The National Pork Producers Council is in the middle of several webinars discussing Group Sow Housing. I have been participating and would like to comment on Dr. Levis’ presentation. During his presentation he often referred to “people” being involved in physical contact, physical intervention, additional tasks, and most importantly, animal recognition.
For upwards of 40 years, our industry has moved sows from outdoor operations into some sort of confined, concrete, barn and more recently (last 30 years), to environmentally controlled and crated sow facilities. Along this same time frame, the number of farm units has drastically declined. In the 1950’s, when I was a young lad, a half-section of land was a very large farm. We had 30 sows, a dozen milk cows, 40 laying hens, and fed 60 steers yearly. Our farm was typical of many in the Corn Belt. Children were raised with an understanding of the intense importance of animal care and well-being, as the animals were an integral part the family’s success. Boys and girls headed off to college with inherent Animal Sense. The next generation of successful animal caretakers was guaranteed.
Our industry’s largest problem stems from the disappearance of this family unit. Farms are four to 10 times the size of farms in the 50’s and 60’s and as a result, we’ve seen the disappearance of young people with the stockmanship to lead our industry. Today’s sow farms consist of nearly 90 percent of workers who are task oriented ONLY! Processes are well defined and mapped out by the day and even by the hour of each week (think PigCHAMP’ Breed Week). The labor source, in most cases, is focused on accomplishing the tasks, taking a scheduled break, starting another task, breaking for lunch, wrapping up afternoon tasks and showering out. Animal Sense has been traded/lost in the maturation of agriculture. Stockmanship is mostly nonexistent and we are going to witness this loss much more as we move sows into groups. I believe death loss, nonproductive sow days, farrowing rate, lameness, etc. are all going to escalate.
So where are the new young people for our industry going to come from? I see a tremendous number of young people exhibiting their pigs every year at World Pork Expo in June. Problem is, I fear Dad does most of the work.
Paul Meers Swine Consulting LLC
Opinions expressed are those of the author.