I had such an amazing time being the small part that I was for Aggie Days this year. I have grown such a passion for agriculture and agriculture education the last year, and I’m so grateful to have this blog as an outlet to write about it and connect with so many different people! Aggie Days is a free event where companies, producers, and commissions in agriculture come together in one place and set up their amazing displays to teach (mostly urban) kids about where their food comes from.
At this weekend event that was open to the public, people had the opportunity to see farm animals, get their hands dirty in some soil and plant seeds, learn about the different crops in Alberta while talking to real farmers and producers. Sometimes people see things about agriculture that can seem scary and perhaps even cruel, and I can understand that. At the exhibit there was a sow (mama pig) and her new piglets (just 9 days old!) resting in a farrowing crate/stall, which is a penning system with an area for the sow and an area for the piglets. I can understand, as a non-hog farmer myself, how this crate might look very uncomfortable and “scary” looking for the pigs, but there’s more to it than that. Perhaps one should ask some questions if they are speculating, but clearly some people like to assume the worst…
— Rae (@LittleMrsVegan) April 13, 2014
…instead of talking to the hog producer that was standing at the top of the crate. This tweet really, really bothered me and I found it to be very ignorant, so I wanted to learn more about farrowing crates and share with you what I learned.
“Farrowing crates reduce preweaning mortality – and provide a warm dry environment for the pigs which improves their health status and well being. Also, farrowing crates provide a cooler area for the sow and warmer areas for the young pigs. The flooring is designed to keep the pigs dry which reduces the spread of enteric diseases.”
— Allan Schinckel, PhD, Professor Department of Animal Sciences Purdue University
I also reached out on Twitter to some hog farmers for more info on farrowing crates, and Wanda who blogs at Minnesota Farm Living got back to me with some of these great points about the use of farrowing crates:
- Farmers are able to give sows the amount and type of feed they need. When the sow is in the stall, it is much easier to give the type of feed and the amount of feed they need.
- Farrowing stalls help protect baby pigs. Sows weigh from 400-450 pounds and giving birth to pigs at 2-3 pounds makes it very easy for the mothers to accidentally step on or lay on a piglet. The bars on the stall allow the sows to stand up and lie down carefully.
- Farrowing stalls also have spaces on both sides of the mother sow for piglets to lay down.
- Farrowing stalls also allow farmers to help sows during the farrowing process if needed.
- Farrowing stalls also protect both the sow and piglets from other sows. Sows can be very aggressive and will attack other sows as well as their piglets resulting in severe injuries or even death.
- Farrowing stalls allow sows to be housed inside where they are protected from the environment
Wanda wrote a really great post called Why We Use Individual Gestation Pens for hogs and I bet you’ll learn a ton about pigs you would never have of otherwise! I also learned that in Canada “virtually all commercial hog production takes place in a controlled environment which implies that, at all times of the year, animals are kept in buildings specialized to the farrowing, growing and finishing stages of raising market hogs” and the Canada Pork International agency lists the same reasons as to why they practice this way as Wanda shared with us.
I also have to tell myself that ‘controversial’ agriculture practices like gestation and farrowing crates for hogs, growth promotants in beef cattle, and castration for livestock is done for a reason. A specific reason that was concluded and developed by scientists and veterinarians at agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that want the best for these animals.
I was happy to hear back from a hog farmer here in Alberta, David (@HoltHogs) and he explained to me about their hog farm and why it’s essential to use farrowing crates. He also said (in his own words) that it frustrates him when activists try to change things and control things when they don’t know why things are done the way they are.
“First, we farrow 18 sows a week, they can farrow anywhere from 5 to 7 days apart, so imagine putting 18 sows into one big room with no pens. This is what would happen: the first 2 or 3 sows would be alright with their babies, a couple of days later the next sow would farrow, then the oldest baby pigs would steal the freshest colostrum from the newest sow farrowing. That would cause the youngest piggies to stave off, without colostrum, also the sow farrowing would start savaging the other babies! Savaging means killing any baby pigs that are not their own! Sows are very aggressive when protecting their babies when giving birth!! So to sum it up, it would be an inhumane thing to do!”
I was also curious and asked David how long they stay in the crates. He said per his practice, 21-26 days depending on when the piglets are weaned and then they are allowed to be in loose housing/big roomy pens. As another awesome person on Twitter @alexiskienlen pointed out too, there will be changes in the use of gestation stalls with the new pig welfare code; pork producers are responding to the concerns of “extremists”.
I had very minimal knowledge on anything related to hog farming before I wrote this post. I took the time to research and ask real hog farmers the questions I had. You can too—no excuses! If you ever have any questions about why things are done in agriculture, you can connect with actual farmers, veterinarians, researchers, scientists, etc. with the click of a button. I urge you to not assume anything about agriculture. If you’re scared, skeptical, or upset about something you’ve seen or heard—ask! Do some research, do some digging and never ever assume and spread fear.
I got permission from the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Food Alliance to share this great video called “Accurate Portrayal of Today’s Pig Care” and I think you should watch it!