Halifax family cares for pigs that feed 150,000 each year

HALIFAX—On Page and Bobbie Wilkerson’s 1,200-sow farm, caring for the animals is a 24/7 job.

But the Wilkersons say they don’t mind, because that’s how they make their living.

"We work hard, and we’re proud of what we do. We try to be good producers and be good to our animals," Bobbie Wilkerson said.

The family has been contract hog producers for Murphy-Brown LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., since 1992. "I enjoy working with the animals," Page Wilkerson said as he patted the back of one of the sows.

However, the Wilkersons also know that one day their animals will become someone’s ham dinner or breakfast bacon.

"We’re feeding a lot of people from these pigs," Bobbie Wilkerson said.

Pork products from their farm provide enough food for 150,000 people each year—roughly the membership of the Virginia Farm Bureau—based on an average consumption of 50 pounds of pork per person, said Rick Fulford, a production manager for Murphy-Brown.

But like their colleagues nationwide, the Wilkersons are concerned the general public doesn’t understand that, even though farmers raise animals for food, they care about those animals’ welfare.

On the Wilkerson farm, the pigs are well-fed, have constant access to water and live in a controlled environment. Their waste is flushed out from under them, so their living areas are clean. Anyone entering the property must shower to prevent spreading infection to the animals.

The herd recently was vaccinated for both seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus. "It’s just like us getting a flu shot before flu season," Page Wilkerson said.

The Wilkersons also protect the sows by keeping them in stalls. New mothers are kept in farrowing houses with their piglets and stay in areas with slanted metal bars that help them lie down gently so they don’t injure their newborns.

In the gestation barns, unbred females—called gilts—are kept in group pens until they are ready for breeding.

"These girls are well-taken-care-of, and they’re healthy," Fulford said.

Contact the Wilkersons at 434-753-1481.

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