Doc on Ag: Hog Production Encore–Stalls, Pens, and a Pig’s Point of View.

Doc Callahan continues what he started last week as he answers more inquiries about hog production–this time with a focus on the use of gestation stalls.
Dear Doc,
The nearest I’ve been to a pig farm is when I tailgated a semi-trailer full of hogs on I-80. I now know pigs can project a healthy warm stream through truck slats, but a car wash solved that problem. My question relates to a term I’ve seen in headlines recently. I’d be as happy as a pig rollin’ in mud if you could tell me what a “gestation stall” is.  Ralph
Dear Ralph,
I’m glad people like you are trying to understand this complicated, controversial issue. Gestation stalls—or crates—are individual pens designed to house pregnant sows. Most are made of metal bars, six and a half feet long by two feet wide. These tight quarters keep sows from fighting and allow farmers to gauge feed and medicine more efficiently. But many disagree with the use of stalls, especially if it’s long-term. They say the cramped quarters are unnatural, unethical, and maybe unhealthy. Some farmers use similar “farrowing stalls” in the short-term to keep sows from rolling on the newborn pigs. Refer to the links at the end of this entry for insights from various groups and experts. So far, researchers have not been able to get a clear definition from those most affected–the pigs. Where’s Charlotte the spider when we need her? Doc
Dear Doc,
Holy McParadigm shift, Batman. I read that McDonald’s has joined Burger King, Cargill, Smithfield, and others in saying they will phase out the use of gestation stall pork. Will my McRibs eventually get phased out too? Robyn
Dear Robyn,
Many restaurants and processing companies say they are phasing out the use of pork raised in stall conditions. In some cases, “phase out” means a ten year process. Public sentiment seems to support this move, but reading public sentiment can sometimes be like reading leaves in a teacup—one that contains a tempest. However, most experts agree that the use of stalls will eventually go. Research seems to indicate that both gestation stalls and open pens are effective, but the public wants open pens. The National Pork Board thinks farmers should be the ones to choose the system. Most sows we surveyed grunted in a way that indicates they mainly think about food, but they also hint that the ability to roll over, root around, and wallow in mud would be nice.  Doc (p.s. I have a feeling the McRibs will stay, but the McPrice will go up a bit.)
Dear Doc,
I read your advice last week about hog confinement buildings, and I must say: For an old codger, you balance yourself on the hog lot fence quite nimbly. Would you care to fall off one way or the other and give an opinion? What do you think about sow stalls and open pens?  Solomon
Dear Solomon,
Ambiguity is my middle name, but I’ll try. The research I’ve read shows pros and cons for both methods, and a sudden “whole hog move” from current conditions could cause animal health problems, food safety issues, and economic concerns—especially for small farmers. However, even though more than 75% of sows in the U.S. are now housed in stalls, it appears that open pens are the wave of the future. Maybe it’s back-to-the-future for some. When I grew up on a small pig farm during the 60s, our animals were not just open pen, they were open border. They got loose so often, we issued them passports. But back to your question. I hope science and research can come up with humane ways to make open pens “ethical” for hogs and economical for producers and consumers. I imagine most pigs feel the same—just don’t tell them what comes at the end of that final joy ride they take in a slatted truck down I-80.   Doc
Some links that might help (for further research, I suggest you examine research, blogs, and articles from farmers, interest groups, and pork organizations; Temple Grandin is also an interesting source):
This recent Des Moines Register article reports from the World Pork Expo and the “buzz” about the imminent end of stall use.
This CNN article explains the situation from a general consumer view.
This research paper from Iowa State University looks at alternatives to sow gestation stalls.
This research paper from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology evaluates the scientific evidence of gestation stalls for sows.
This writer outlines the problems that come with a change to open pen use.
This professor comments about the messages coming from agriculture and the need to do better.
(by dan gogerty)

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