There are a broad range of controversial parenting topics.  I had opinions on some of those topics before I ever had a kid.  Now I have a kid and my view of parenting has changed significantly.  I think the same is true of raising pigs.  The fact is to have pigs we must have pregnant pigs {aka sows}, and pregnant pigs must be cared for.

There are options for caring for pregnant pigs.  Gestations stalls, gestations crates, pig crates, whatever you call them are a hot topic these days.  At first glance it can be hard to understand why any farmer would consider using them.  Much like parenting, having your own kid {or pregnant sow} it’s much different than looking at pictures, reading about it on the internet and even hearing stories from others that have a kid {or sow}.

I see comments and stories from people who can’t understand why on earth farmers would consider using gestation stalls.  I hear from farmers who have raised pigs outside and have worked most of their lives to transition pigs inside who are frustrated about the communication gap.

Many farmers can draw on a lifetime of experience and see the improvements barns and stalls have made on their farms.  I recall one farmer sharing how his sows, pregnant mother pigs, were outside one summer and got sunburned so bad that they aborted all of their pigs.  I recall another farmer telling me how they built a new (smaller) barn on the farm every few years and that they realized how much it decreased odor on their farm by moving the last group inside where they could be separated from their own waste and kept cool by fans and misters instead of mud.

I think much of my dad’s generation can remember raising pigs completely outside.  Many in that generation have worked, saved, implemented technology, and done their best to make improvements on their farms.  Thus the progression from keeping animals outdoor to confinement.

My grandpa started his life working in fields with a horse and plow.  By the time my dad was born there were no more horses on the farm and they used tractors.  I can only imagine how much more work could be done with a tractor of any size than with a horse.

The same is true with pig barns and gestation stalls.

Growing up my family used farrowing stalls (where momma pigs have and nurse their babies), but we have never used gestation stalls (where momma pigs stay when they are not nursing piglets).  I am not opposed to using stalls.  I look at stalls as being a piece of equipment, or a tool that you can use help care for animals.  I believe that management is the most important tool in properly raising any animal.

sow

Chealp labor attempting to clean up after the pigs.

My family raised sows in pens.  They lived in groups up to 20.  I have seen that work well, and I have seen a big aggressive sow fight with a smaller one so badly that she was unable to eat feed.  If the smaller one was not identified quickly and removed from the group to be given individual care, she would not have survived.  I have seen sows sleep on top of each other in the winter to stay warm, if a smaller one ends up on the bottom she does not always come out unscathed.  A stall free world does not necessarily mean a better world.  See this link for more info.

I have also seen that it is increasingly hard for my dad to find people, even school kids, willing to do manual labor in the elements.  Dependable labor as well as equipment that allows you to provide good animal care are keys to sustaining any farm or business.

Through my work I have been in large barns and learned from farmers, at their dinner table, in their house, which is often near the barn, the story of their farm and why they do what they do.  Benefits of gestation stalls include being able to easily find the single sow that you are looking for to keep an eye on her when she is sick, to adjust her feed if she starts looking too thin or too heavy, to know her due date and provide special care when the big day draws near.

farrowing stall

I hope he has the chance to farm when he’s older if he wants to. Unnecessary regulations will limit his opportunities before he has a chance to make that decision.

A recent trend among retailers and restaurant chains is to phase out serving pork that came from a mother pig that was in a stall.  This will obviously mean change in the industry.  It would be much easier for me to accept these decisions if the decision makers in suits had even a portion of the experience that I have simply helping on a farm and talking to different types of farmers.  Or if the people pushing these people in suits to make changes that affect families like mine had done more to really understand why farms have changed so much over the past twenty years.

This change will mean more labor.  The additional labor will need to be skilled at caring for animals.  Most of the farmers that I know have a spouse who works off of the farm full-time.  Where will the extra dollars for labor, new equipment of some type, extra space in a building come from?  It may mean extra debt for some.  Some may choose not to incur the extra debt and quit raising pigs.

Feed is the biggest expense in raising an animal.  We are facing a very serious drought across the country.  The drought will likely mean a much tighter supply of corn and soybeans (ingredients in pig feed).  When supplies tighten, prices go up.

So if you were a family looking out for you and your animals’ long term interests would you chance feed prices exploding at the same time that you are being expected to change your barns, management plan and labor?

Please consider some of these thoughts before you get too upset about stalls.  If you have more questions please ask.  I know farmers who use gestation stalls who will talk to you about why.

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