The misunderstood truth about modern production

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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.

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Andy Martin    
Indiana  |  November, 25, 2013 at 08:53 AM

It was not edited to 'look horrible and graphic', it was horrible and graphic. There is no excuse for some of the practices seen in that video. The fact that these videos are so readily obtainable are a slap in the face for those of us who work in, and for, a humane swine facility.

Cathy P.    
Venice, FL  |  November, 25, 2013 at 10:59 AM

You wrote this: "Sows in farrowing crates get restless and fidget in the crate when they are nesting. Nesting happens when sows go into labor." Being an intelligent animal that you say you have compassion for, do you think she might go a little crazy from not having anything to "nest" with and she might be frustrated that she does not have the mobility she needs to live comfortably at all? When people like you state that being confined the majority of your life is "better living conditions than a lot of people" it makes me wish you would get to experience this wonderful life for yourself. I want consumers to know the truth no matter what the overwhelming majority of farm employees feel. I feel there is a great effort in the animal farming business to conceal the actual unpleasant, unnecessary and in-humane truth.

Peggy Hawkins    
Minnesota  |  November, 25, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Allison, your compassion and love for the pigs was clear in your message. So many of us working with pigs feel the same way you do. We care for the animals. It is unfortunate that the wrong person was hired to work with pigs. As you said, it takes great patience to move animals from one place to another. We do need to be ever vigilant that we treat the animals with dignity and care. Aggressive behavior toward the animals is never acceptable and it will not be tolerated. I appreciate that you are willing to share your passion for the pigs in such a public way. Thank you, Miss Peggy

in.  |  November, 25, 2013 at 12:02 PM

In days of Old when hogs were Bold and Factory Farms were not invented.......The farmer, owned and loved his hogs and abuse was circumvented........superhog.

Katie H    
Iowa  |  November, 26, 2013 at 10:37 AM

If you know anything about sows, they do not need as much room as you think to feel comfortable. The sows are actually more comfortable in farrowing crates and individual maternity pens because they do not have to worry about attacks from bully sows. I wish you would get to experience having your tails or ears or even vulva ripped off by another sow so you can understand what any sort of group housing, inside or outside would feel like. What this person is trying to explain is that any decision or practice in pork production is based #1 on the animal. There are couple big reasons behind that. 1. Like Allison said, the vast majority of us are compassionate human beings. We appreciate the blessings our livestock give us and in return treat them as best we possibly can. It may not look like what your idea would be, but until you have actual experience in pork production, yours in based on emotion. 2. The more comfortable a sow is, the better that sow will perform. This means that if the sow is abused or living in an uncomfortable environment, they will not birth as large of litters nor will they be able to take care of their pigs, so if we as pork producers create a negative environment for that sow, we will not be as profitable. I guess that is kind of common sense, but a point that many people don't take into account. I think you think you are a good person for attacking this person for working in the pork industry. And you seem to love animals. That's great. But where you are lacking is your knowledge on the pork industry. And I'm not talking looking at HSUS websites and reading books written by people out to vilify pork producers. And that is ignorant.

steve rathe    
readlyn,ia  |  December, 03, 2013 at 05:15 PM

Cathy: You know nothing about pigs. It is obvious. I've worked with pigs for almost 50 yr's.. I can promise you pigs raised in the mud and the cold are not happy pigs. I've done both. A warm crowded pig will be more content than one running in the mud and cold. When or if you have a baby and want to nest see if you find the pasture in mud and rain a viable unconfined good idea!

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