I haven’t come up with a good answer to this yet. I’m about 85% sure of my stance on this issue, but then I hear stories and really listen to other points of view and gives me pause. How exactly should farmers meet the demand for food while caring best for the animals that provide it?
Furthermore – are conventional farmers greedy monsters and organic farmers loving softies?
Let’s go back to the first question. I might save that second one for another post.
I recently toured Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana. It is a combination of a working hog/dairy farm and interactive museum. You can actually tour the farm while it is operating. For my trip, we toured the hog barn.
And yes, I am smart enough to know the angle this farm tour would take. It is a conventional farm, not an organic one. But that is why I was so excited about this tour! I feel like all the documentaries and all the viral blog posts share the heart and passion and practices of organic farmers. What I wanted to hear was the point of view and practices of conventional farming. I felt like that was one side of the story I just wasn’t hearing.
Farrowing crates. The OMG HOW COULD THEY DO THAT TO THE POOR MAMA practice. The bars, the box, the lack of sunshine and grass and a red barn. It tugs on your heart strings, doesn’t it?
*Note: A farrowing crate is where babies are born (like the one above). Gestation crates are where they live after they are impregnated until they are ready to give birth. *
The logic behind them: A mama sow can weigh between 300-600 pounds (more if she is pregnant…of course). There are actually two things this crate does – and both benefit the baby piglets. First, the bars on either side of the sow are movable and allow the mama to lie down slowly, giving the piglets time to get the heck out from under her before she crushes them. A piglet weighs between 2-4 lbs at birth. Teeny little things!
The second thing it does – it allows the farmers to put piglets of the same size in the same area so they all have a chance to eat. Who remembers Charlotte’s Web? Poor Wilbur was a runt and no matter how hard he tried, the other piglets would not let him eat. Then, Fern saved Wilbur from her father who was going to do what all farmers did at that time – kill the runt to end its suffering.
Well conventional farmers today put piglets of the same size together. Now, tiny piglets all have the same chance of eating and growing! When a sow gives birth, the piglet is weighed, marked and teeth trimmed (to protect the sow’s nipples), and the piglet is placed in the crate with piglets of the same size.
So here is the dilemma: How do we raise pigs like Wilbur or Babe, but also provide enough bacon for everyone?
*sigh* That’s tough. Conventional farmers do care deeply about their animals. The minute a pig is hurt or not eating or showing signs of distress, it is cared for and helped. Every practice they do – the way they feed them, the heated mats for newborn piglets – is with the well-being of the pigs in mind. But the sheer volume of pigs in their care means they have to adapt “scary, cold, robotic practices” that appears to strip away any heart from the farmer.
I think the biggest difference between conventional hog farms and organic ones is the perception from the outside. At the end of the day, the bacon tastes the same. Pigs from both farms end up on my plate. But one seems like the pigs have a happier life in their short 5 years on this earth.
I want to encourage a discussion here – and all viewpoints are welcome (as long as they are kept hate-free). I think both organic and conventional farmers love their animals. They both work tirelessly to keep their animals healthy. But one appears better than the other and I want to know why?