Part two of my series on pork production in the US. This was a press trip provided by the National Pork Board and the Animal Agriculture Alliance.
We last left off with breeding pigs, or rather, how they’re bred. I had planned on having this post up the next day, but I needed more time to process this series and now I’m back with more stories of pigs, bloggers, farmers, and getting back to my roots. This is where we get piggy with it and discuss birthing and babies.
When sows are ready to give birth, they’re moved to a special birthing room on a breeding farm a certain number of days before her time. It’s nothing like the fancy hospital rooms offered to new mothers in hospitals, with the fancy steak dinners, balloons, and what have you, but there are things for the mother pigs comfort. Air temperature control is a big thing for sows who are pregnant and getting ready to give birth; or who’ve recently birthed and are lactating. They need to be cooler, so the rooms were set at a certain temperature. If the temps get too hot, the Honeywell controlled systems kick in to start a water cooled system which brings the air temps down quickly. (I stood in front of it and was chilly while activated — no small feat for the mid-life woman in the throes of a hot flash.)
Sows need to be cool, but once they give birth, the piglets need to be kept warm. That’s the beauty of the birthing rooms where piglets live for the first three weeks of their lives. There are mats in the stalls where birth has taken place and the piglets (who walk after birth) are able to mosey over to lay on their tropical 96 degrees heating pad. Taking measures like this is what keeps infant mortality down, as many die due to hypothermia or Mom crushing them.
I’ll say this is the point where people have issues with the way sows birth. They are contained in a stall to prevent them from rolling over on the piglets where they have all the fresh water and feed they want. While we all want to see the Charlotte’s Web ideal of farms when it comes to these animals, to do this at the commercial level and keep the piglets alive is unsustainable.
And really, what we’re talking about is sustainability. Feeding the world, with an increasing population, and doing it without doing more harm to our already environmentally taxed planet. How? Supply and demand. Supply has to keep up with demand and unless you’re doing something to help prevent infant death, costs will skyrocket and the general population won’t be able to afford rising food prices. Off my soapbox as that’s another post for another time in this series.
Caring for the sows and piglets is also better this way, as caretakers can keep a close watch over the piglets. Sows are temperamental and you’ll always run across one who’s not a good mother and will kill her piglets, or just not care for them. I mean, if I gave birth at one time to 13 t0 28 babies, I’m pretty sure I’d throw myself off a bridge. (I know I’d never be able to sit again.) Knowing this, I wonder if there is an animal version of postpartum depression?
Rounding back, Mom stays cool, babies stay warm. That’s a great thing since Mom has a large number of babies hanging on her to nurse 24 hours a day. Babies who can walk, have teeth, sharp little hooves and squeal louder than any smoke detector on the market. I liken a squealing piglet to an adorable little air horn that wiggles.
When babies are weaned at 21 days, they are taken to the feeding room where they are still monitored very closely, but their appetites have increased greatly and their calorie intake ramps up. It’s like feeding a teenage boy, except pigs are neater. While they are in this stage, they grow — imagine Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk. It’s pretty quick.
While we walked through our areas and observed the farmers at work with the pigs, it was obvious the sows and piglets were extraordinarily healthy and well cared for. I know it’s not the bucolic scene we imagine from our fairy tales and stories, it is how the food production supply operates.
Read part one: City Girl Goes Back to Her Roots
This is part two in my series “City Girl Goes Back to Her Roots.” I’ll be posting part three soon; it’s all about the end product — minus a lot of details. Many thanks to the National Pork Board, the Animal Agriculture Alliance and Prestage Farms for opening their doors to us and answering our questions, no matter how uncomfortable they might have been.