We were bused off to the Gould Family Farm near DeKalb, Illinois where Three generations of the Gould family generously opened their home and farm business to help educate the City Moms about pigs and farming.
The Gould’s farm grows corn, soybeans and wheat, in addition to the 750 sows (female pigs) that they care for. Their farm focuses on the breeding, gestation, and farrowing (birthing) of piglets. They raise 16,000 piglets annually to be sent on to finishing farms. These pigs are owned by corporations and contracted to finishing farms where, when the piglets are weened from their mother and ready to eat solid food (18 days), they are grown to market weight of about 280 pounds each. Then they are sold to Harvesters (slaughter houses, in my day) who process and package the meat to be sold in the markets and grocery stores.
The Goulds use the “gestation crate” method at their farm. There are rows and rows of sow mammas in “hog slats” that had litters of 10-12 piglets text to them under heat lamps (piglets like it hot - 85 degrees). The moms could stand up, lie face forward, but barely lie on their sides and could not turn around or move around anywhere in the “crate”. This seemed so uncomfortable.
It was explained, by the Goulds, that these crates were the safest for the piglets. The piglets could not get squished by mom , Gould could implement proper feeding portions for each sow, health status conditions could be constantly monitored (they had personal chart cards for each animal they owned), and they could secure the general safety of the sows from other sows, - no fights.
But this raises the question - IS IT HUMANE? I believe that this comes down to personal choice. None of the animals were dirty, didn't look “unhappy” and were very safe and secure. I believe that, if enough people choose not to purchase and eat pork that has been raised in a gestation crate, it will force the farms to transition which will come with a price to the farmers and then eventually to the consumer. It will cost more for the farmers to group the sows into gestation groups according to what they eat, their behavior, etc. You can read more about this at nationalhogfarmer.com- look under the Management to Control Aggression in Group Housing article.
Everyone wants to feel that they are purchasing pork that has been raised as “Happy Pigs”. But really - how is it possible to be “happy” when a sows whole life’s purpose is to mass produce piglets? Let’s face it, these animals are raised for food, they are not our pets. It’s choice of how we feel would be the best environment. For the Goulds, they choose gestation crates because they feel that is the most cost effective, clean, safe controlled environment that they can create in order to do THEIR Job of producing piglets.
Europe has banned the use of gestation stalls since 2013. Public pressure is the driving force behind outlawing the crates. Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods, harvesters, are encouraging farmers to transition away from the use of crates due to this pressure.
Therefore, like I said, it all comes down to personal choice. Farmers and Harvester and Producers of pork are doing what they feel is the “right” choice to produce the best product they can. Their families rely on their business to raise their families and supply food.
Personal Choice - I didn't eat the pork for lunch - did you? (The rest of the family loves Ham!!)
Kyle Cooper Rogel
Kyle is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2015 City Moms. Throughout the year she will visit Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each visit, the City Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago Moms Meet Farmers.