Minnesota Farmer


Pigs are, well, pigs

I’m rather frustrated when I hear people telling what they think really happens on farms, especially in the pork industry.  They claim all kinds of things they know nothing about.  As a former pork producer who raised pigs in many different types of housing over the years, here are a few things about pigs that you should know.

There is no meaner animal on the planet that I know of.  Pigs will be mean to each other whenever they can get away with it.  The only way to keep pigs from fighting each other is to keep them separate.  Sick or injured animals can be killed and eaten if not removed from the pen.  Even piglets just a few days old will bite and push.  They are born with sharp teeth that can rip up a sibling.  As they get older the tusks on a boar (male) will stick out of the side of the boars mouth and can really rip up anything they can get at.  Boars and sows (females) can weigh over 500 pounds and they know how to use that weight to their advantage.  Their huge neck muscles are made to gouge and thrust.  Even as a juvenile, at about 250 pounds, pigs know how to push their weight around.  I have the damaged knees to prove it.

Pigs can and will eat anything.  They will slurp down snakes and love any kind of meat.  If it doesn’t move fast enough or fight back, it’s lunch.  What we would consider garbage, a pig declares is dinner, if it is rotten or moldy, so much the better.  They can get by on grass, leaves or bark, but prefer more condensed foods like grain (corn, oats, wheat, barley).  A pig raised in a barn has exactly what they need to grow in front of them as determined by a veterinarian and a nutritionist.

Pigs are pigs.  If allowed to, boss animals will steal food from smaller animals.  You end up with a few overweight animals and the rest fighting over the scraps.  Smaller animals will be kept away from the food until the larger animal has had its fill.  That is why some farmers use gestation crates.  In most cases a gestation crate will have more room in it per animal than would be allowed in group housing.  In a gestation crate, each sow will get exactly the amount of food it needs for producing babies without having to fight the boss for it.  There is also much less chance of injury and death.

I have raised pigs in open lots and I’ll take a clean enclosed barn every time.  Pigs are very likely to pick up diseases and parasites when raised on dirt.  Most of those diseases and parasites are easily transmitted to humans, some by eating the animal.  That is the reason that jews and arabs consider them an unclean animal.  Moving the animal off of the dirt removes this problem.

People who do not belong in a barn should please stay out.  This is to protect both you and the pigs.  You could be carrying something on your shoes or clothing that will make the pigs sick.  It is routine in most modern pig barns for people to shower in and shower out.  No outside clothing is brought in.  No outside animals are allowed in.  Barns are washed and disinfected between groups.

There is nothing a pig likes more than manure (shit, excrement).  They are naturally drawn to manure to eat the undigested or partly digested feed that another animal excretes.  Manure that has lain around for a while will have fly larva in it, pigs love fly larva.  It is part of the nature of the animal to dig around in manure.  When raised on concrete slats the manure of a pig is removed from the reach of a pig.

Pigs love the mud.  That is because a pig has no sweat glands in their skin.  They will dig around in and roll in anything that will cover their body.  Modern farmers will mist the air in a pig barn when it’s hot outside.  Pigs have sensitive skin and are prone to sunburn.  A layer of mud keeps the sun off.

You may think it would be better for a baby pig to be born in a nest, but you would be wrong.  A sow weighing in at between 300 and 500 pounds is deadly to a 2 pound newborn.  A farrowing crate protects the babies from being stepped on or laid on.  It also allows the farmer to assist in birth when needed.  It is not unusual for the last few pigs to get covered in the afterbirth.  A farmer can save these pigs where he does not have to enter the pen a protective mother is in.  After farrowing (giving birth) the sow will turn around and eat her afterbirth.  In an open setting, other pigs will be trying to get at the after birth.  Sometimes baby pigs get eaten or injured in the melee.  A mother pig likes temperatures a lot cooler than a newborn.  A farrowing crate allows the farmer to add heat just for the babies and the mother can stay cooler.

Pigs love to be close together.  Even in the hottest weather, pigs will sleep close together.  You can have just a few pigs in a large barn and they will still sleep piled on top of each other.

Pork is delicious.  Bacon, ham, chops, roasts, sausage, it all is good to eat and good for you.  Pork, in moderation is part of a well-balanced diet.  If there is one thing that will tempt a vegan off of the wagon it is bacon!

Please, before you try to tell a farmer how to raise his animals, talk to them.  Old livestock farmers have years of observation to share.  They care about their animals and want them to be healthy.  They do their best to give every animal a chance to live, and not die a senseless death of disease or injury.  Yes, farmers know that their pigs will be killed and eaten.  They also realize that in life everything must die.  Isn’t it better for that life to mean something.  The pigs sacrifice helps us to grow and live better lives.

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6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

the sheer terror of having to walk through the pigs to get to the hay loft ladder is something that cannot be described!

Comment by dab

Your experience was on our farm in the old open barn style.

Comment by Michael

Growing up on a dairy and crop farm, I really knew nothing about pigs. Thank you for educating me on these animals, which I’ll never think of in quite the same way again.

Comment by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Nice post, Mike! Thank you for explaining the “whys” of what we do!

Comment by carolyncares

However you want to rationalize it, gestation crates are cruel!

Comment by Dontbuyit

I’m assuming you never took care of pigs and had to deal with the wounds and dead babies that farrowing in more “natural” housing allows to happen.

Comment by Michael




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