It is spring on a farm in Iowa. The pigs have left behind their winter quarters in bedded barns and snow-covered yards. Now they are relishing fields of fresh grass and alfalfa and earth that is still moist from ample winter snows and spring rains.
By Diane Halverson
It is spring on a farm in Iowa. The pigs have left behind their winter quarters in bedded barns and snow-covered yards. Now they are relishing fields of fresh grass and alfalfa and earth that is still moist from ample winter snows and spring rains. At my post outside their pasture it is possible to observe their behavior undisturbed by human activity. The sows, with their piglets trotting close by, are moving to and fro through their "village" of tin huts with an apparent sense of purpose. One is headed to the water tank, one to investigate what is happening in another sow's hut, and another has moved to separate two piglets who are locked in playful but intense combat. The sow parts the contenders and then moves on. Before long, the piglets pick up where they left off. Other sows are grazing, with their piglets rooting for food nearby; some are nursing their litters or lying at rest in their huts with piglets asleep in the straw beside them.
In the next paddock the pregnant sows are due to deliver soon. For one sow, farrowing is imminent, and she is absorbed in moving straw from one uninhabited hut to her own well-bedded hut to enhance the nest in which she will give birth.
The air is balmy but breezes temper the heat. Even when the sun begins to blaze overhead or the rain moves in or the night temperature drops, these animals can cope, aided by the farmer who fashions a mudhole or sprinkler with which the pigs can cool off or who supplies fresh dry straw to wick away any dampness that enters the hut or to better insulate piglets from the cool night air.
With 105 million pigs sold for market in the United States in 1998, alternatives to the barbaric pig factories must be maintained. The products of farms like the one described above must be labeled distinctively in order to give millions of consumers a way to reject the products of pig factories.
There are 150 humane farms like the one shown here, owned by independent farm families who fulfill the Animal Welfare Institute's Pig Husbandry Standards. These farmers sell their animals to the Niman Ranch Company, which markets the meat across the United States. In 1997, Niman Ranch was the first marketing company to embrace the humane pig husbandry standards of an animal welfare organization—the Animal Welfare Institute—and to require adherence to these standards by farmers who sell to Niman Ranch.
For more information about this unprecedented and unparalleled program, visit the Animal Welfare Institute's website at http://awionline.org. You can also learn more about Niman Ranch online at http://www.nimanranch.com/.
To improve the welfare of pigs, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is working with the Niman Ranch Company and its network of farm families who raise pigs according to AWI's Pig Husbandry Standards.
Highlights of the Standards:
Sows must be able to build nests and pigs to root, explore and play."
- Well-managed pastures are recommended. When animals are sheltered in barns, they must be given straw or other suitable materials to serve as bedding and to allow for expression of instinctive behavior.
- Animal factory practices—such as intensive confinement of animals in barren crates and cages, tail cropping or the use of electric prods—are prohibited.
- Large-scale animal factory owners or operators who commit only a portion of their operation to humane management are not accepted in this program.
- The routine use of antibiotics to promote growth or productivity or to control or mask disease is prohibited.
Family Farm Requirement:
- Each farm must be a family farm: one on which an individual or family owns the hogs, depends upon the farm for their livelihood, and participates in the daily physical labor of caring for the animals and managing the farm.