I’m sorry I haven’t posted again in few weeks, the weeks seem to fly by! I can’t believe summer is not long from being over already!
Today, I wanted to address an issue I see come up a lot as concerns of the general public when it comes to the pork industry – the use of gestation crates. First, I would like to clear up some terminology. The term “gestation” refers to the time from conception to parturition. Hence, why human females have a gestation period of 9 months. Therefore, when the general public is concerned about the welfare of sows and their piglets in a gestation crate, it is the incorrect terminology because the sows have not farrowed (birthed) their piglets yet. The proper term for those crates is farrowing crates.
In today’s barns, sows can be housed in both farrowing crates and gestation crates. All modern pig production barns have farrowing crates, while only some have gestation crates, some have what is called open pen gestation, where the sows are housed in larger pens, usually with 50 – 100 per pen.
In Ohio, we have a Livestock Care Standards Board who is enforcing the implementation of open pen gestation in all hog barns in Ohio, these pens need to be built into the barns in about another 5 years or so.
I want to talk about the farrowing crates, since those are what I work with every day, and explain the pros and cons to farrowing crates. While it is true the movements of the sows are very restricted, they can stand up, lay down and lay on either side, they are not trapped on one side. The main reason for the use of farrowing crates is for the safety of the sow, the piglets, and the employees of the barn. If you have ever seen sows getting into a fight, it’s a nasty experience. And given the fact they weigh 300 – 600 pounds, it’s not as if people can easily intervene. Adding in the hormones and motherly instincts of giving birth, the fights would just get nastier.
Along with this, that is why these crates allow for the safety of barn employees. With the stress of giving birth, some of these sows can be downright mean. I certainly would not want to be anywhere near these sows without them being contained in some way. As it is, there have been times when I have narrowly missed injury even with the crates. At work, I must always remain alert and attentive to sow body language and behavior. I once interviewed with a farm who had a different kind of farrowing crate – the piglets could crawl into a little protective box in the corner, but the sow had more freedom of movement. The employees at the barn told me that it was hard to deal with those crates, as angry sows had access to them.
Most importantly of the reasons for farrowing crates, is the safety of the piglets. The number one reason for piglet death is not any disease, but being laid on and crushed to death by their mothers. The design of the farrowing crates is to restrict the movement of the sow in hopes that the number of laid on piglets will be reduced. And this has proven to be true.
So, while this restrictive of a living environment seems cruel, there is valid reason for it.
Until next time,