Alternatives to Factory Farms for Hogs
Maine almost found itself in the dubious company of North Carolina, Iowa and other states when factory-farmed hog operations were proposed for Aroostook County this winter. Fortunately the state legislature put one-year moratorium on these types of operations when it passed a bill regulating nutrient runoff from farms.
Factory farms "result in severe physiological as well as behavioral afflictions in animals," according to The Humane Farming Association (HFA). Illnesses such as anemia, influenza, intestinal diseases, mastitis, metritis, orthostasis, pneumonia and scours—and more—can flare up under conditions of intensive confinement and are countered by administering continuous doses of antibiotics and other drugs to the animals. "Approximately 50% of all antibiotics manufactured in the United States," says HFA, "are poured directly into animal feeds... The squandering of these important drugs in livestock production is wreaking havoc for physicians in the treatment of human illness" as organisms become resistant to penicillin, tetracycline and other antibiotics.
Among the stresses that impair animals’ immune systems are overcrowding and, at the opposite extreme, isolation in individual cages where animals are unable to groom, stretch their legs or even turn around—or interact with others of their species. "If a private citizen confined a dog or cat in a manner common in factory farms," says HFA, that person "could be charged with cruelty to animals."
Is there an alternative to factory farms that benefits both the animal and the farmer’s bottom line? Apparently there is. "Innovative Minnesota farmers are finding efficient and economically viable alternatives to the intensive confinement, mega-hog operations that are taking ownership and decision making out of the hands of small and medium-sized farmers in the Midwest," according to the Center for Sustainable Agricultural Systems newsletter. "Among their methods are pasture farrowing and modest-cost hoop houses that appear to work well even in a difficult winter climate.
"Dwight Ault of Austin is farrowing in porta units on pasture and also in a remodeled barn. After a trip to Sweden, he learned about using collapsible pens about 7’ by 8’ in size in a barn with straw bedding. Rollers on the front keep pigs in. Dwight uses 6" PVC pipe set in wooden troughs to make self feeders for sows, and probably would use 8" PVC next time. He has no guard rails and no supplemental heat in the pens, and takes them down when the pigs are about 10 days old. He is currently considering remodeling a 20-year-old slatted confinement barn to create a deep straw bedded finishing house.
"Osage farmer Steve Weis is raising 150 head of feeders in each of several hoop houses that are 30’ by 72’ in size. His operation has evolved from a more conventional stall gestation barn (1988) and a modern finish shed (1993) to the current interest in hoop houses built in 1996. Steve’s three hoop houses are rated at 200 head per house; he prefers to stock them at 150 head, giving over 14 square feet per animal.
He thinks that 12 square feet per pig is the minimum space needed. Steve starts with oat straw, and later uses corn stalks for building up the bedding. He has heard that some farmers bring in compost from past cleanings and cover with straw for extra heat. Compared to more conventional hog houses, he says that in hoop houses, daily gain is slightly less, feed efficiency is slightly worse (0.2 pounds feed per pound of gain), overall health is better, and the bottom line is about the same. Steve is enthusiastic about the low initial cost of $65 per head of capacity compared to $200 per head for the conventional finishing barn and the flexibility of the new hoop house system."
Sources: "The Truth About Factory Farming," The Humane Farming Assoc., PO Box 3577, San Rafael CA 94912; Tel. 415-771-CALF; Fax 415-485-0106; "Hoop Houses and Pasture Farrowing for Swine," by Bob Hendrickson and Charles Francis, Center for Sustainable Agriculture Systems Newsletter, March-April 1998, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln, PO Box 830949, Lincoln NE 68583-0949. For more information, contact the Land Stewardship Project, 2200 4th St., White Bear Lake, MN 55110 (612-653-0618);
Practical Farmers of Iowa, 2035 190th St., Boone, IA 50036-7423. You can also purchase a 16-page bulletin entitled "Hoop House Structures for Grow-Finish Swine," (AED 41), written by Univ. of Nebraska and Iowa State Univ. scientists.
Send $4 to
Midwest Plan Service, 122 Davidson Hall, ISU, Ames, IA 50011.