(Disclaimer: The intent of this blog is to help people outside of agriculture to understand why some farmers choose to raise their animals indoors. What works on my farm may not work for another farmer, each farm is different, as are the genetics of hogs. My intent with this post is to help people understand why some farmers use modern technology on their farm. Our family changed the type of hog we raise to be a leaner hog with less body fat because of consumer demand. With that change came additional challenges to raising this type of pig in harsh weather conditions. That is why we chose to move our animals inside of barns because the lean type of hogs we raise can not endure the weather as well as hogs with more body fat. This is not meant to be an indictment of farmers who choose to raise their hogs outdoors.)
Today McDonald’s announced they would phase out the use of gestation stalls from their pork suppliers. They received pressure from HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States, which is not connected to our local pet shelters as their commercials lead you to believe. HSUS is bullying the agriculture industry by putting pressure on restaurants like Wendy’s, Burger King, Sonic, Subway, Quiznos, Red Robin, Denny’s, and McDonald’s to force farmers into using certain methods of production that HSUS sees as humane.
Our family has raised hogs outdoors and indoors, we’ve used gestation group housing for our sows and gestation stalls. I wonder how many farmers these companies spoke to before they caved to HSUS’ bullying? Did they ever ask a farmer what it was like to raise animals using each method of production? Chipotle has a commercial on their website attacking modern livestock farming for using barns to protect our livestock. I wonder if they talked to a farmer who was using a barn to find out why they adopted this method of production? The video below shows why farmers use modern barns.
As a farmer, animal welfare is my top priority. I want my animals to be safe, secure, content and comfortable. My family made the decisions we made because of the personal experiences we had raising hogs outside. This does not mean that farmers who currently raise hogs outside have similar challenges.
But, from personal experience, I remember when we had our lean hogs outside, it was miserable for the hogs in the summer. A hog can not sweat so when we had heat indexes of 110 degrees, our hogs couldn’t cool down their bodies. We would haul water to the hogs all day long to try to cool them off. The hogs would huddle together to fight for the mud to cool their bodies, some hogs were injured due to this fighting and died. Many hogs died from heat exhaustion. Our barns keep our hogs cool in the summer thanks to a computer controlled climate system that regulates the temperature in our barn. We also use drippers to keep the hogs cool as well.
In the winter, our hogs were out in lots with small open front shelters to try and keep them warm. We would bed them down with straw but the hogs would still shiver and shake from the cold weather and cold ground because they had little body fat to keep them warm. (note: our hogs do not have the fat on them some hogs did 20 years ago due to consumers wanting leaner meat) They had difficulty walking in the deep snow and they couldn’t stay standing on the ice. We had many hogs with broken legs due to falling on ice. They would huddle together to try and find warmth and fighting would break out. Some of the hogs were trampled to death and the less dominant animals would be left out of the shelter and we would find them frozen to the ground, dead. Our experience led us to the decision that, for our farm, there was a better way.
We decided that there was a better way for us to care for the animals on our farm since our hogs were not the same fat pigs as 30 years ago. When a sow gave birth outdoors in this extreme cold, her piglets would also freeze to the ground; they can not regulate their body temperatures in the first weeks of life. Our hog barns help prevent these problems, they are heated in the winter and we have heat lamps for the newborn pigs so they have additional warmth in the first weeks of life.
Predator attacks were also a big problem for us when our hogs were outdoors. Bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, and oppossums would attack the smaller pigs and kill them. Wildlife and birds also tracked diseases into our herd and caused our hogs to get sick. Our barns keep our hogs away from these predators and diseases.
When we used group housing for our pregnant sows, we had a lot of problems. The first problem was the bully sow, who reminds me of HSUS because both want to control what others eat. The bully sow doesn’t allow other sows to eat, they fight with the less dominant sows and prevent them from going to the feed. As a result, the bully sow eats too much and will give birth to pigs that are too big to pass through the birth canal, many times resulting in the sow’s death and the piglet’s death. The less dominant sows, who don’t have enough feed, give birth to still born pigs or low viability pigs that have a very low chance of survival due to not having proper nutrition during gestation. Sows would rather bite their neighbors ear off than share a meal with them. Our gestation stalls allow us to monitor the feed each sow takes in so she has proper nutrition throughout the entire pregnancy.
Another problem we experienced with group housing were the sows being stepped on by other sows which resulted in abortions. When a sow lays down to rest in our stalls, she has no worries of being stepped on by another sow. Our sows are also protected from injury because there is no fighting with other sows. We are able to give each sow hands-on attention multiple times a day in our stalls. My mother-in-law examines each sow daily for body condition, she does this with her hands. She is protected while she does this and the sow doesn’t mind having my mother-in-law rubbing her back, stomach, sides and legs. If our sows were in group housing, my mother-in-law couldn’t give each sow this attention, she would be knocked down and hurt doing this in a group setting. We prevent many problems by doing this hands-on exam daily.
As you can see, we have implemented every practice on our farm with the goal of keeping our animals safe, healthy and protected. Farmers are faced with the challenge of producing more food than ever before and modern technology is helping my family achieve this goal humanely. Housing animals inside a barn is just as humane and safe as housing an animal outdoors. Each method has challenges and each method is acceptable in my opinion. HSUS has a goal of eliminating meat from our diets, just visit their website and you will see their vegetarian eating guide. This is their true goal, it isn’t about protecting animals. They are even lobbying churches now to join their faithful eating cause to regulate agriculture and make meat less available to all.
Did any of these companies talk to farmers like us before they made their decisions? I don’t know the answer to this question and I probably never will. What I do know is that it’s time for people to hear the real story behind HSUS. It’s time consumers started to hear the other side of the issue from the hands that are producing the food, not the hand that wants to keep it away from your table. Farmers & Ranchers need to engage in conversations and show people how we produce food. We have come a long way in agriculture and we are always looking for ways to improve. This isn’t what HSUS & PETA tell people though. I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians, I just don’t want to be forced to become one. Just like I wouldn’t expect a vegan or vegetarian to be forced to eat meat. This is a free country, we can not allow one group to bully us out of our freedoms.
Update: A reader asked for a real life video of indoor hog farming. Here is a video that does a great job of explaining and showing what indoor hog farming looks like. Sorry I didn’t include it earlier.