For generations, pork producers have provided excellent husbandry and care to pigs, knowing that they will be rewarded by their own satisfaction and improved production from the animals. Also, I hope that at least part of the reason people work in pork production is because he or she enjoys working with pigs , even if they can test our patience at times.

However, our customers and the general public are increasingly demanding that we demonstrate and document that pigs are raised in a humane manner.  Recent isolated occurrences of animal abuse, along with rhetoric from activist groups, have caused our public to increasingly distrust animal agriculture. Because our consumer base is more detached from having any farming background, production methods such as using individual stalls to house sows is being questioned. 

So how do you ensure that the highest level of animal care always occurs, and how do you demonstrate this to customers?  Here are some guidelines to consider.

  • Make animal care and welfare a priority within the operation.  How do you create a “culture of animal care?" Lead by example; words are not sufficient. Managers’ and owners’ actions set the tone, and you have to reflect a positive attitude toward animal handling and care. Conduct all activities as if you were being filmed. If you’re uncertain about a specific practice or activity, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

    If someone witnesses questionable or improper handling, that information needs to be relayed to the management or ownership with assurances that the person will be “safe.” Then you must take corrective actions.

  • Allow extra time when moving or handling pigs. In the hectic daily shuffle of raising pigs and trying to complete so many tasks, corners might get cut as can the “care” portion of animal care. Perhaps the pigs aren’t moving as fast as you would like, or a sow just stepped on your toe.  Even at these challenging times, everyone in the barn needs to remember that animal care and well-being is a top priority.  If you’re “hot and bothered,” it’s not the ideal time to move or handle pigs.
  • Develop an animal-welfare policy. Establishing an animal-welfare program for your operation will help ensure that animal well-being is a priority, that everyone on the farm understands his/her responsibilities and that the highest level of animal care occurs all the time from everyone. Components of a program should include the company philosophy regarding animal well-being and abuse, a definition of what constitutes animal abuse, instructions for how to report abuse and consequences for not following the policy.
  • Become individually certified in related programs. Pork Quality Assurance Plus is an on-farm certification program that addresses pork food-safety and animal well-being issues, and how on-farm procedures can affect those areas. Production sites can eventually be certified by having a PQA Plus advisor conduct an assessment on the farm. The advisor will review records and observe animals as well as facilities and equipment and provide recommendations on how to continually improve animal care.

Transport Quality Assurance is a similar program that focuses on animal handling during the shipping process, the impact on the animal as well as final pork quality. 

By participating in these two programs, individuals become certified for three years and demonstrate their commitment to the animal, food safety and product quality.

Being aware of the importance of animal well-being for your farm, and the entire industry, is the first step. Demonstrate your commitment, and look for more tools to become available this year. Meantime, you can view a free PorkCast Web cast presented by the National Pork Board, titled “Creating an Animal Welfare Program.”