This morning I stumbled across a letter to the editor that does an EXCELLENT job explaining what it is like to raise hogs outdoors. There are several farmers who still use this method of production and I know they are putting in many extra hours this time of year to keep their hogs safe and warm. (Especially with the upcoming snow storm we are supposed to get this weekend). It’s a very difficult thing to do in our area of the country and the following letter to the editor does a great job of explaining the challenges these farmers face.

As a lifelong resident of a livestock farm and a pork producer for over 60 years, I have been following with interest the letters about current welfare practices in pig-raising. Through the years, over 1,000 visitors came from all across the United States and several foreign countries to view our facilities and visit about our production practices. We never had a visitor come when it was 20 degrees below zero and a blizzard was raging; or when it was 95 degrees, the wind was calm and the heat index was over 100.

What I have not heard in the ongoing welfare discussion is that livestock producers are responsible for the care of their animals 24/7/365.  The housing systems we built and the production practices we use were highly influenced by the experiences we had during the extremes in weather: the night it rained 6 inches and drown two-thirds of the baby pigs housed in an “ideal” outside pasture setting; the winter it did not get above 32 degrees for 63 days straight and snow and wind made it impossible to keep pigs warm and dry because they tracked  snow into their sleeping quarters faster than we could haul straw bedding for them; the two days in which a raging blizzard with a wind chill in excess of 60 below made it dangerous for both man and beast; and the days when the heat index soared to over 100. These are but a few of the days etched into my memory that influenced our decision to put our hogs under roof and our sows in individual stalls 24/7/365.

Not only did indoor-housing make it easier on the pigs because the environment could be regulated during the extremes in weather – it was also easier on us and the other caretakers, because we no longer had to fight the cold, heat, wind, rain or snow. There were other benefits to the sows, in particular: No more broken legs from fighting or slipping on the ice; no more bitten and swollen vulvas from sows wanting to get their spot at a feed trough; no more sows that got too thin to be productive because as a slow or timid eater, they weren’t getting their share of feed. The sows responded to this new environment by raising more pigs. Fewer sows were injured or died and fewer were too thin to reproduce. No, this type of housing does not fit the “ideal” image of raising pigs, but then we have very few “ideal” days of weather in a year. It is because we care for the welfare of our animals that we house them the way we do. The result of that care is they are more productive, and therefore more profitable, not the other way around.

Linden Olson

Worthington, Minn.

One might ask why a farmer would still fight the battle of raising hogs outdoors.  Not every hog farmer raises the same breed of hogs, some breeds have more body fat than others and they can endure the cold winters better than the leaner hogs.  For many farmers, they choose to raise their hogs outdoors because they don’t have enough hogs to justify the expense of a building.  Hog prices are not keeping up with feed prices so it’s very difficult to pay the feed bill and make a barn payment too.  Many of these farmers also have corn, soybeans, and cattle to raise as well and they are not focusing their farm around their hogs.  

For the farmers who choose to raise their hogs in barns, the hog portion of their farm may be the main focus of their farm.  They may not own enough acres to support bringing in the next generation so they expanded their hog operation to achieve this goal.  This is what Kevin’s parents did so he and his brother could be a part of the family farm and we are very grateful to them for taking such a big risk on our behalf.  If they had not done this, we would not be raising our children on our family farm.  

Each farm and each family is different and unique, what works for one farm may not work for the farm down the road and that is perfectly fine.  No two farms look identical which is what makes agriculture productive and successful.  We learn from each other and we are always looking for ways to improve the care we give to the land and our animals.  There is always a story behind every farm and every family and we love talking about both!  If you have questions about how your food is raised, please don’t be afraid to ask a farmer.  The best way to learn about a farm is to ask the farm family, they have first-hand experience when it comes to what happens on their farm!