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What I Wish People Knew About Pig Farming

Recently, I participated in an online video discussion with an Animal Welfare class from an eastern U.S. university. The purpose of the class was to give class attendees a farmer\’s perspective on pig issues related to animal welfare. There were two of us, myself and another farmer from Indiana. We were given a few questions ahead of time, but we also answered questions directly from the class about pig farming. By the end of the class period, it was apparent there was a definite flavor of animal rights views within the classroom. Later, as I pondered about the class discussion, I thought very hard about the animal right\’s perspective and agenda. I really wanted to \”see\” animal welfare issues through their eyes.

I struggled.

I think what is most frustrating for farmers is how do we communicate our experiences so others also feel and see the same experiences. 

\"What

I wish others could experience the things we experience.

I wish others could see sows fighting each other, which is a natural response to their innate social hierarchy. The purpose of the infighting is to determine which sow is \”king\” sow. The fights that result in injuries such as bites to body parts including ears, snouts, vulvas, and legs. And sometimes these injuries are lethal. I wish people could hear the ear-piercing screams we hear when a sow is attacking another. No, we don\’t rush to grab our phones to videotape the pig attacks. Instead, we attempt to break up the fights, assess and care for the injuries, all while hoping not to injure ourselves..

I wish people could see the peaceful contentment.

The peaceful content sows experience when they are housed in individual gestation stalls. I wish they could see how peaceful the sows when they no longer fear for their lives because they are safe. I wish people could see the \”night and day\” difference between sows that are housed outdoors and sows that are housed in gestation stalls because we are able to give them specialized, individual care.

I wish people were on our farm to see the looks on our faces.

The looks on our faces after seeing the remains of newborn piglets drowned and savagely placed there by another pregnant sow. The horrified looks when we discovered a total of 10 healthy baby piglets laying at the bottom of a mud puddle, a mud puddle created by a recent thunderstorm. I wish they could experience our heartbreak as we removed each baby pig from the mud puddle. And I wish they also had my memory as I still remember it like it was yesterday. I wish people could feel our frustration when an unruly sow bites at her newly born pigs or accidentally lays or steps on one.

I wish people why we use farrowing (birthing) stalls.

We use them to prevent these new piglets from accidentally dying because their mother sow accidentally laid on them. And, yet, non-farming people think farrowing stalls are cruel. They honestly haven\’t seen cruel until they see deaths that could have been prevented.

I wish people could see the realities of disease.

Diseases that cause nearly 100% mortality of newborn pigs for 4-5 weeks. I wish people could walk in barns and see nothing but dead baby pigs and realizing there is absolutely nothing you can do about it and the despair that follows. I wish people were on my farm that Thanksgiving Day when my determined husband was going to save newborn pigs who were doomed for an imminent death because of a virus. A virus with no vaccine or a treatment drug. Only to realize his heroic efforts went to waste. I wish people could see the look on his face upon the realization that he didn\’t succeed, and yet, managed somehow to look forward to the next day because \”it will be a better day.\” Farmers live in reality, not ideology.

I wish people realized that \”natural\” behaviors are maybe not always best for pigs.

\”Natural\” can result in bullied animals, injuries and death. But animal rightists look past and turn their heads to the painful consequences when pigs are allowed to exhibit their \”natural\” behaviors towards each other. In their eyes, natural is best. Natural is not always best. Comfortable and content pigs are what is best. 

It\’s easy and sure feels good to want a world based on ideology. It\’s pleasurable to visualize the sunny 70-degree days where pigs roam pastures under trees and never hurt one another. You know, the whole Charlotte\’s Web scenario. Who wouldn\’t love a world like that? But we don\’t live in Charlotte\’s Web\’s book, we live in reality.

As a farmer, our main goal is to eliminate or reduce stressors in a pig\’s life.

Stressors such as thirst, hunger, disease, unsafe environment, temperature extremes, weather conditions, unclean air and pig behaviors. Our challenge is to create a balance where we reduce/eliminate as many stressors as possible that results in making a pig\’s life as comfortable as possible. That is real pig farming.

\”Armchair Farmers\”

I think it\’s easy for \”armchair farmers\” to tell us and insist on how we should or shouldn\’t raise pigs. But the problem is most of these people do not experience the same things we do. They do not see what we see. They do not hear what we hear.

Farmers raise pigs in many different ways. One way is not better than another. I truly believe pig farmers raise pigs in the way that works best for them. And we need every pig farmer. Our ultimate goal is to raise safe and affordable food for families. 

Farmers work diligently to improve their farming practices continually. We take better care of our pigs today than we did yesterday. And tomorrow, we will do better than today. Are we perfect? Not by a long shot, but we really do care about what we do and we continue to improve every single day.

Related Posts:

What is a Factory Farm?

Pig Stories Untold

What is the Future of Raising Pigs?

Why Do Farmers Use Gestation Crates?


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50 Comments

  1. Brilliant post. People who don’t farm, don’t understand the heartache of seeing dead animals. It cuts to the quick – they aren’t just money, they are your living, your life, your love.

  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Hopefully people will read this with an open mind and give what you are saying some serious thought.

  3. Iowa here. Great article! Candid, thoughtful and truthful. So many people have NO CLUE what it takes to bring their food to the table.

  4. As an animal lover who loves bacon, I’m very grateful for the family farmer. I don’t trust the corporate farmers at all…I’ve seen first hand how they ‘treat’ their animals. I would love to see corporate farming banned. I trust the family farmer and am glad you are still around, I just wonder how long they will ‘let’ the family farms continue, I have my doubts.

    1. Thanks Linda. The whole issue on corporate farming is a little confusing. 98% of all pig farms are family farms. Our farm has a “corporate” name but is owned and the work done by myself, my husband and we have one employee. We only incorporated because of business advantages. The work on our farm did not change when we incorporated. Thanks for your comments!

    2. Economicly and morally local farmers makes better long term sense for everyone, which is why I can’t understand why we don’t get more support from governments

  5. Well written, the noise is the one thing pictures don’t show. The real possibility that when you break up a fight that you will sustain real painful injuries – these sows know how to fight.

  6. Excellent! My sentiments exactly. If people want things left up to nature let’s make them live in caves, hunt with sticks, start fires with rocks……. what in the world are people thinking? It irritates me so much that every farm product that isn’t produced using the “rainbows and butterflies” method is sub par. Farmers are busy producing products, not fairytales. Do people think the people living in undeveloped third world countries are better off, happier, because they are living closer to “natural “

  7. I understand your point of view from the business perspective, but those ‘animal rightists’ as you call us don’t believe you should have pigs as your business in the first place.

    I used to be the biggest pork eater. Then, I saw how factory farms treated the animals. The blinders were off, and I had to act according to my heart. Other animals have no choice, but we do. We, humans, were not put on Earth just to run businesses and make money. We are supposed to make a difference, a positive difference, in other human lives and for other creatures on the Earth. I suspect you have sows fighting because you have quite a few pigs. If you don’t raise pigs to sell to slaughter for human consumption, chances are there will be less likelihood of this issue occurring. I am working on a farm now, but it is a rescue farm.I have also worked on farms that grow fruit and crops. Not all people who believe in animal rights are crazy or uninformed. People are people no matter how you cut it. I see the former abused farm animals around me now smiling and showing a keen interest in what is going on around them. I could never betray them.

    We humans fight all too often. Just a day or so ago, I heard about a mother of four gunned down from a road rage incident. We might erupt in violence at any time, but we don’t put people in cages because of what we have seen and what might happen. Just because we are different doesn’t make us superior or born with privileges to use other species in any manner we see fit. Capability does not equal right.

    You may believe that you are compassionate, but to me that is like saying you love animals and then filling your mouth with a piece of steak. I still love the taste of all the meats I used to eat, but I couldn’t morally continue to eat the animals once I was faced with indisputable evidence that any kind of killing before one’s time to be used as a means to an end is not humane or right in my heart. I have a hard time understanding how you can love something and then send it off to be killed for your own gain. I wonder what the sows would say if they could tell you how it felt to have their babies taken away. My friend has a father who is a cattle rancher. He made her work on his farm for a summer and laughed at her when she cried at the sight of de-horning, branding, and sending the calves away from their mothers.

    By the way, how are the piglets drowning in puddles? Is this inside of a building or outside? What do you do with all of the pig waste? I have seen the video and pictures of the rivers of pig waste that are later sprayed into the open air and into the fields in North Carolina. I know you are not in NC. Do you also have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the areas where you hold the pigs? Too often, I have heard of hundreds of pigs perishing tragically in fires. Surely, you must know that pig farming is not sustainable in the long term. We also have Chinese interests owning the largest pork producer rights in the US. They also eat dogs. What do you feel about eating dogs? It is no different than eating pigs. The only difference is our culture has adopted them as companion animals, but the principle is the same. If you are a corporate farm, you are no longer a family farm. You are subject to the corporate rules.

    This is not a simple issue, and there are no easy answers. I can’t get beyond the fact that if the tables were turned, would I want to be in a gestation crate at the mercy of my owners? I do not believe you when you say they are happy to be in those crates. For me, it is a case of do unto others… You know the rest.

