As soon as we got on the bus, I was excited and eager to speak with Pam Janssen. We Field Moms peppered her with question after question. She was a great sport along with Tim (Maiers, Illinois Pork Producers) in answering all our questions, from how the pigs are kept to even how they are bred! I enjoyed the candid conversation very much. We had a lively conversation going, and before we knew it, we were already at Gould Farm.
We were led into the farmhouse where we met Eldon Gould and his wife, Sandy, along with Chris. We sat down and were treated to another awesome conversation opportunity where we were able to ask a million questions and everyone was so nice to answer our many inquiries! I was interested in hearing how the farm has been operating since its beginnings in 1972. Also, Eldon spoke on why the farm needed to take steps in the 1980s to minimize risk to the farm by changing to contract production. It was also very interesting to hear straight from Eldon about the steps taken to improve care to the animals around that time. I was really interested to learn that pigs don’t sweat and are very susceptible to problems with extremes in weather as a result. Housing them in pens in barns is so much more humane than being out in changing weather conditions. I can’t imagine being pregnant, not being able to sweat, and having to be outside in an Illinois summer!
From there, we took our tour. We were dressed in lovely Tyvek suits – to protect the pigs, not us! (I think the highly useful and protective plastic shoe-covering boots we were given were more for us!) My first observation once we entered the barns was that the smell was not at all as strong or offensive as I might have thought. Matter of fact, the hallway was much more pungent leading to the actual gestation barn than the barn itself. Once we entered the barn, I was amazed at how quiet it was. I guess I may have had a preconceived notion that there may be much more noise and squealing overall than there really was. The majority of the sows near to us at the entrance stood up and “checked us out” as we walked in. Something interesting and new! Many of the sows tried to nibble our suits and sniff our feet. It was interesting to be able to witness the insemination of one sow, and also witness the reaction of other sows who were ready to be bred as the “teaser boar” was walked nearby. That was when we heard all the squealing! I was impressed by the condition of the sows; very content, quiet, and overall appearing in excellent health with no visible scratches or lameness or issues. It wasn’t something I necessarily had thought about prior to visiting the farm, but it seemed like the sows were very happy in their conditions, even if they couldn’t turn around or move “freely” out of their pens.
Watching the birth of piglets was amazing, too. I liked that the mother sow had room to lay down and feed her piglets and that the piglets could run around her wherever. Holding a squealing piglet was also a fun experience! I noticed the heat lamps for the piglets. Something Chris said that was really interesting was that all the barn rooms are on an alarm system for the temperatures of the rooms. It is really nice to know that the farmers take that much care to ensure the best possible conditions for their livestock!
We had lunch and a great presentation and discussion thereafter about the European Union and their decision to start implementing their opinion of “more humane” treatment of livestock, including open penning of gestating sows. I was very interested to hear the actual science and the fact that Janeen Salek-Johnson (U of Illinois) had gone to Denmark and done research over there about their methodologies. It is sad to hear that people with misinformation or some “sway” in the political environment have attempted to change the entire industry’s practices (and over in the EU been successful) based on emotionalism and lack of logic. Janeen had taken pictures of the behaviors she witnessed over there in the open pens, and we learned all about the “pecking order” that sows normally operate under. I couldn’t imagine that being in a more “open” pen helps the sows not have as much stress, when they’re mounting each other or biting each other in sensitive areas. It doesn’t seem to be as humane as having each sow in her own protected pen as the industry has been doing for years and years. As the farmers noted, it is best to have each sow in the best conditions possible, for feeding, watering, and overall general health, as these sows will produce better litters and better products for the consuming public!
I didn’t want our tour to end, although I felt a little overwhelmed with the information I received! Overall it was a great experience and I learned some great things. I left the farm very satisfied with the knowledge that it is in the livestock industry’s best interest to devote time and resources to ensuring the utmost care and concern for our consumption animals in this country. I’m confident in our farmers and their ability to ensure the animals’ welfare and the end result being an excellent product to feed my family!