Caring for Pigs Brings the Generations Together at This Family Farm
Several big-city job offers might have fit James Lamb’s agricultural engineering degree, but they didn’t satisfy his love for family and farming.
After an education at North Carolina State University, James returned to the farm of his childhood, where he raises pigs for a living and raises kids within view of Grandma’s farmhouse.
“There is something to be said when your kids can ride their bike to their grandma’s house,” says James, whose mother, wife and teenage daughters join him in running Lamb Family Farms in Sampson County. A third-generation farmer, James assumed the farm’s management role at age 16, when his dad died in an automobile accident. “Having that extended family unit was something I valued,” he says.
While the Lamb family receives intermittent requests for mutton, they raise no lambs as the surname implies. Rather, they care for 20,000 young pigs annually under contract for Prestage Farms, a relationship the Lambs have maintained for more than 20 years. In fact, the farm’s first contracted pigs arrived on Feb. 13, 1998, the day before James married his wife, Felicia.
Family and farming have intertwined ever since.
Where Farming Is a Family Affair
Every morning, James’ 89-year-old mom, Thelma, records building temperatures and checks feed availability for the roughly 3,000 pigs under the family’s care at one time. The Lambs run what the industry calls a nursery farm, caring for pigs from the point of weaning to almost three months old.
Thelma also assumes laundry and office cleaning duties while James works his day job as the environmental specialist for Prestage Farms. There, he helps with regulatory compliance for the 250 family farms like his that contract with the company.
His daughters, Maegan and Kensley, help with routine pig chores and know how to run the farm’s technology. Wife Felicia fills in when James travels to industry meetings or advocacy events, which has included the honor of a White House agricultural roundtable experience with President Trump through the NC Farm Families program.’
Whether on or off the farm, James stays continuously connected to the farm and his pigs, using his smartphone to monitor water pressure, climate controls and power outages. The modern technology elevates care in ways unimaginable to James’ father and grandfather and allows the family to keep their pigs safe and comfortable at all hours.
Yet, the human element remains. James still walks his two pig barns nightly, looking for anything abnormal.
“If I see a pig starting to physically back up compared to its penmates, then I take that pig out of that pen,” James says. “I put it in a special care pen where I can have more one-to-one contact and perhaps give a supplemental diet to help that pig catch up.”
Prioritizing Food & Animal Safety
Lamb Family Farms follows the “We Care” principles, an industry-wide initiative that promotes responsible practices in all areas of farming, whether animal well-being, food safety, environmental stewardship or community commitment. Similarly, the family maintains certifications with Pork Quality Assurance, which affirms their farm’s commitment to implement best practices.
In that vein, the family takes biosecurity seriously to mitigate disease introduction to the herd. James follows a nutrient-management program, using the farm’s manure as a natural fertilizer for hay and other crops. He also maintains thorough records when an animal needs treatment, documenting the date, dosage, medication and withdrawal time, or the amount of time it takes for a medication to pass through a pig’s system.
“One of the big misnomers is that people think we pump them up with hormones to make them grow fast,” James says. “The reality is legally nobody can use growth-promoting hormones in the United States when raising hogs.”
Climate-controlled environments and ready access to food help pigs today grow faster and leaner than in the family farm’s three-generation history. James shares that message and more during his travels.
“The industry has provided me a lot of opportunities to travel all over the U.S. and to Mexico and Brazil,” James says. “I enjoy visiting those places, but there is still no place like home.”
– Joanie Stiers