Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mcdonalds and pigs and gestation crates

Mcdonalds has announced that it's going to ask its pork producers to submit plans to stop using "gestation crates" on their farms; actual implementation is still a couple of years away, apparently. 

Let me talk a little about my experience with pigs and how they act.  The first thing that I'm going to say is that what a pig considers comfortable or desirable isn't what you and I would; and I'm going to say that looking at what a pig is doing and judging it by human standards is pretty silly. 

Pigs are very intelligent animals; I think they they are smarter than dogs.  They use their intelligence on things that they consider important; like who is who in the herd.  Social standing is VERY important to pigs, and they take their social obligations very seriously. 

When a pig is sick, wounded or just not feeling well they will seek out other pigs to be with.  They'll lay down with them, and seem to take comfort from the touch, smell and sound of other pigs.   When a pig dies, it usually does so where there are other pigs; where they sleep. 

When a pig sees another pig, they will often brush up on the other pig, or nose the other pig.  That social contact is sought out, and they do it with me, too.  They'll grunt softly, and come and tap me with their nose, and then proceed on their pig business.  "I recognize you; I touch you, you touch me, we are both here". 

Gestation crates, where a sow spends her nearly 4 month pregnancy, prevent her from touching, socializing, cuddling or any other sort of interaction with any other pig, and for that reason I'm opposed to any use of them.  Because socialization and touch is so important to pigs it is a terrible thing to deny them that. 

A gestation crate is usually 3' x 7', and designed so that the sow cannot turn around.  She is individually confined, and cannot touch any other pig.  They are usually created of pipe, and the pigs can see and hear each other, but they have no choice about which pig is next to them, something that they seem to consider very important, in my experience. 

I use group housing for my sows.  They can gather, and group in any way they wish.  Pigs definitely have friends.  They also have enemies in the herd.  With group housing you can have fights, but I consider that part of a normal pig experience.  Usually it's over in a minute or two, and the social order is established, and that's that. 

At time of birth I do move the sows from group housing to farrowing crates, for about 2 weeks.  The farrowing crate is smaller than a gestation crate, and is designed to save piglet lives.  I've tried all sorts of methods, but have found that I have the most live piglets if I use a farrowing crate for the first 2 weeks of life.  After that they're moved to farrowing stalls with other sows, and eventually re-integrated with the herd.    Sows will normally segregate themselves from the herd at time of birth; in a field, they'll go to the edge, out of the way, and farrow (give birth) there.  So this pattern mimics what the sow does naturally. 

So:  Gestation crates; I don't see them as having any utility that justifies keeping a pig in solitary confinement for most of its life. 
  Farrowing crates; used to save piglet lives, as little as possible, after trying every other method I ran across.  The sow has her piglets to touch and interact with for those two weeks, so she's not alone.


plummerj said...

Thanks very much

Bruce King said...

you're welcome.

craig said...

Just curious,what's your average for litter size since using farrowing crates?
I agree with you that pigs are intelligent.

Bruce King said...

We've gone from an average of 4 weaned per litter to an average of 9 weaned per litter.