Rant: Farrowing crates in California
CNN is posting ballot initiative results from around the country. One caught my attention:
California approved an initiative to outlaw the confinement of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens “in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely.”
I remember when we moved to a farm near Everly, IA, about 1968. This farm had a decent two-story frame house, and sizable, if older, outbuildings (barn, granary, machine shed, etc.) The ‘hog house’ had been adapted and built up inside, so it had an alley way through it, but had a bunch of small pens build of scrap wood, mostly to the ceiling. Dad gutted the building to a set of good 4×4 upright supports down the (wide) alley way, lined the walls with plywood, hung 2″ styrofoam for a ceiling (Iowa winters get cold), and put in a propane heater. Then put ‘farrowing crates’ along the walls on each side of the alley way, I think about 5 or 6 on each side. Pride of the Farm brand crates, that narrowed at the top a bit so the top bars were too narrow for an excited sow to climb out. Later we added another eight crates to take up about 2/3rds the length of the hog house.
The farrowing crates were fairly open, pipes and bars to contain the sow from the time she gave birth to a litter of baby pigs – the goal was an average litter size of 8 pigs grown to weaning, sometimes up to 14 pigs in a single litter - until the pigs got to two (2) to five (5) weeks old, depending on whether we needed the space right away for a new litter.
From the wording that CNN reports, the California initiative would ban the practice of using farrowing crates.
Dad turned the sows out twice a day to feed, drink, move about – and let us clean the crate. And doctor the pigs if need be. About an hour, hour and a half each time.
See, the crate was big enough for a really big, older sow to stand up, move forward and back a food or two, depending on age/size (Dad kept sows for breeding for a couple of years, then replaced them, so they never got really big). There was plenty of room for the sow to lay and nurse, to either side. Between crates we used divider boards to keep the baby pigs separate from neighbor pigs. A crate was about 5-6 feet wide, from divider on the left to divider on the right, with the sow portion about 1/3 to 2/5 of that width, located in the center.
We put a heat lamp over the pigs in winter or cool weather (spring, fall), pig waterers and creep feeders for the pigs to take stress off the sow, and to supplement feed to assure each grew well and quickly.
And we used the crates to make raising pigs profitable. See, left in the pasture, or in a traditional square pen, the sow lays down next to a wall or partition – and often smothers one or more pigs. Sometimes daily. Keeping the baby pigs alive to survive the pre-weaning days and weeks made the year to raise the sow to breeding age, the cost of procuring a breeding boar, the cost of feeding all of them, the cost of providing facilities for breeding and farrowing in line. If you only average 6 pigs per litter, at weaning, because either the boar you used threw small litters, or the sows laid on (killed) half their piglets, then you lose money big time. And a *lot* less bacon, ham, and pork chops get to market.
If the California tree-huggers truly want to ban farrowing crates, as my father used them, then they are truly intent on destroying the ability to produce pork in that state. Anyone but a backyard garden farmer, raising a pig to butcher for home use, will be put out of business.
Perhaps it is time for the rest of the nation to consider a tree-hugger embargo. Refuse to ship products to California that would be uneconomical if produced under California law. Let them eat Cauliflower.
I understand that a farrowing crate could, with little difficulty, be turned into a confinement crate that the pig enters before farrowing, and leaves only when the pigs are weaned. And I would cringe at that.