A discussion on farrowing crates.

This is a subject that has become somewhat of a hot issue around the country. Farrowing crates are pens that are supposed to reduce the risk to piglets of their mother crushing them. They are generally so narrow that the sow can only stand up and lie down, no turning.

If you care to read the National Pork Producers Council position on sow housing, it can be found here. To paraphrase, they support gestation stalls for the welfare of the sow and her litter.

If you've followed our adventure since moving to the farm, you know that we raise heritage hogs on pasture, specifically, Gloucestershire Old Spots. Pasture-raised pork has become a niche market, where one time it was the norm. Pigs weren't always raised inside factory-style buildings without ever seeing the light of day. Baby pigs didn't often need iron shots to avoid being anemic, they got their iron from the good earth.

Sows didn't have to be crammed into confined spaces to be good mothers. They would have their piglets on pasture, most times in a nest of dried grass and leaves in some sort of hut provided by the farmer. Piglets do get crushed by their mother at times. It's just a risk when sows are so large and piglets so tiny.

This week, our first litter of Old Spots was born. Our sow, Martha, gave us 10 beautiful, polka-dotted little piglets. She built a nest the day before and delivered them overnight. Our boar, Stewart, is in the same pasture with Martha. We don't separate them. We don't need to. He doesn't present a danger to the piglets, although, Martha made him sleep outside the first night.

The calendar shows that it is spring here in Central Ohio in mid-April. We have freeze warnings overnight. I was really worried about the little piglets. We don't have electricity out in the pig pasture. The little piglets don't have the layers of fat like their parents. The pig house isn't air tight or insulated. Visions of pigcicles were haunting me. I decided to go out and check on them. I'm not sure what I was going to do. Maybe, snuggle with Martha and the kids to lend some body heat??? As I approached the pig house stealthily, so not to disturb, my flashlight's beam landed on the pigs inside. What I saw was the best evidence I've ever seen for letting pigs be pigs and not cramming them in tiny stalls...


In the foreground is the first-time mother, Martha. In the back is the first-time father, Stewart. The polka-dotted pile of cuteness in the middle is ten little piggies that aren't going to freeze tonight. They will share the body heat from their parents. When I stumbled upon this sight, I almost cried. This was the purest example I could imagine of pigs being pigs. These creatures have endured the ages without our help, in fact, probably in spite of it.

Martha and Stewart weren't going to crush their babies, they were keeping them warm. It's possible that something could happen to one of the piglets, despite Martha's super-honed maternal instincts. Stewart could roll over on one in the middle of the night. Nothing they do would ever convince me that Martha needs to be crammed into a crate to have healthy piglets.

If we have to raise pigs in a factory setting to meet the demand for pork, maybe we should eat less pork. Is it worth the horror that factory pigs have to endure to get a cheap pork chop that has little taste and is pumped full of who knows what? This man says it isn't. I'd rather pay a lot more to know that the pork I'm eating came from a pig that lived a good life, just being a pig. How about you?

Posted on April 21, 2013 .