By Dr. Ross Kiehne
In response to: Interview with a Pig As a veterinarian focusing exclusively on pig welfare and health for over 19 years, I have dedicated my life to helping farmers raise pigs in the most humane, healthy and sustainable way possible. I am proud of the role I play and the producers whom I have the privilege to work beside. My passion includes sharing the process of pork production to those who may not be aware or take the opportunity to learn. Included are some points that I feel are important.
• Diseases for pigs are found in the dirt. When we removed pigs from the dirt and put on solid flooring, we eliminated diseases that are not only harmful to the pig but to people as well (Trichinae, various worms, etc).
• Pigs were placed in barns so we could control their environment. Pigs housed today are warmer than they would be in the winter and cooler than they would be in the summer. Being inside provides a welfare-friendly environment. I don’t know any pigs that love being outside in January or not provided with shade or cooling help in July.
• Farrowing crates are specifically designed with piglet welfare as the priority. Piglets can get away from the mothers to prevent crushing and reduce savaging. The crate provides a safe environment for an intimate interaction between the mom and her babies.
• Pregnant sows can be housed in either a pen or individual stalls. Both have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of the stall include being able to provide feed to meet an individual sow’s need and it greatly reduces fighting. Group housing can also work but at times there is a tendency for fighting and lameness is increased, however the sow can turn around.
• The design of modern facilities gives producers the ability to handle each pig that is born individually, provide it the daily necessities for survival such as colostrum and warmth. One important positive is the ability to provide all pigs with the vaccinations that can prevent diseases.
• Feed rations are formulated specifically to meet the pigs’ needs from growing to adulthood, animals who are pregnant, animals who have had piglets when they are feeding those piglets. Each diet provides the adequate nutrients for each stage of the pigs’ life.
• The air provided to the pigs is extremely important and is monitored 24 hours a day. The ammonia levels, humidity and temperature are continually checked to provide the best air for the pig. In fact, in many new units we filter the air coming into the farm because the air coming in can have diseases that would make the pigs sick. Filtration is used (similar to that used in surgery rooms in hospitals) to keep the animals as healthy as possible. I would state the air in those units is healthier for pigs than the air outside.
• The way in which the manure is handled is modern and safe. It is contained under the floors of the unit, then removed during spring and fall. The manure is injected into the ground at the level of the roots of the corn so plants can utilize the important nutrients from the manure. The corn grows, is fed to the pigs and the process starts all over again. The pig farmer is the original recycler.
• My goal (along with all my clients) is keeping animals healthy. We do the right thing for the pigs to provide a safe pork supply to feed the world. I am a pig veterinarian who is proud of the producers I work with because of the Do-The-Right-Thing mentality and care provided. We provide the healthiest and safest pork in the world (nobody can argue that). I have been lucky enough to be in pig farms over 250 days a year over 19 years and am proud of the environment that is awarded not only to the pigs, but also to the great pig caregivers we have in our farms every day of the year. Our responsibility of providing safe environments, quality handling and treatment for the animal is taken very seriously as it is vital to healthy production of pork.