Recently, shocking revelations have been exposed as to the manner in which pigs are farmed, or more specifically, housed. The area of greatest concern is the welfare of breeding sows, who spend much of their life in tiny gestation stalls, which are so small that many are unable to even turn around. This cruel and barbaric practice has raised the ire of animal lovers and animal welfare groups, who have put pressure on the industry to improve the living conditions of pigs, widely acknowledged as being intelligent, social animals. They are pushing for farmers to move away from these outdated farming methods and to provide open housing, consisting of pens enclosed by hog fencing to contain the pigs, rather than confining them to gestation stalls for much of their life.
A survey conducted by University of Missouri extension economist Ron Plain, and presented at the 2012 World Pork Expo, found that of the 70 U.S. pork operators interviewed, representing 3.6 million of an estimated total of 5.7 million sows in the U.S., only 17.3% of these sows spent some part of the gestation period in open housing. The majority spend the full four month gestation period in gestation-stalls – two-by-seven foot crates that prevent sows from moving about freely. They are moved to another crate to give birth; after giving birth they are re-inseminated and returned to gestation-stall – a process that is repeated over and over, until they are finally slaughtered and put out of their misery.
Food merchants are sitting up and taking notice. Many grocery chains and fast food suppliers have declared that they will only buy pork from operators that practice humane gestation-stall free farming methods – a move which is forcing operators to change to communal housing of pigs in open pens enclosed with hog fencing, rather than the sows doing solitary confinement for most of their lives.
Farmers can make the change to this style of farming quite easily by installing electric hog fencing to contain their pigs in open pens. An electric hog fence provides the ideal solution for enclosing pig pens, as pigs do not have an extensive layer of insulating hair covering their body and they have wet noses, which allows them to readily feel the sensation of a mild shock emitted by an electric fence. Furthermore, while pigs tend to burrow under standard fencing – or bulldoze their way through it; because they are highly intelligent, and quick learners, they soon learn to respect the psychological barrier imposed by an electric hog fence. Should the fence get damaged, an electric fence repair job is simple, cheap, and can be undertaken in a matter of minutes. These factors make an electric hog fence a very effective method of containment for pigs, and allows pig farmers to make a smooth transition from gestation-stalls to open housing with very little financial outlay.
Animal welfare is a matter that we need to take seriously. As Mahatma Gandhi once proclaimed:
‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’.
While some may choose to go the vegetarian route, not everyone is prepared to give up their juicy steak or succulent pork banger for the benefit of factory farmed animals. However, there are alternative methods of farming that will make life for the animals that eventually make their way onto our plate a lot less unbearable, and maybe even enjoyable. By providing pigs with open housing where they are able to move around freely within the confines of an electric hog fence, this can be achieved quite easily, for the benefit of the pigs, the farmers, and the nation as a whole.
Featured Image by Ron Strutt [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons