Letter to the Editor: Because we care about our animals

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Editor’s note: Linden Olson is a pork producer from Worthington, Minn. He has served in many leadership positions within the pork industry and is respected for his honesty, objectivity and foresight. He recently sent the following letter to the editor and we feel it gives those outside the industry a better understanding of how food animals are produced and why.

Linden OlsonLinden Olson As a lifelong resident of a livestock farm and a pork producer for over 60 years, I have been following with interest the letters about current welfare practices in pig-raising. Through the years, over 1,000 visitors came from all across the United States and several foreign countries to view our facilities and visit about our production practices. We never had a visitor come when it was 20 degrees below zero and a blizzard was raging; or when it was 95 degrees, the wind was calm and the heat index was over 100. 

What I have not heard in the ongoing welfare discussion is that livestock producers are responsible for the care of their animals 24/7/365.  The housing systems we built and the production practices we use were highly influenced by the experiences we had during the extremes in weather: the night it rained 6 inches and drown two-thirds of the baby pigs housed in an “ideal” outside pasture setting; the winter it did not get above 32 degrees for 63 days straight and snow and wind made it impossible to keep pigs warm and dry because they tracked  snow into their sleeping quarters faster than we could haul straw bedding for them; the two days in which a raging blizzard with a wind chill in excess of 60 below made it dangerous for both man and beast; and the days when the heat index soared to over 100. These are but a few of the days etched into my memory that influenced our decision to put our hogs under roof and our sows in individual stalls 24/7/365. 

Not only did indoor-housing make it easier on the pigs because the environment could be regulated during the extremes in weather – it was also easier on us and the other caretakers, because we no longer had to fight the cold, heat, wind, rain or snow. There were other benefits to the sows, in particular: No more broken legs from fighting or slipping on the ice; no more bitten and swollen vulvas from sows wanting to get their spot at a feed trough; no more sows that got too thin to be productive because as a slow or timid eater, they weren’t getting their share of feed. The sows responded to this new environment by raising more pigs. Fewer sows were injured or died and fewer were too thin to reproduce. No, this type of housing does not fit the “ideal” image of raising pigs, but then we have very few “ideal” days of weather in a year. It is because we care for the welfare of our animals that we house them the way we do. The result of that care is they are more productive, and therefore more profitable, not the other way around.

Linden Olson

Worthington, Minn.  

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Jerry Steck    
Alexis, IL  |  March, 21, 2013 at 08:50 AM

Well said!!! We need to continue to get this message out.

Janeen Johnson    
March, 21, 2013 at 09:03 AM

This is well done Linden. You need to get the rest of those awesome producers who fulfill their ethical and moral obligation to providing care for their animals to get this message out! People need to hear from those that care of those animals 24/7 365 days a year.

Palmer, ISU    
Iowa  |  March, 21, 2013 at 09:13 AM

Linden, I enjoyed your letter and associating with you for a few of those 60 years. I remember those miserable days also in ND. We saw some "ideal" outdoor sows in the UK on a swine welfare tour 20 years ago. Memorable was a cold driving rainstorm near the North Sea and A-frames, sows and wet pigs. The "welfare concerned" Brits were sitting in warm houses.

Darrell Anderson    
West Lafayette, IN  |  March, 21, 2013 at 09:16 AM

As usual, leave it to Linden to cut through the fluff and in his usual "common sense" approach, sum up the real reasons we raise hogs the way we do today. Great job Linden - it has been my privilege to know Linden for over 45 years and to be one of those folks (as a 4-H judging team member the first time) to visit his farm. I can assure you that if we had more folks like Linden who can "tell the rest of the story" to our critics, we would all be better off.

Don Buhl    
Minnesota  |  March, 21, 2013 at 09:43 AM

Linden, Thank you for expressing this so well. I also remember dragging straw to sows through the snow in the bitter cold. It was a major expense to put sows inside but it allowed us to take better care of them. I appreciate that you took the time to share your experience.

Irv Sether    
Jackson, Mn  |  March, 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Linden, Wow, you have just writen about many of my life's experiences raising pigs. We learned the 4H Motto " To Make the Best Better," over 60years ago and about 40miles apart from each other. Your "Common Sence" answer about 24/7/365 work ethic is right on.

Sam Hines    
East Lansing, MI  |  March, 22, 2013 at 09:35 AM

Kudos Linden, you stated it well. Modern animal housing systems didn't just fall from the sky; they evolved for a reason and animal comfort and welfare were at the top of that list. Your comments made me reflect on my time raising hogs outdoors and the challenges inherent in trying to keep hogs comfortable and productive in that type of system. As you indicated, occasionally it wasn't very pretty. I think everyone needs to be reminded of that fact from time to time and you did it eloquently.

John Kellogg    
il  |  March, 22, 2013 at 06:02 PM

Linden, Thanks for speaking up on the swine wellfare issue. I am frutrated by those in the industry who are willing to throw in the towell.

Powers, MI  |  March, 24, 2013 at 03:44 PM

Great work getting the message of animal ag the way it really is out there! ! Your overview of the raising of your pigs could just as well be dairy, beef, sheep, chickens, etc.. The general public need s to understand farmers do the best for they animals so the animals can do there best for them. It really is a partenrship.

Jack Proffitt    
Ky  |  March, 27, 2013 at 06:13 AM

People complain about the "factory farms" and large operations, but as long as people want food cheap enough to eat half of it and throw away the rest then this is how it has to be. The old "story book farm" where a farmer has 1 cow, 3 pigs and a few chickens didn't produce any of this cheap food. Bought food used to be a luxury but now with today's production practices food is plentiful and affordable. The people that want to go back to the old ways really don't understand what they are wishing for.

stephanie warden    
mi  |  May, 02, 2013 at 04:20 PM

olson talks like he really cares for his pigs but ive seen different and why the gage on video taping the farms ? Is it because your industry is so nice to the pigs ??? NNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO its because you don't want people to see what really goes on . Karma , I hope all the pain you cause animals comes back to you seven fold .

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