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Agricultural practices need not be abusive to animals.
I used to farrow pigs and I used open housing for the sows.I dreaded weaning the sows and putting the sows together again. They have a pecking order that has to be reestablished and fight until they have that order. Sows have sharp needle teeth and do a lot of damage fighting. I have had sows break legs,get deep cuts on ears& mammary glands and anything else their teeth can reach. I can see why gestation crates are used.
Meat eating is waning. Droughts are pushing prices higher. More people are buying meat of animals they believe were raised humanely. More is known now that eating too much meat is unhealthy. Concerns have been raised that antibiotics are being used in excess. People are also becoming more aware of the impact raising the grains necessary to feed the estimated 7.6 billion animals slaughtered in the U.S. each year has on the environment -- the fossil fuels burned, the water needed, the pesticides used. Farmers are in a tough business where, unless you get big, you get swallowed. They know times are changing. Hopefully they will be able to make good livings selling grain if the market for meat continues waning.
As someone who used to work with hogs, I have seen sows in both an open pen where they can move around and in the crate. The number one reason, in my experience, they are in the crate is to protect the piglets. These sows are huge and when they lay down, many times their piglets are caught underneath them and suffocate. They like to lay against a wall and the piglets follow and get trapped with no way out. This is money out of the farmer's pocket, so you have to find a way to minimize the loss. Also, they do fight each other when in pens together. They are also cannibals. If one of them gets injured or sick, in a pen situation, others will start nipping at it and literally start chewing on it while it is still alive. I have found nothing but a hide full of bones with hogs in a pen. Tough business, but that is why the crate is in existence.
First, this article addresses gestation crates, not farrowing crates. In gestation crates, sows are pregnant - there are no piglets for them to crush.
Second, the injuries sows suffer inside gestation crates is well documented and far worse than any other housing system. Being immobilized in a space so small you can't even turn around for months or years on end is physically harmful (resulting in muscle and bone weakness, lameness, and severe urinary tract infections) and the boredom and unrelenting confinement drives these smart, social creatures into a state of insanity, evidenced by their engagement in repetitive coping behaviors (such as head weaving and biting the bars in front of them).
Third, pigs are social creatures with close bonds to each other and sophisticated social hierarchies. Any fighting that occurs between them in group pens results from being in an unnatural environment and poor management.
The science and public sentiment on gestation crate is absolute – they need to go!
Krebsten....that was interesting and informative. Thanks. I always enjoy reading what people who have "actual experience" with these issues, have to say.
The perception that sows housed in group pens are better off than sows in stalls is not the reality. I raised sows in pens and saw first hand the fights for pecking order within groups. After seeing and experiencing this fighting and aggression I explored and searched for a more humane way to house my sows. This process I went through in 1988 led me to stalls which won out over group housed sows in pens or tethers (which were inhumane I believe). In my stalls every sow can be treated as an individual where she does not need to worry about the boss sow eating most of her food or fighting her to establish dominence. So I find it interesting the type of housing I chose for the well being of my sows is being condemned by people who I am sure have never stepped foot into a pig barn in their life.
We are reaching the tipping point of getting rid of gestation crates. If big companies like Cargill can figure it out, so too can the people here who think it's better to keep these intelligent animals in a small jail cell. You'll learn, fellas!
As a granddaughter and niece and cousin of dairy farmers in southern MN, I appreciate the pressures on farmers today. At the same time, this editorial rings true. Spending the majority of her life in a crate so small she cannot turn around nor take more than a step forward and back seems like no life at all. If renowned animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin and the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (not to mention consumers and food companies) agree that gestation crates have got to go, then I’m confident our farmers in MN can and should find a new way to do business.
In this edition of the Startrib there are two articles that deal with the way MN farmers are producing food for the world. Both these articles show the great divide that is growing between the food producer and the food consumer in the US. I have been in production ag for 40 years and believe that we, on the farm, after reading some of these comments are the only people in this discussion that are grounded in understanding the great burden that we shoulder to feed not just those that can afford to make judgements on our farming practices but more importantly those that cannot. The internet has made everyone experts on all subjects even the ones that they have never had any day to day experience with. In a recent letter to a paper out east 200 plus DVM's from around the midwest signed a letter in support of a wide range of production practices, gestation stalls being one of them. The industry may not change in the way MNGAL70 wants, because we strongly believe that what we are doing is the right thing for both the animals we care for and the poeple we feed.
Any humane person has a stake in this matter, since we are the ones colluding or not in how living creatures are being treated, especially those that are being bred exclusively for our consumption. I completely support more humane treatment for ALL animals, including farm animals. I only purchase meat from local farmers that who are committed to raising their animals humanely and I am completely willing to pay more for those products in support of their practices.
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