Dieticians Tour Sow Farm

posted on Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Saturday we headed to an Iowa Selects Farm to meet some baby pigs and learn about the farm.  Here is the weird part, because pigs are so susceptible to life-threatening illnesses such as PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus) the farm had very stringent cleanliness regulations.  In fact, we actually had to cover our shoes before ever stepping foot on the farm.  After we got there we participated in the bench entry system, leaving our covered shoes on one side and sliding over to the clean side.

Then we had to shower into the farm (we also had to shower out.) This meant leaving our clothes in a locker room, washing our hair and bodies, then putting on provided under garments and “coveralls.”  I’ll be honest it was exactly as intense as it sounds.

Once in the farm, we were briefed by the lead Veterinarian and others, as a group of all Dietitians, we had plenty of questions.  For me, I didn’t really know what to expect.  There are plenty of viewpoints in the space of animal welfare and industry farming, that frankly, I’ve tried hard to avoid thinking about or discussing in too much detail.  When I was invited on this tour, I knew it was a chance to step out of my comfort zone and get to learn from the source as well as see first hand.

Of all the things I learned, the thing that stood out to me the most was the story of the farmer.  The lead veterinarian said, “Every generation changes significantly, the way my father farmed was different from my grandfather, and the way I farm is different from my father.”  That statement really opened my eyes to the way mankind evolves it’s farming techniques from generation to generation.

We got to see piglets being born, one interesting thing is that the employees must monitor the laboring sows (pregnant pigs) because babies get stuck in the birth canal.  One of the employees mentioned that was her favorite part of her job, because, piglets that get stuck often pass away from lack of oxygen.  She loved that she could save the piglet and help the mama pig out.

We also got to see colored piglets and the size they would be when just about ready to be weaned from their mother.

Honestly, the piglets were WAY cuter than I expected, I kind of want one.  How do you think Nala would feel about that?

I’ve debated and debated and debated about sharing my feelings on the tour with all of you because I know that farming and animal welfare are issues that people are extremely passionate. I totally respect that, after visiting the farm and meeting the animals I would say I’ve become very passionate too. That being said, here are some of the things I learned and observed:

  • Wild boars and pigs are naturally scavengers.
  • Indoor facilities were built to protect the pigs from harsh weather conditions and disease.
  • Indoor facilities lower mortality rate from harsh weather conditions and disease.
  • Indoor facilities make producing leaner meat possible because of a controlled temperature (less need for fat insulation.)
  • Mother pigs are kept in a space big enough for them to stand up and lay down during labor and while lactating (known as gestation stalls or pens).  This is done to prevent them from laying on the piglets which causes for a large percentage of piglet mortality.
  • Piglets are weaned at 12-15lbs or about 21 days.
  • During gestation, mother pigs are kept in pens of 12, with those of their same gestation as well as general size.
  • Feeding is done once a day to decrease stress on the animals, this is the time they are most likely to fight.
  • Other than feeding time, mama pigs chose to lay and cuddle together in the pens.
  • The facility was extremely clean and the staff showed a great deal of affection and respect for all the animals.