Why Do Hog Farmers Keep Their Pigs Inside Barns?

This morning I stumbled across a letter to the editor that does an EXCELLENT job explaining what it is like to raise hogs outdoors.  There are several farmers who still use this method of production and I know they are putting in many extra hours this time of year to keep their hogs safe and warm.  (Especially with the upcoming snow storm we are supposed to get this weekend).  It’s a very difficult thing to do in our area of the country and the following letter to the editor does a great job of explaining the challenges these farmers face.

LindenOlson-250As a lifelong resident of a livestock farm and a pork producer for over 60 years, I have been following with interest the letters about current welfare practices in pig-raising. Through the years, over 1,000 visitors came from all across the United States and several foreign countries to view our facilities and visit about our production practices. We never had a visitor come when it was 20 degrees below zero and a blizzard was raging; or when it was 95 degrees, the wind was calm and the heat index was over 100.

What I have not heard in the ongoing welfare discussion is that livestock producers are responsible for the care of their animals 24/7/365.  The housing systems we built and the production practices we use were highly influenced by the experiences we had during the extremes in weather: the night it rained 6 inches and drown two-thirds of the baby pigs housed in an “ideal” outside pasture setting; the winter it did not get above 32 degrees for 63 days straight and snow and wind made it impossible to keep pigs warm and dry because they tracked  snow into their sleeping quarters faster than we could haul straw bedding for them; the two days in which a raging blizzard with a wind chill in excess of 60 below made it dangerous for both man and beast; and the days when the heat index soared to over 100. These are but a few of the days etched into my memory that influenced our decision to put our hogs under roof and our sows in individual stalls 24/7/365.

Not only did indoor-housing make it easier on the pigs because the environment could be regulated during the extremes in weather – it was also easier on us and the other caretakers, because we no longer had to fight the cold, heat, wind, rain or snow. There were other benefits to the sows, in particular: No more broken legs from fighting or slipping on the ice; no more bitten and swollen vulvas from sows wanting to get their spot at a feed trough; no more sows that got too thin to be productive because as a slow or timid eater, they weren’t getting their share of feed. The sows responded to this new environment by raising more pigs. Fewer sows were injured or died and fewer were too thin to reproduce. No, this type of housing does not fit the “ideal” image of raising pigs, but then we have very few “ideal” days of weather in a year. It is because we care for the welfare of our animals that we house them the way we do. The result of that care is they are more productive, and therefore more profitable, not the other way around.

Linden Olson

Worthington, Minn.

One might ask why a farmer would still fight the battle of raising hogs outdoors.  Not every hog farmer raises the same breed of hogs, some breeds have more body fat than others and they can endure the cold winters better than the leaner hogs.  For many farmers, they choose to raise their hogs outdoors because they don’t have enough hogs to justify the expense of a building.  Hog prices are not keeping up with feed prices so it’s very difficult to pay the feed bill and make a barn payment too.  Many of these farmers also have corn, soybeans, and cattle to raise as well and they are not focusing their farm around their hogs.

For the farmers who choose to raise their hogs in barns, the hog portion of their farm may be the main focus of their farm.  They may not own enough acres to support bringing in the next generation so they expanded their hog operation to achieve this goal.  This is what Kevin’s parents did so he and his brother could be a part of the family farm and we are very grateful to them for taking such a big risk on our behalf.  If they had not done this, we would not be raising our children on our family farm.

Each farm and each family is different and unique, what works for one farm may not work for the farm down the road and that is perfectly fine.  No two farms look identical which is what makes agriculture productive and successful.  We learn from each other and we are always looking for ways to improve the care we give to the land and our animals.  There is always a story behind every farm and every family and we love talking about both!  If you have questions about how your food is raised, please don’t be afraid to ask a farmer.  The best way to learn about a farm is to ask the farm family, they have first-hand experience when it comes to what happens on their farm!

About Chris Chinn

My husband, Kevin, and I are 5th generation farmers. We live on our family hog farm in Missouri with our two children. Our dream is that our children will have the opportunity be the 6th generation of farmers in our family.
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15 Responses to Why Do Hog Farmers Keep Their Pigs Inside Barns?

  1. rc says:

    Chris,
    I used to participate on Factoid and answer questions. But after many responses trying to explain just exactly what was in your article, I finally quit. As you mentioned, every Farm situation is different, our Winters were not that bad in Arkansas but in the Summer, we had to spend several hundred dollars a month just for mosquito control on our Feeder Pigs to make sure they were comfortable. Some non-farm folks just don’t get it, keeping livestock comfortable and healthy is directly related to our income just as taking care of the soil. All those international do-gooders should have to come out and vaccinate pigs, keep Mexican Buzzards off new-born calves, pull weeds out of a rice field in 100 degree with 97% humidity, all these things improve the quality of their food, not contaminate it. We do not produce more per acre or more per Sow or Cow than any other country because we mistreat our Livestock or Farms. Preach on Chris, Thank you for your post.

    • Chris Chinn says:

      I understand your frustration, sometimes its very hard to explain what happens on our farm to people who are not willing to listen or who think the only truth is seen on the internet through horrible videos posted by activist groups. When someone shows me they are not willing to listen, I walk away and try to find someone who really does care about understanding the truth. Thanks for all you did to help spread the truth, every conversation helps make a difference!

      • eric e jordan says:

        U CAN’T WIN A PISSING CONTEST WITH A SKUNK.THE DO GOODIES ALL WAYS WONT TO GET INVOLVE IN SOMETHING THEY KNOW ABOUT.LET THEM SPEND A WINTER ON A FARM.

      • Chris Chinn says:

        Thanks for your input. I have friends who make different choices than I do and I respect their opinions and decisions. I think it all goes back to each farm is unique and what works on one farm may not work well on the other farm and that’s o.k. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all description for farms and how they work.

  2. Thank you Chris for this explanation. It’s quite helpful to those of us who don’t do this, but rely on you for our ham, bacon, sausage and ribs!

  3. Thanks for the great post. I grew up with hogs housed inside climate controlled buildings before we switched our operation over to cattle. This past year I decided to try raising 1 hog just to feed my family-needless to say the challenges of raising a hog outdoors was not fun and a big learning experience!

  4. Rob Hurd says:

    A great story. I work in the professional pet industry. Our people are constantly under attack by Animal Rights people for the methods of housing we use. There is a huge disconnect in the country between the consumer and the producer of animals,regardless of their end usage….food or as a companion animal. Consumers purchase these “products” at a retail store of some type and then act shocked when we explain the reasons for safety and comfort for the housing methods we use. Many of them go to work in office settings everyday where the norm is for hundreds of employees to be housed in large areas , seated at small cubicles with little or no natural sunlight or fresh air and gladly cash their employment checks every week without giving their “housing situation” a second thought. They scoff at the idea that we live a 24/7 life and often put the comfort, safety and health of our animals before the needs of our own families. I Thank You for continuing to put the American Farmers’ story out to the public, maybe, just maybe it will start to make a difference with a future generation.

  5. Pingback: Why Do Hog Farmers Keep Their Pigs Inside Barns? | Protect the Harvest

  6. Thanks for the great post Chris! My dad, wrote this letter and I appreciate your spreading it!

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