    1. Thank you for you respectful comments. To answer a few of your questions, the puddles were outside. A thunderstorm passed through the previous day and left mud puddles. And with the sows fighting, we did not have a lot of sows. This is just the pig’s natural reaction. They are animals. We are humans and we react differently and have different needs. The manure is spread on our crop fields. The manure is placed on the soil and then immediately covered by soil. Our crops thrive on the nutrients. We make sure we place the correct amount on our fields. Too much and we are wasting the nutrients. Too little and there will not be enough nutrients for next years crops. And no I would not eat a dog as that is a cultural value. I think it’s pretty obvious that we won’t agree on our views. And I won’t try to convert you to eating pork and you won’t be converting me to not raise pigs. Our values are different. But again, thank you for your comments.

    2. Carol, Well said! All farmers are not cruel but factory farms are all cruel. I have experienced both sides of this issue having raised pigs for a short time. It’s not difficult to turn a blind eye to farm animal suffering there is just a disconnect. I was always told that they were meat animals you are just told to put them in a different category.But there is a nagging in the back of your mind because you see that those animals feel love, pain, anger, happiness, sorrow, boredom etc. not unlike us. Nature yes can be cruel but that’s their journey we have a choice because yes we are people. When you put animals in an unnatural situation I imagine there would be fighting and no Pigs do not prefer their gestation stalls. God made animals as our companions, yes God killed the first animal but that I don’t believe was His perfect plan it was because of our sin. We were shown compassion yet it seems people readily withhold it from “meat animals”. It is PC to say you don’t eat animals for health reasons. If you say you don’t for compassionate reasons you are automatically labeled as a little crazy and compassion for animals as some sort of weakness. There is a book by Matthew Scully that is profound. he said ” Nobody likes to be preached to, especially about food or clothing. I sure don’t, and most of us who worry about animal welfare have learned to let the point go. But spare us the haughty airs. If moral seriousness is the standard, I for one would rather be standing between duck and knife that going to the mat in angry defense of a table treat”. Change starts with respectful conversation. Thank you for not letting “The point” go and speaking up.

  8. Nice story. I live on a horse farm and know the death feeling, but I still give my horses enough room to turn around, lay down, and roll inside their stalls. If your gestation crates were big enough for the pigs to lay down, turn around and just move, I think you would hear a LOT less from the animal welfare people.
    Think about that. They are not plants in a pot. Pigs are alive and should be treated as a living thing.
    And, when I go to fair every summer, there are 4 or 5 pigs in pens together without fighting. I know they are younger, but they get along fine.
    If you could just let them be in a 4 x 4 pen instead of a 2 x 4 crate, we would shut up.

    1. Gestation stalls do allow the animals to lay down. And, yes, the pigs you see at the fair are not the same pigs that are housed in gestation stalls. Typically sows, who are pregnant, are housed in stalls. Sows have a different demeanor than market hogs that you see at the fair. And believe this or not, but most sows prefer to stay in gestation stalls, given a choice. In fact, one person who works at a very large pig farm said 90% of the sows choose to spend 90% of their time in stalls. And I think the other 10% of animals are the “bully sows” just waiting to attack another sow. Thank you for your comments.

  9. This all sounds great, but I’m more concerned about the neighbor (like me) that has to put up with the industrialist that decides to put one of these 2500 head manure pits .9 mile down the road. No wind break or any effort at all to mitigate the negative impacts of the noxious fumes that destroy our day or evening when the wind blows out of the SW. And when it isn’t blowing out of the SW it’s blowing toward even closer neighbors. My mom married a farmer when I was in middle school. There were a handful of hogs on the farm. I know the stench and I know the toxic multiplication that exists in industrial production. This is an industry that needs to be regulated like an industry.

    1. Thank you for your comments Eric. Yes, our county has setback regulations as to where pig barns can be built. We are a huge pig production county. We are #1 in the state and #6 in the U.S. Our county sells about 2,000,000 pigs per year. I actually live right on the same building site as our pigs. I still open my windows during the spring/summer/fall. There are only a handful of days where I close them because of the odor. I guess we are just used to it.

      1. I appreciate that you live on site. too many here in iowa are absentee landlords. especially the finishing operations.

  10. We don’t need every pig farmer. People could eat less meat and more vegetables and grains which are much easier to farm. Produce farms have much less of a harmful impact on our environment than livestock farming. Excrement from livestock farming causes serious problems for many drinking water supplies. Just ask the people who work to provide drinkable water for Des Moines, Iowa. The true cost of livestock farming is enormous and it is not reflected in the cost of a pound of beef or pork at the supermarket. If we required livestock farmers to pay for the environmental ramifications of pig factory farming then perhaps people would eat less meat because it would be reflected it would cost more n the butcher section of your supermarket. Why should the taxpayers in places like Des Moines have to pay for that cost when they may not all be eating meat? Shouldn’t the people who buy the product have to pay for the cost of the environmental impacts of factory livestock farming? Oh, and when you are able to get into a pig’s head and truly understand what it is like to never be able to turn around in your pen or walk around, then you can speak as an authority on how pigs feel in gestation crates.

