We do not employ inhumane
rearing methods, and
I do not buy stock from those who do.
In the past, I have purchased my pigs shortly after they have been weaned, from one of two farmers. I know their farming methods and I have visited their barns and fields. I buy no pigs intended for human consumption from people I do not know. I do buy breeding stock from reputable persons whose farms I have not visited. My pigs are all from registered litters so I know what I am getting. I am now moving to producing all of my animals here at the farm, with minimal reliance on my old suppliers of young pigs. This should result in less stress to the young pigs, as they will not need to be transported home to the farm.
Commercial growers use gestation crates, which are just what they sound
like – crates. They do not permit a sow room to turn around in, but because
they cannot move freely, there is less risk of the sow accidentally stepping
or lying down on a piglet. It also prevents a bad sow from attacking her babies.
They were originally intended to be used for a very short time before the sow gave
birth, and for a day or two after, when the piglets are at their most vulnerable.
It has become a widespread practice in the commercial industry to rely on them
with all sows, for a much longer period of time, in a manner that is inexcusably
cruel. They now go hand in hand with the commercial industry’s practice of
overcrowding sows into confinement operations in buildings.
I understand that there are good farmers who prefer their use to losing valuable piglets or having to cull an otherwise top quality sow. I disapprove of their use in breeding, and we do not use them. Poor mothering ability is an inherited trait, and can be minimized by genetic selection.
The pigs I raise were born outside if the weather permitted. If it was simply too cold for little piglets to be born outside, then the mothers were brought inside shortly before their due dates, but always given access to the out of doors for at least part of the day. The piglets were let outside on the first day warm enough for them, and moved outside as soon as that was possible. This breed is hardy enough that the piglets can be moved outside with their mothers to range shelters at a remarkably early age.
My piglets are born in what were
once box stalls for horses. This photo actually depicts Maggie in a barn at
the farm where I have purchased my pigs in the past, and where I learned a
great deal about traditional methods from a very traditional
The pork you purchase will be from pigs who were left with their mothers at least six to eight weeks of age, which is much closer to how long a piglet would nurse if the sow and piglets decided matters on their own.
The commercial growers are
aiming for the largest possible number of litters per year from each sow.
They wean piglets as soon as possible and remove them, so
that their mothers can be re-bred immediately. It costs more to
leave the piglets with their mother longer, and to raise fewer litters.
It is easier on the sows, however, and I want to give each of
the ladies the longest productive life possible.
Most, if not all, of the pork that finds its way to your supermarket has been reared in confinement in crowded smelly buildings or in small concrete pens. Our pigs are really outside, really pastured.
In all situations, our pigs are also fed a grain-based mixed feed. When winter comes, they are still outside as much as they want, although their diet is more dependent on the mixed feed we provide. We replace the green pasture part of their diet with hay, just as you would if they were cattle, sheep, or any other grazing animal. Every animal we raise spends most of its life in a field.
If Wisconsin has green pasture, my animals are on green pasture. If we have brown grass; they are rooting through it. If we have snow covered ground, they are on that as well, with extra feed and hay.