Most large-scale sow farms use gestation crates, which are approximately seven feet long and two feet wide. They are large enough for pregnant sows to stand up or lie down, but too small for them to be able to turn around.
They generally only leave the gestation crates to deliver their litter of piglets in a larger stall called a farrowing crate, which confines the sow in a way that she can’t accidentally roll over onto her newborn piglets.
Critics feel the gestation crates are inhumane and focus only on profit rather than animal welfare.
“Pigs are highly intelligent and highly social,” said Matt Dominguez, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States. “When you put them in a gestation crate, they can’t turn around. They are unable to socialize with each other. They are unable to act like animals and engage in natural behavior.”
Farmers disagree. Kurt Nagel, sow production director for Belstra Milling Company which owns 6 hog farms in northwest Indiana and northeast Illinois, stated that gestation crates give each sow individual feeding and care. It’s also helpful because pigs tend to form social hierarchies and stronger sows will often bully weaker ones in open spaces.
“If we were to stack up all the papers written about sow housing, you’d have one pile that was three feet high that says gestation stalls are OK, and you’d have another equally as high that would say there’s big problems with gestation stalls,” said Dr. Thomas Parsons, director of the University of Pennsylvania school of veterinary medicine’s swine teaching and research center. “One of the challenges we face is we don’t have an accepted single measure of animal welfare.”
Nine states, including Ohio and Michigan, have now banned gestation crates, requiring they be phased out from pig farms. Many European countries have done the same. For Indiana, the fifth largest pork producing state in the US, change is not likely any time soon.
Hog farmer Bill Friend, R-Macy, is the majority floor leader of the Indiana House of Representatives and sits on the House agriculture and rural development committee. He seems skeptical of legislative bans on gestation stalls.
“I would be very hesitant to jump on that bandwagon,” stated the lawmaker, who owns Friend Farms and Green Acre Ham in northern Indiana.