits, which is a very good thing especially come pump time. Three years later, without adding anymore into the pits, still no solids and when we pump out the manure the pit walls are clean.

Basically, what all this boils down to is knowing what you do and doing RIGHT

Aaron is a pig farmer that is allergic to pigs and dust. So, he wears a mask.

Pigs produce a lot of poop, which has nothing to do with the mask but it is the first place people's minds go. However, that poop is essential to our farming operation as a fertilizer in our fields.


Finally, every business produces its own challenges. The key is to identify those challenges and meet them head-on. Through proper management and knowing every aspect of our business, our challenge is turned into a renewable, essential, natural resource that is actually better for the soil than any man-made chemical. 

I encourage anyone who has any concerns, questions, or confusion about farming to ask questions. Ask here in the comments section. Ask a farmer on Facebook or Twitter. Ask a local farmer down the road. 

Just ask!


  1. Very good comments...I hope a lot of people will read this and learn from it. Your blog is very good at telling the truth about agriculture and livestock production!

    1. Thank you, Edward. I too hope many people read this to better understand farming. The face of farming is changing and evolving and farmers haven't done the best job keeping consumers in the loop. Of course, years ago farmers didn't need to because everyone still had a bit of farm left in their blood. But not anymore.

      I really hope that more farmers can tell their stories because everyone needs to know and understand where their food comes from and why we do what we do.

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  2. This was a great topic to post about Jo! I never thought about what people think about us wearing masks in the barns. For us it comes down to what we are doing in there and how long it will take. If we're just walking though and checking things, no need for a mask. But if we're doing anything that involves moving the pigs around/stirring them up it's masks for us! It seems like when we stir the piglets around (sorting them, moving, vaccinating, etc) there tends to be a lot more dander/hair/feed dust in the air - and breathing that in for an extended period of time isn't really pleasant. I know I'm allergic to dust in general, and although I don't think the hubs is, he tends to cough the next day if he breaths in too much! I hate wearing them most times because I feel like I can't breath properly, but better safe than sorry when I'm coughing the next day from dust allergies!

    1. Thanks! I've come to the realization that what is commonplace to us is completely foreign to those people who are several generations removed from the farm. Since those are the people we need to be communicating with I figured why not start hitting on those "foreign" topics. We'll see if it creates buzz and a connection.