Food Safety is a Daily Focus at Dykhuis Farms

Farming was different more than 30 years ago when Joe Dykhuis grew up on a pig farm in Hamilton, Michigan. Back then, in the 1980s, the farm was relatively small with about 80 sows. Now Dykhuis Farms has 19,000 sows. But it isn’t just the size of the farm that changed.

“When I was a kid, I would go out to the pig barn to see what my Uncle Rick was doing,” he said. “I wore boots and coveralls, but that was really to keep my shoes and clothes clean.”

Dykhuis, who now is a co-owner and president of Dykhuis Farms, still lives in his childhood home. But things are different now, primarily due to strict biosecurity measures the farm has implemented.

To raise animals that are healthy, well and free of disease requires biosecurity, as well as quality veterinary care and employee training, he said. Quality veterinary care starts with a veterinarian that understands the production system, regularly visits the farm to observe the health and behavior of the animals, and reviews health surveillance testing for various viruses and bacteria, among other things.

One of Dykhuis’ sisters, Dr. Cara Haden, a fellow owner of the farm and a veterinarian, guides herd health, production plans and animal care practices at Dykhuis Farms. She walks through the sow barns at least once a month observing the pigs, providing training and talking with farm employees.

As a veterinarian, she prescribes, tracks and monitors the effectiveness of medications given to the animals. For example, she ensures animals treated with antibiotics end their treatment soon enough that they can safely enter the food supply. These times are set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure food safety.

Food safety also depends on knowledgeable employees trained in appropriate animal care practices, he said. All 140 people who work at Dykhuis Farms are trained and certified in Pork Quality Assurance® Plus and any employee that transports animals is certified in Transportation Quality Assurance®. Dykhuis Farms regularly audits its production processes to ensure they’re closely following these practices.

Biosecurity is also very robust at Dykhuis Farms, he said. The idea is to prevent people, pigs and other animals (such as birds) from entering the farm without proper precautions to prevent the introduction or spread of disease. Over the years, biosecurity measures have progressed from requiring visitors to change their boots, to having them shower before entering the barns and ensuring everything brought into the farm is disinfected.