Was the “old” way better?

It’s the middle of February and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve shoveled my driveway. Winters grip has been harsh this year, and it looks to remain for a few more weeks.


It’s one thing for me to complain about clearing a driveway when I live in town. It’s been another story for producers and their employees this winter as they have daily faced the challenges of keeping driveways open and assuring bin access for feed trucks. when you spend 4+ hrs several days a week moving snow it becomes a long winter.


I was made aware of this constant challenge several times in the past few weeks as I worked in our research barns and had discussions with several nutritionists. The good news for the pigs is that are confined inside where the temperatures are relatively warm and they don’t have to climb snow drifts to access feed and water and the water is not frozen, etc.


To those industry critics that want us to revert to the ‘old’ ways of rearing pigs, I remember well the ‘old’ ways. They involved pigs with frozen backs during transport, frozen teats on sows coming into the farrowing house, pigs with prolapes from piling into straw packs, etc. The best example of the ‘old’ way is a comment by a long time veterinarian friend who witnessed the industry conversion from outside lots to confinement.


He told me one time that in the ‘old’ days, he knew he would spend his time repairing prolapses on growing pigs on days the wind was from the southeast as the possibility of pigs staying warm and dry in ‘Cargill’ facilities was minimal on these days. He contrasted that veterinary effort with the challenge of today where pigs are relatively warm and dry and the challenges are in determining herd health practices for prevention of disease. As a person trained in animal health and concerned with their welfare, he much preferred the confinement option for the growing pig.


Our failure in the animal welfare debate has beena failure to help critics understand how much we’ve improved the well being of pigs by our current production practices. Maybe it’s time we dug out pictures of the ‘old’ days to help this generation of critics understand what they are asking us to revert to.

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