Friday, February 20, 2009

Crates, Pens, Huts, or Pasture?

As I was sifting through some threads over on Homesteading Today I came across an interesting thread about the very question I posted in the title of this post. The original poster obviously raises on quite a bit bigger scale than I do and it sounds like he had recently tried some pen farrowing after being used to crate farrowing. The conclusion he comes to is that at his farm he is better off with crates and maybe some turnout pens because he doesn't like the loss of pigs.

I think there are some valid points brought up on each side of the argument. Here are some of the interesting comments from the thread (of course you should check out the whole thing):
  • "Part of my decision to use pens was that the farrowing crates are so upsetting to people and I have so much business traffic through the farm, I'm over that now.... hate me!!!!! I'm not goin to watch pigs die to be green and PC...."
  • "I think there needs to be an open discussion on why crates are inhumane but low weaning averages are acceptable... low weaning numbers = high piglet mortality.... 100% surival should be the goal....... 95% should be a reality."
  • "Keeping hogs in a barn has much higher overhead costs than pasturing. You've got the barn cost, upkeep and maintenance, labor, etc. I'm willing to accept up to 20% mortality due to my lowered inputs."
  • "These pens are the same pens that have been used in past generations, when litters were just smaller....In the US the number of weaned pigs has gone up by 3 in 10 years..... I just don't think, the modern genetics of sows can keep up their numbers in pens...."
  • "Pig mortality is a trait that can be bred away from. If you have an inattentive sow that lays on pigs, cull her. Keep the sows that don't lose pigs, and keep their daughters. One mistake that I think the farming industry as a whole has made for years is being production driven instead of profit driven. Higher weaning numbers or higher finished pounds does not automatically equal higher profits. How much did your inputs have to go up in order to gain the higher production? If you can wean fewer pigs and finish fewer pounds with dramatically lower inputs, profits may very well be higher than with the higher production numbers."
So, what are your thoughts? I just watched an online farm tour of a pasture farrowing farm that runs 15 or 16 sows per acre. They farrow in huts (the huts are moved inside a hoop building in the winter) and he does lose about 2 per litter or so I believe he said. Despite the losses this is the way he has been doing it for a long time and this is the way he wants to continue because it works best for his farm (the pastured pigs are part of his crop rotation). He mentioned that he can make $2,400 per acre with his pasture farrowing operation when he has pigs in the fields.

As I just mentioned, I would love to hear your thoughts on this debate. There were some interesting points made on either side of the issue. I do have some strong opinions, but I just thought I would throw the information out there and see what everyone thinks.


Bob said...

I guess it comes down to how you see the sow and her litter. Are they animals to be husbanded and cared for until use, or are they simply animated cogs in your financial scheme. I tend to agree with the last two bullet points you used. Farrowing crates as used are simply a means of incapacitating a sow in an industrial setting so that she does not crush potential profit items. The first year that the new animal husbandry building opened at the Iowa State Fair, I rushed my wife over to see what they had and how they were running things. The farrowing crates were the most disgusting item I have ever seen. Rubber coated grating for a floor, no straw or material for nesting or comfort, sows unable to move in any direction. My wife almost threw up on the spot and made me vow we would never use such an item. (I'm an aspiring small farmer as well.) If a piglet is an economic asset purely, and a moving sow is an economic liability purely, then that mindset approves of the farrowing crate. If they are animals to be fostered and cared for, animative creatures to be husbanded until the time of use, farrowing crates really aren't even part of the equation. But that's just my two cents.

Christian said...

Interesting discussion, although saving more piglets is a reasonable endeavor, (assuming that is the motivation and not only profit) the crates would seem to rob the pigs of their nature. I agree with Bob that with crates production takes over from husbandry, and that is a sad reality, one which given the choice I would not support.

On another note, can you post the link to the "online farm tour" you mention? Sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

Just to say that the experience that I have had. We have farrowed pigs using three methods Pasture farrowing, Pen farrowing, crates. found that pasture was the best with shedes available,second was individual pens with a rail around the pen, and least was the crates. raised the most pigs with the pasture method. I am in my seventh decde of age. so no longer raising pigs. hope that is helpfull to you. By the way e are further north than you. Poppabrink @ net zero. com

Anonymous said...

By this sort of logic wouldn't any sort of confinement, whether pasture, pen, or crate be the same...namely, a "robbing of their nature." I never saw a crated pig become anything other than a pig, so what does "robbing their nature" even mean?

Temporary restraint for the welfare of the pigs, though at the inconvenience of the mother, is not necessarily inhumane. In fact, we do this same thing to pending mothers in hospitals and to nearly every other sick person lying in a hospital bed- restraint for their welfare.

It seems to me, that you guys are just as narrow minded in your philosophies of farming as are the traditional or conventional guys you run down. You think you've got it all figured out, but are not doing things all that differently.

Do you pen chickens up in a coop at night? Stall a horse, drylot a cow, or send your kids to a packed schoolhouse or cram your family in a car for vacation? Maybe you put up electric fence to exclude deer from your garden...gasp. How dare you rob them of their deerness!!!

At least be consistent in applying your ideas. Take down your fences, tear down your pens, sheds, and huts, and cowboy up out on the open range. Then you can start pointing fingers at those who confine.

No? Why not? Because your farm and your animals are primarily "economic assets"?

Rich said...

The only thing I know about pigs is that if I had a farrowing operation, I would want healthy sows that weaned as many healthy piglets as they could while returning a profit.

If you are raising livestock, you are going to have to look at them as both needing husbanding and as economic assets. If you ignore one aspect in favor of the other, your farm will fail. But if you balance the welfare of the animals and their economic value, the chances of your farm succeeding will increase.

Whether crates should be used would depend on the sows and their breeding, the capital available for infrastructure, the farmer's desired working conditions, etc. But, ignoring the welfare concerns, in the context of a small farm do crates ever make finance sense? How many sows would you need to justify the expense?

If I planned to start a small-scale farrowing operation, I would use something like a modified Swedish deep-bedding hoop structure subdivided into pens with huts. The sows would have a chance to ‘prove’ they could wean healthy piglets in the slightly more restrictive environment of the hoop, and the better ones could be transitioned to a pasture-farrowing setup (while the lesser ones could remain in the hoop as needed for production). Eventually, through selective breeding, only the younger replacements would be farrowing in the hoop (so they could ‘learn’ how to raise healthy piglets)

Mrs. G said...

Dear Anonymous,
Bad logic on your part.
Comparing a sick peron in a hospital bed to a healthy pig in confinement is setting up a contradictory argument. In plain talk, it's comparing apples to oranges.
I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your method of raising pigs, but I do object to your abuse of Traditional Logic.
Mrs. G

Valley View said...

We use the free range methods - which I suppose is your pasture method. We've lost less than 10% due to mothers laying on them. We put this down to no stress, not having overwieght sows and the breed of pigs we keep - Berkshire. We'd never dream of using a crate, no animal deserves to be treated like that.

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