Crates, Crates, Crates

Hello everyone!

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,

Meg ❤

My Life As A Neonatal Nurse……For Pigs!

Good morning all!

I just enjoyed a Saturday morning off with a cup of coffee with my boyfriend before a busy day of running around to prepare for our trip to Texas and Oklahoma next week!

I knew when I started this blog, I definitely wanted to do a post on what I do on a day to day basis on the hog farm. This was in hopes of easing some of the discomfort about what happens on “factory farms.” For the record, the term “factory farm” is something that illicits alot of negativity from the public/consumer toward modern day food production, and it’s an incorrect representation of what happens on these farms.  Yes, I work on a “factory farm” but it still owned by the family the company is named after, and that family is very actively involved in the goings-on of the farm.  So tell me, how can one part hairs between what is known as a “factory farm” and what is a traditional family farm?

Hord Livestock Company does alot for the surrounding community of Bucyrus, where the family has been from all of their lives.  It’s a place that provides a job to many of the area residents, and there is a certain sense of family and togetherness that comes from working there.  Many of us that work in the different barns know others from other barns, and it creates a strong network.  When something is wrong with an employee or a member of an employee’s family, all the barns get an email of the information and everyone is asked to join in helping the family in need, or even just making sure the family is added to a personal prayer list. During the holidays, we all pitched in some money and a list of area people in need, and the company put together ham dinners so at least those people could have a good holiday meal.   But that is not what you would think of when you hear the word “factory farm”, hence why I think it is a sad misrepresentation of agriculture.

Now, on to what I do on a daily basis at work.  You read the title right – I act as nurse for the piglets and their mothers! Since I am looking to be a source of information, I am going to explain everything down to the basics in my posts, so  I am sorry for any of those who have an agriculture background who might be reading this. =P

Now, to begin.  I do alot of what is known as “Day 1” pig care.  As the term, and the title of this post, alludes to, it’s the care of the piglets on their very first day born.  Thus, my primary and most important job is to check the sows (mother pigs) that are farrowing (the swine term for birthing).  I walk through the farrowing rooms where the sows are held and observe each one for signs of distress or problems with the farrowing process, record my observations, and the time, on the sow’s farrowing card.  Farrowing cards have the sow’s ear tag number, previous litter information (if this is a sow’s first litter, the proper term is gilt – so she may not have any previous litter information), and her breeding information, along with a space on the back for the date she farrows, number of pigs in her litter (both liveborn and stillborn), and notes on her farrowing for the Day 1 person (that’s me!).  It is the company’s policy that I check the sows every 25 – 30 minutes – so trust me, these mamas don’t go without proper attention and care!

Now, when a sow is farrowing what am I looking at and what do I look for? I could go on and on and on about this, but I’ll try to explain with as little word vomit as possible.  The first 2 to 3 half-hour checks, I basically just count the piglets that are born.  When the sow or gilt starts reaching towards farrowing for 2 hours, that’s when some action needs to be taking place, as research/pig experts claim, a sow/gilt should start finishing up the farrowing process at about 2 hours.  Sometimes, especially if the sow is an older sow, she just starts getting tired and her muscles don’t contract as they need to.  In this case, I give her a shot in the neck (an intramuscular shot) of calcium solution.  Calcium is an important component of muscle contraction, hence this helps keep her contracting to push those piglets out.  If her body doesn’t need it, it just excretes it in urine – no harm, no foul!

Another option, especially if she hasn’t had another piglet in awhile, is to “sleeve” her – that is, palpate her vaginally to try to pull any piglets out that may be stuck and blocking the rest of the litter from being born.  This helps tremendously with helping the sow finish up her farrowing process and getting the piglets out safely.  This a lot of times keeps both the sows and piglets healthy and alive through the farrowing process.

Now, onto the baby care! A certain number of piglets need to be born and nursing in order to keep the hormones inside mom flowing as they should.  However, as soon as 4 – 8 piglets are born, I can start paying individual attention to the piglets.  One big thing I do is placing a freshly born piglet into a little tub with a heat lamp over it so they can warm up, called hot boxing. Their body temperature drops amazingly fast after being born, and a cold piglet is not a hungry piglet! It is so so so SO vital for a piglet (and any other livestock species) to get colostrum in order to survive and have a shot at being healthy.  Colostrum is the first milk from a mother that is filled with antibodies to fight off disease.  When the baby animal drinks this colostrum (colostrum only lasts for the first 24 hours after birth), the baby is getting all these anitbodies for immunity directly into his/her bloodstream.  So when I hot box a piglet, they are only in there until the next check 30 minutes later, and it gives them a  chance to warm up and start moving around a little to enable that suckling instinct to kick in.  Then, I place them next to mama’s teat, and they suckle away!

Another important thing I do for colostrum is known as split suckling.  That is when I place the 6 biggest, fattest pigs out of a litter into the tub and leave them there for a few hours.  This is to help the smaller, weaker pigs get a better chance at getting full bellies of colostrum.  Its basic logic/pecking order rules that if you take out the big bullies, the little ones don’t have to fight so much to get their meals.  This also helps hugely with keeping piglets alive to grow to be strong, healthy, and happy!

Whew, my brain went into overdrive to think of everything. There is still so much more I could say about Day 1 pig care, as I spend my whole 9 hour work day just doing Day 1! I hope this goes to show how much the people, like myself, that work with these animals really do care for their health and wellbeing.  Stay tuned for the next insight into the workings of a hog barn! Until next time, stay safe and have a blessed day =)

Meg ❤