On Thursday I had the opportunity to sit on an animal welfare panel for the Food Dialogues held in Columbia, Missouri which was hosted by Missouri Farmers Care. The purpose of Food Dialogues is to inspire conversations about food and how it is produced. My panel consisted of three farmers: Chris Heins from Heins Dairy, Mark Manken from Missouri Legacy Beef and myself. There was also a veterinarian on the panel, Dr. Alan Wessler, an animal science professor from the University of Missouri, Dr. Don Spiers and Travis Tucker, owner of “Bleu” restaurant in Columbia.
The Food Dialogues was broadcast live online but if you missed it, you can watch it below. I encourage you to watch this panel discussion because there were a lot of great questions asked by the moderator, Tom Bradley, as well as questions that were submitted online and from the audience.
About fifteen minutes into the discussion I was asked if I thought moving animals indoors had jeopardized animal welfare. My response was no because we tried raising our hogs outdoors and our hogs are leaner (than other breeds of hogs) which makes it difficult to keep our hogs warm in the winter in below freezing temperatures. Since hogs cannot sweat, it is hard to keep them cool in 100 degree temperatures, that’s why we moved our hogs indoors where we can offer them conditions like what you and I have in our homes and offices – air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.
When we moved our hogs indoors, we also prevented the spread of diseases tracked by wildlife and predator attacks. We actually use fewer medications today on our farm with our hogs housed indoors than we did when our hogs were outside. And I think the biggest benefit for our farm is that we can give our hogs hands on care multiple times a day. We prevent many problems by caring for our animals like this.
While this method works well for my family, there are other farmers who have different genetics (different breeds of hogs) and they are able to raise their animals outdoors. Every farm and every family is different, not all farms look alike and that is ok. Just because a farmer has changed his farm and uses barns to care for his animals doesn’t mean he has sacrificed animal welfare, it means he has found a way to care for his animals using modern technology. And in some cases, the use of technology has meant the farmer was able to bring the next generation back to the farm full time.
This is just one example of the questions asked of our panel last week. To see the other questions, watch our discussion online here: