Sunday, November 15, 2009

Farrowing crates in the NY times

I've written several times about farrowing crates in my blog.  In cost and husbandry I wrote about a bucket of dead piglets and how much that sucked.  In Farrowing pen experiment I wrote about making a pen in my hay barn so that the sow would be more protected and the piglets warmer, with mixed results.  and I've written a number of entries about having to move sows that chose a bad place to farrow, or various difficulties.  Search for the word "farrow" in my blog for a list of entries. 

The NY times, in an op-ed piece by James McWilliams,  he explores the basic issues regarding farrowing pens.  It's a pretty balanced view of the whole process, and on the whole is pretty close to my own views on this subject.  But it was one of the comments that really helped me frame what I've been thinking about, and I'll reproduce it here, in its entirety. 

[comment #]25. November 12, 2009

12:20 pm

So, let’s conduct a little thought experiment. Consider an example of certain human situation which is analogous to sows and their litters and which involves ‘humanistic values and concerns’ (the definition of humane, by the way).

Suppose a pregnant woman is having complications and has to be confined to bed rest for the last month of her pregnancy in order to protect her unborn child. Bed rest is quite common, with nearly one in five pregnant women being prescribed bed rest, and even more common for women who are carrying multiple babies. Many medical providers prescribe bed rest, despite dubious evidence about its effectiveness, because it is perceived to be worth the “effort” and not harmful to the pregnant woman.

For many women confined to bed rest for extended periods of time, the novelty of lounging in their pajamas with a stack of movies or a good book fades quickly. The realities of confinement and isolation begin to set in. A woman under bed rest rarely gets to move far from her bed, if at all, and she likely has little more than a few feet of space which available to her. Most women undergo significant hormonal changes and likely feel nesting instincts which cannot be acted on. For many women, bed rest causes muscles to lose tone and make joints ache painfully, while lying down for long periods of time reduces blood circulation. She also likely feels isolated, unable to visit her friends, go about her daily routines, or engage in hobbies and activities. Emotions run the gamut from shock to anger and from fear to hopefulness.

Sound familiar?

If a woman disobeyed her doctor and chose not to partake in bed rest, society would be appalled. It would seek compel that woman to bed rest for the sake of her unborn child, even if it meant all of the detrimental effects to the woman mentioned above. However, almost all women do listen to their doctor, and accept bed rest and the detrimental effects it often poses for themselves. This is, simply put, one of the humane ways of dealing with the complications of pregnancy.

So why do we expect to treat animals so differently, especially when there is lots of evidence on how sows (among many other female farm animals) do accidentally lie down on their offspring and crush them to death, and limited evidence on how bed rest actually prevents pregnancy complications and protects unborn children?

That's about the best argument I've heard for using a farrowing crate, at least for the first week of the pigs life.  After a week, the pigs are big enough and fast enough to get out of the way of momma. 

You'll find the ny times op-ed piece here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The welfare argument for farrowing crates is clear.

In general, the inactive and calm females that do well in confinement pass on their genes. The ones that are miserable and do badly in crates get removed from the system and don't pass on their genes.Over time, you have pigs that are content to be in crates.

E.g. Meishan pigs are notoriously difficult to move. They are generally very lazy and disinclined to move at all. They do fine in confined spaces. That's due to the Chinese selecting pigs that worked well in their system.

Some people are bothered that domesticated animals are so different from wild animals. E.g. they consider a chicken that wants to stay indoors to be an abomination. Yet those same people feel OK about eating domesticated plants like wheat, barley and corn - things that are arguably more unnatural than domesticated animals. E.g. pigs can go feral and thrive in the wild. Corn needs humans to reproduce.