    1. I guess the same could be said for children. Those who do not have children have to pay taxes for schools and junior colleges?

  11. You think pig meat is a necessity And that you are doing them a favor by artificially breeding them, then saving them from themselves. Pigs obviously have these natural behaviors so why breed more of them that you then have to control?

    1. I am not really sure what you are getting at. So, if you could clarify, that would be great. But I can say that I believe in food choice. We should all have the choice to eat the types of foods we want.

  12. Very well put, I wasn’t aware of these issues you have with the pigs it’s similar here people are amazed when I tell them of how much care and work goes into our cows every single day and when I explain why the average cow life is low in the books. We must remember too without producing animal products you’d only see most of these wonderful animals in zoos as they don’t exist in the wild, sending love from the UK

      1. I also think activists and farmers could work together against the farms and businesses incorrectly/ cruelly farming. The independent farmer is rarely just about making profit and we could all make life better for animals instead of being tarred with the same brush as the cruel farms. Working to ban all farms is probably never going to happen so why not work to something achievable with out trying to harm farmers trying to do their hardest to do right by the animals.

        1. I really can’t agree with you on that one. The activists in this country want to significantly reduce or eliminate all of agricultural livestock. They aren’t about making farms better.

          1. I know that, it was more aimed at them not you, I was, I guess rhetorically, asking why can’t they put all this energy and motivation into a more productive manner to make the system better for farmers and animals. Yes show where cruelty is because it isn’t right but also show where it’s being done with correctly, I think they’d convince more people to think about where they get their food from that way. The more money smaller farms could make if there wasn’t giant corporations would I believe increase better practice in farming all round and improve local economy.

  13. Hello – this is a very interesting read for sure. I, as someone who is an AVID animal rights advocate very recently drove past a farm near Marshall, MN where we could see into an open-sided barn where very large pigs were stuffed into painfully cramped, tiny stalls. The pigs were so squished in, in fact, that they couldn’t even lay over on to one side to sleep or rest whatsoever. Not even lean onto its side – it was almost wedged in, for lack of better word. It was laying on its belly as a dog does while it is wide awake – with its head resting on the bars – eyes closed. While I completely understand your sorrow and tragedies in dealing with the loss of animals when they harm each other and the need to protect them from themselves, I HAVE to believe there must be a better way to protect them from themselves beyond stuffing them into an excruciatingly clostrophobic little stall where they can’t even stretch their legs. They can stand up, or they can lay straight down. Period. That kind of life seems to be no better to me than if a human were allowed to live in a broom closet. Granted, we wouldn’t fight or hurt each other, but we wouldn’t be living any sort of life that was outside of horrible.

    Know that I do eat meat – not tons of it, but I do eat it. I’m not advocating that we should stop the raising of animals for food (although, if bacon could somehow start growing on trees, that’d be amazing!) so I don’t want to be called a hypocrite. I’m simply wishing that while these animals grew into food while creating more animals to grow into food, their lives weren’t quite so awful.

    Please know that I can’t imagine what sort of emotional roller coaster you must be on every single day with running an operation such as this, so I am not trying to argue anything you’ve said. I get it now – my eyes have been opened to the other side of this. However, there has GOT to be something better than stuffing these poor animals into tiny little pens to spend all of their days doing nothing but eating, sleeping sitting straight up and cranking out babies.

    1. I find your comments interesting as I have a hard time believing you saw pigs in tiny stalls in an open barn. That’s now how market hogs are housed. And sows are not housed in this type of barn. Yes, it’s apparent you are an animal rights activist. Your flavorful description and perception is not how i view our farm. Nor will I try to convince you otherwise because you won’t view it any other way. We care for our animals every single day and are proud of it. And if you look at other blog posts you will see that we care about what we do. We will just agree to disagree.

    2. Open air buildings are a rarity due to disease control nowadays. My neighbor still has open air buildings and you know what? The pigs choose to pile up on each other. Yes, I said choose. Even when there are 10 head in a 250 head pen, they pile up. They choose to be close to one another. Either for warmth reasoning or social reasoning. Don’t be fooled, pigs are quite intelligent. And don’t forget, they as we, are part of the food chain. They will eat each other as we will eat them. And in much more viscous ways.

      1. Very true. This is a great example of the types of things consumers don’t know about pig farming. And that’s why we need to keep talking about farming and pig farming. Thank you.

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