Allison Zabel
Allison Zabel

A few weeks ago, the Pipestone System was the attacked by an animal activist group: There was a video taken at a farm. I work for Pipestone System and it is devastating to know that a farm down the road in the same company was videotaped unknowingly. An employee lost a job because of it.

Mercy for Animals released a video targeting Walmart and the way they produce meat. I watched the video – the group had hired actor James Cromwell to narrate the video. Of course they edited the video to make it look horrible and graphic. Somber music played to heighten the video’s effect.

James Cromwell says, “As compassionate people we cannot allow this to continue.” I take that statement as a slap in the face. It’s stating that since I work in a hog confinement I am not compassionate.

I feel it’s necessary to tell the story of what we do in a hog confinement and why we do it.

  • Tail-docking: Piglets’ tails are docked to provide safety for the pigs. Otherwise, you would likely see pigs biting other pigs’ tails because pigs are naturally curious. This would happen whether they were in a building or out in an open pen. Conversely, dogs’ tails are docked mostly for looks – not for health reasons.
  • Tattoos: Piglets are tattooed for identification to ship to a finisher or nursery. This practice allows for consumer safety, because in the case of a disease outbreak or human-health issue, pigs can be traced back to the farm of origin.
  • Blunt force trauma:  This method is used to euthanize pigs. Euthanasia is defined as a “good” death. It is accepted as an industry-wide standard by the AVMA, AASV and other veterinarian groups because it is quick and painless for the piglet. Unfortunately, it is not a method that is understood or easy to observe by the public. And, it’s important that it be performed correctly so pigs don’t suffer.
  • Moving sows: This is not easy. Sows can be stubborn, just like humans, and it will test people’s patience (just like humans). There is definitely a finesse needed when moving sows. Sows in farrowing crates get restless and fidget in the crate when they are nesting. Nesting happens when sows go into labor.
  • Gestation crates: Again, gestation crates are used primarily to protect sows from one another, as sows can be aggressive at times. The use of gestation crates is banned in the European Union and in nine U.S. states. The Humane Society of the United States has spearheaded the legislation in this country, making inroads with states that do not have a significant pork production industry. HSUS also has made inroads with food companies that have said they are moving away from buying pigs from farms or systems that use gestation crates. As a result, some farms no longer use gestation crates, but the use of crates is still considered a best-management practice. The point is, producers should have a choice to what kind of system they want on their farms.

Animal agriculture is not a glamorous job. Workers get covered in manure, dirt and feed. It is a hard job, but many workers are proud of what they do. We are raising a product to help feed the world. We are making sure these animals have adequate food, water, air and health care. Most pigs have better living conditions than a lot of people do!

The work we do in a production system is in the best interest of the animal. It has to be, because it is our job and how we earn a living. I think I am a very compassionate person and I love working with pigs. It’s important for consumers to know that the overwhelming majority of farm employees feel the same way I do.