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By Staff | Apr 6, 2012

A long time hog producer told me that if forced to stop using individual gestation stalls for his sows that he would retire from hog production. The animal rights crowd has successfully won the narrative that gestation stalls are not humane.

That is unfortunate as it is not true. They have coerced McDonald’s and other companies into demanding that producers in their supply chain end the use of gestation stalls.

Niche producer, Neiman Ranch, said they are pleased that their producers don’t use gestation stalls. Do you know what they charge for pork? One of their own producers went on line to buy a Neiman Ranch ham and was stunned by what they were charging for it.

Need an Easter ham? Wholesale ham sells for 60 cents per pound. The best ham, retail, is $3.49 per pound. A Neiman Ranch bone-in spiral sliced ham is on sale online for $89.95, or $9.99 per pound. Neiman pork chops are four (8-ounces each) for $49.95. They are not on sale right now. A 5-pound Neiman boneless pork roast is $99.95. Even their hotdogs are $4.84 per pound. If they have to charge that much for pork not to use gestation stalls, then the stalls are an economic necessity.

Neiman is not a commodity pork producer and if the entire pork industry adopts Neiman’s production protocol, both the industry and Neiman will go broke. Neiman is using the controversy over gestation stalls for commercial gain.

Traditional hog producers tell me that those who want to end use of gestation stalls do not know anything about sows and pigs. One of them provided the following bullet points as to the reasons why pork producers moved to gestation stalls:

  • Better management, better production.
  • Control of aggressive behavior. Every time sows are mixed in groups, a pecking order must be re-established. That includes even moving from one pen to another. There will always be dominant versus docile behavior in any group. A change in group size results in requiring the pecking order to be re-established. Many times, sows are coming from farrowing/nursing, newly weaned with enlarged udders – 10-12 milk engorged sections, and then get thrown into a fight for dominance? Udders are bit. Nipples are torn off. Vulvas are torn, sliced. The future production of that female may be reduced by half, or totally destroyed due to the “pecking order.”
  • Farrowing house conditions are normally 65 to 70 degree temperatures, and in much of the Midwest, winter is an issue. Keeping animals in heated buildings when weather conditions outdoors are zero degrees is much better on the animal. Taking them from a 70-degree environment to an outdoor group pen is simply not an option.
  • Age segregation of females is important. There can be a 200- to 300-pound difference in size of animals. Again, back to the pecking order. Refer to www.porkcares.org. This site has solid information. It doesn’t, however, really address the issue of pecking order that has to be established in groups.
  • Unfortunately, pigs are the smartest of all farm animals. They are also closest in similarity to humans, both in medical uses and also in behavior. Sad, but true.

The NPPC said that it is going to promote studies on sow housing. The industry is on its heels over this issue. The Veterinary Association believes that gestation stalls are an acceptable way to handle sows.

FeedStuffs wrote, “NPPC delegates expressed concerns that these decisions are being made by restaurant and retail executives who do not have the breadth and depth of knowledge about responsible and sustainable pork production.”

They got that right, but have been defined by the animal rights groups losing the public relations initiative. Maybe the NPPC should have been worried about this rather than spending so much time and resources trying to kill the ethanol industry. I think the research will show that using gestation stalls are essentially, as my hog producer friends contend, the most humane and sustainable way to handle sows.

Smithfield Foods has not done the pork industry any favors by conceding to the pressure to adopt unnecessary production systems that will not improve sow sustainability or health, but will surely raise the cost to producers which will be passed onto consumers. When McDonald’s is wrong, they ought to be told they are wrong.

If you think most consumers will pay Neiman prices for pork, you are delusional. That’s the strategy animal rights groups are using. If they can raise the price of pork high enough, they can destroy demand and, therefore, commercial hog production, which is their aim.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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