By Beth Lutter
It doesn’t take long after meeting Erin Brenneman for two things to become obvious: She wears her heart on her sleeve when it comes to caring for newborn pigs at Brenneman Pork Inc., and she’s not afraid to show it.
“Animal well-being to me has always been about more than the technical side,” said Brenneman, who specializes in caring for pigs from one to three days of age.
“We follow all six of the We CareSM principles on our farms, but pigs’ well-being is a priority,” Brenneman said. “Pigs grow fast, so it’s very fulfilling to see the results of your work so quickly. We love taking care of pigs, and to see those results – to me, that’s a beautiful thing.”
Growing up in a Chicago suburb, Brenneman didn’t have much pork knowledge. Her story with pigs started as an animal science student at Iowa State University when she met husband, Tim.
Brenneman Pork, started by Tim’s parents, Rob and Char Brenneman, markets 900,000 pigs a year from farrow to finish. With locations in Missouri and Iowa, the farm has 200 employees and raises 3,200 acres of corn and soybeans with an in-house feed mill.
Brenneman, who resides at the farm’s headquarters in Wellman, Iowa, says that when it comes to animal well-being, managers and field staff work hard to set expectations and maintain a culture with no gray areas.
“Animal care is a top priority for us with no exceptions,” Brenneman said. “We don’t cut corners because that’s not who we are or how we raise pigs. We always tell our managers that ‘if you permit it, you promote it.’ That goes back to establishing the culture and setting expectations for providing the best care for our animals.”
With pork production ever-evolving, Brenneman says the farm stays current on industry best practices and recommendations by listening to people that do things differently from them and by taking advantage of networking opportunities.
“With technology and other factors changing so quickly in pork production, it’s not good to be in a bubble,” she said. “Attending seminars, taking part in webinars and talking with others in the industry is time well-spent for us. It’s good to always seek information and to cherry-pick new ideas that may benefit your farm.”
With better pig care as the goal, Brenneman Pork added round-the-clock work crews at all of its farm locations. The move has helped them identify production themes and more quickly assist pigs that need help.
“Once we implemented a night shift, I wasn’t sure how we ever lived without one,” Brenneman said. “Pigs are animals; they don’t run on a time clock. When we started running 24-hour shifts, we realized that the majority of our sows give birth between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. We now can better assist more pigs that may need help.”
With her passion and enthusiasm for raising pigs, Brenneman is a natural animal well-being advocate and has developed a strong following on social media and digital platforms. Along with caring for pigs, she’s also director of public relations for the farm and says her motivation for sharing the farm’s story stems from her urban upbringing.
“Growing up, I never had the opportunity to learn about raising pigs,” she said. “Once I came to the farm, I was inspired and thought people have to know about this. Farm life is something most people only read about in books. It’s so neat to share how we raise pigs today with people.”
Pros Outweigh Cons
Brenneman focuses on sharing her farm’s story in ways that consumers can relate to. And while she has experienced some pushback online, she’s learned to expect that people will sometimes disagree with her.
“But the pros far outweighing the cons,” she said. “After something negative happens, sometimes I’ll say that I’m done sharing forever,” Brenneman said. “But it never fails – soon someone will say they love seeing what I share. It’s great to hear that their little girl wants to take care of pigs someday because of my social media posts. Moments like that make it all worthwhile.”
Brenneman encourages other pig farmers to share their stories.
“We have a lot to be proud of when it comes to continually improving animal care in our barns,” she said. “And perhaps more importantly, consumers want to hear firsthand from farmers how the pork that their family enjoys was raised.”
She added, “We all need to talk about what we do to connect with consumers. Consumers are going to talk about the way pigs are raised anyway, so why not share our story so that they’re better informed about the great care we provide our pigs.”
“Animal care is a top priority for us with no exceptions. We don’t cut corners because that’s not who we are or how we raise pigs.”
– Erin Brenneman, Iowa
Producers affirm their obligation to protect and promote animal well-being.
- Provide feed, water and an environment that promotes the well-being of our animals.
- Provide proper care, handling and transportation for pigs at each stage of life.
- Protect pig health and provide appropriate treatment, including veterinary care, when needed.
- Use approved practices to euthanize, in a timely manner, those sick or injured pigs that fail to respond to care and treatment.