Allison Zabel
Allison Zabel

John F. Kennedy said, “The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” I love educating people on agriculture, especially animal agriculture. Most people have no idea what goes on at a pig farm. Some people take it upon themselves to “educate” the general public about pig farms, but in many cases, these people don’t even work in agriculture nor have an agricultural background. I take pride in what I do and I love explaining my job to people.

I work in the breeding department at a nucleus farm for DNA Genetics. This particular farm uses gestation pens to house sows. I have worked for two other sow farms and they used individual pens to house their sows, too. There is a lot of debate on how sows should be housed during their gestation period. I think I have enough experience in sow farms to give the general public the unbiased truth about how we should house our animals in facilities.

Animal activist organizations are pushing for swine producers to house their gestating sows in pens. I have made a list of pros and cons concerning these pens. The pros of pens are that the sows have freedom to move around and socialize. The cons of pens are a decrease air quality, feed wastage, increased labor, and a decrease in proactive animal care. Sows fight because they need to establish dominance, and this creates lameness and “fall behinds.”

Individual maternity pens are what animal activists are trying to get banned. The cons of individual pens are that sows cannot turn around and they have limited total movement, as I mentioned previously. On the other hand, caregivers are able to provide proactive animal management, because the herdsman can more easily see if a sow is falling behind. In addition, air quality and diet control are improved because workers can see how much a sow eats or if she is off feed. 

Ultimately, it’s the swine producer/farmer who should decide on what type of sow housing is best for his or her operation. Today, consumers are being persuaded by organizations like HSUS, when they should be basing their opinion on the facts. Pen gestation and individual maternity pens are both acceptable ways to house sows when managed properly. Producers and farmers are the experts who care for animals on a day-to-day basis, not HSUS.