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Archive for the ‘Gestation Crate’ Category

from Brian D. King, the Education Coordinator at Devil’s Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, CA. Devil’s Gulch is a pretty spectacular little corner of the world with wine grapes, rabbits, pigs, sheep, guinea fowl and probably some other critters I’m forgetting to mention.
They host all kinds of educational programs for kids including a summer camp, and they’re worth checking out.


Photo from barto’s flickr stream

Sows are not careful, are very big, and the babies are very small. In the wild, the sows lose many to being stepped on or sat on; that is why they have 8 to 10 in a litter. Also, the sows are very protective and very dangerous. I have gotten a broken leg and a dislocated ankle form a pig that decided that I needed to be dead. The agriculture teacher at Ramona High School got his leg bit and spent a week in intensive care. I was helping one of my students with her sow that had a stuck baby. As I was trying to pull the baby out of her, the sow attacked the student that had raised the sow as a pet from a baby. I do not have time to tell you all the close calls I have had over the years that I have raised pigs or with my agriculture students.
If we are going to raise pork, sows must be confined the 2 days before birth to the first few weeks after. A three week-old pig is still very small and we still have management that must be done on the babies at 3 weeks. All a sow wants to do for those first 3 weeks is eat, sleep, and nurse her young. I should have you come out and see how violent a sow will get when all you do is pick up a baby pig. A 400 pound sow will get her front legs and her mouth over a 4 foot wall to kill you. I have also seen three 400 pound sows chase down, kill, and homogenize a healthy and fit coyote.



Photo from karlfrankowski’s flickr stream

Veal – cows must give birth to give milk. Only the best heifer calves (females) are kept and less than 1% of the bull calves are kept as bulls. All the rest are left to die in the pasture, sad but true. The margins are so tight and labor is so expensive that it costs more to try to raise the calves for meat than to let them die. Some are raised for veal in shelters that are enclosed on 3 sides and have a roof. They are made the way they are to keep the calf warm. The calf can turn around but not run and play. In California, the calves do have sunlight (at least in all of the dairies I have been on – I have not been on them all). But again, if the farmers are going to have a loss raising the calves they will just be put down on the first day.

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Sow in a gestation crate
Photo from
clstal’s flickr stream

No, really. I’m seriously asking that question. It’s not a rhetorical jumping off point for me or others to express their indignation.

See, the Humane Society of the United States, among other animal rights groups, is circulating a petition to get enough signatures to add a ballot measure in California that would ban the use of gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates in hog, egg and veal production, respectively. Being that I’m not a hog farmer, a manager of a laying hen operation, animal behaviorist, large animal veterinarian, etc., I honestly don’t know if this is a good thing or not. But I *am* a consumer of all those things (well, maybe not veal), I have an irrational love for farmers and I vote, so I wonder about the merits or drawbacks of these management systems.


Hens in a battery cage
Photo from clstal’s flickr stream

But as it turns out, it seems damn near impossible to get a well reasoned and impartial exposition of the issue. Virtually all the material on the pro side is from hysterical, Chicken Little PETA fascists who, you get the feeling, would inveigh in the most strident tones against anything hinting at people using animals for anything other than cuddling…or something. The pro side is basically non-existent, at least on Google (perhaps less so at a diner in Iowa, but I can’t get to that from my computer). So I turned to the American Farm Bureau’s blog to try to find a real, live conventional hog farmer to ask. In response to my request for more information, I got this nuclear blast of rhetoric.

I find this all unfortunate because this issue could in fact land on a ballot next year, and 36 and a half million Californians could conceivably be called upon to vote on it. And aside from that, we all eat and we have an ever-increasing number of opportunities to vote for or against a particular farming method with our dollars. It would be nice if we could all make an informed decision, both at the polling station and the supermarket. Wouldn’t it?

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