Farrowing Crates

28 Feb

I have yet to see the Chipotle commercial (I don’t have TV), but they bring up a controversial point.  One that I think warrants discussion.  But the discussion needs to be educated and practical.  Knee-jerk emotional reactions (especially from those who have never seen hog production or worked with pigs) are not the way to fix problems.

What are farrowing/gestation crates?  A confined area where hogs are kept during gestation and lactation.  The hogs cannot turn around.  They can only stand, sit, or lie down.

Why do hog producers use farrowing crates?

1. They are used to keep the hog from eating the food of her piglets. Obviously, a lactating hog has different needs from several growing piglets.

2. They are used to keep animal separate. Hogs can be aggressive.

3. The farrowing crates makes maintenance of hogs easier. It is simple to feed, quick to clean, and keeps each hog in her own little area in the facility.  It is also easier to individualize care–if a hog looks thin, the farmer can supplement only her food.  If she looks ill, it will be noticed faster when she is confined to one area.

4. The primary reason for farrowing crates is to protect piglets. Hogs are known to lie on their piglets and squish them to death. If she is confined in a farrowing crate, the piglets can scoot away from their heavy mother, but still nurse when they need to.  The family doesn’t have to be separated as in many other species of production.

Farrowing crates aren’t perfect.  I would argue, no system in animal production is perfect–everything has room for improvement.  We should always search for ways to make animal production more humane for animals, safer for workers, more cost effective for producers, and faster.  Sometimes these goals conflict with each other.

Before you condemn farrowing crates here are factors to consider:

-Hog production is all-in, all-out these days. To go into a pig farm–even a small one, people (visitors, employees, vets) have to shower in and out, change boots and coveralls, etc. . . This is to manage diseases–for the pigs. Even delivery trucks have a certain path to minimize cross-contamination. Some farms even have a truck wash! Letting hogs outside, creates a world of opportunity for sickness. And makes the problem of vaccine/antibiotic withdrawal periods even more pertinent.

-Hogs really damage the environment. They root in the dirt, rub on trees and fences, and have output that could contribute Nitrogen, Ammonia, and Phosphates to nearby (ground) water.

-Hogs and piglets have differing nutritional needs. Keeping the two separate is difficult and also poses ethical and logistical problems. Also, hogs have potential to fight. Even 3 week old piglets will eat each other, give each other scratches and black eyes. How to reduce injury?

-Money and compliance. Will requiring alternatives to gestation crates put the SMALL farmers out of business?  How much would it cost to change an entire operation? Who regulates it? And is this a priority for regulators when there are so many other animal/production issues?

-What will pork cost?  The expense of finding a new system will go to consumers as well.  How high are we willing to pay for meat?  It would be a shame to require hog production to change then, turn to beef or poultry or away from meat all-together because we do not want to may high food prices.

 

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