Sows and their piglets on the Peterson farm have come into the limelight since being shifted from an intensive system to the comfortable, straw-bedded pens required to qualify for AWI approval. The pigs are released outdoors in good weather, and farrowing crates have been removed. This pilot project has been undertaken under AWI auspices in an effort to enlist market sources in favor of a comfortable life for animals raised to supply the nation's huge demand for pork, ham, bacon and sausage. In consultation with experienced farmers and veterinarians, AWI prepared guidelines for family farms who wish to market meat under the Pastureland Farms label.
Agribusiness interests have moved heavily into the hog market,building complexes to house thousands of sows. These unfortunate animals are confined during the months of their pregnancy in gestation crates so narrow they cannot turn around and can just barely stand up and lie down. Then they are transferred to farrowing crates where they are deprived of the sow's natural instinct to build a nest for her piglets. This enforced sedentary life makes the births more difficult.
Mark Peterson, his brother Mike, and wife Pam, are the first farmers to participate in AWI's Pastureland Farms program. Speaking of the straw-bedded pens in which the sows farrow, Pam says: "They have an easier time with farrowing. I don't have any sows that, after they farrow, wait for a day, resting up before they can eat," as many sows do when they are in crates. "These girls were right up when it was feeding time." "In a pen," says Pam, "they can go with their instincts and they can nest, but in a crate, you can see some of them pawing at the ground trying to make a nest, and there isn't anything there for them to work with."
Despite the fact that many of the pigs had never had straw available to them before, they knew exactly what to do with it. "Experts in the industry said, "These are confinement hogs. They're bred for confinement. They don't mind being confined. These are no longer instinctive, wild animals.' I don't believe that," says Mike. He spoke of a sow who had had nine litters in a farrowing crate, but when put in a pen, immediately started to make a nest. "You can't tell me that she doesn't remember something about how she had the last [litter]. She had her habits and things she knew that worked in the crate, and the only thing she had to tell her to break those old habits when she got in a new situation was instinct." He has observed the sows pulling straw down towards the piglets as they are being born "because they know that the piglets are going to come around to that side of the body and nurse. Pigs need something to keep warm."
As the little pigs grow, they become frolicsome. "When we give them fresh straw," says Mark," they love to run around in it and play, and occasionally, you'd see a 500 pound sow running around the pen chasing after and playing tag with her little pigs. I would imagine that the sow in a farrowing crate would like to do this, but it's a little difficult for her."
Though the system is more labor-intensive ("about 50% more per sow," says Mike), start-up and operating costs are less, and the satisfaction is greater. This type of system, says Pam, "makes you feel like doing it more." Her husband Mark agrees, "You're with them longer and you can tend to them better."
Mike says of the intensive system: "There's probably half a day involved with 1,200 pigs per year because there's no reason for you to be in the building, other than to check them, and you probably don't pay as much attention to them as you should. You care more about the numbers than the animals after a while."
Pastureland Farms products are now being test marketed at two Lunds stores in Minneapolis. The program has generated a considerable amount of favorable, unsolicited farm press, including a full-page spread in the November issue of Pork '89 and articles in the October issues of Hog Farmer and Hogs Today.
In mid-December, the Minneapolis/St. Paul CBS-TV affiliate, WCCO-TV, visited the farm after one of their cameramen noticed the product in Lunds. The resulting news segment aired three times.
Minnesota Public Radio also picked up the story and aired a piece in early December after interviewing the Petersons and Diane Halverson, AWI's Research Associate for Farm Animals, who is heading the program. The Minnesota Star Tribune carried an extensive report in its January 14, 1990 issue.
AWI Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3&4, p. 10-12
To combat the cruel deprivation suffered throughout their entire lives by millions of sows, boars and piglets on factory farms, the Animal Welfare Institute has begun a pilot project for special labelling of pork products derived from humanely raised pigs.
The first farm enrolled in this program is located in southern Minnesota. Pork from this farm will be marketed in eight Lund's supermarkets in Minneapolis-St.Paul beginning late August 1989. The meat will also be distributed by a Minnesota-based mail order food company. The program will be expanded to include more farmers as reliable markets forthis product increase. The special claims label is shown at right.
Mail-orders can be placed with The Prairie Gourmet, which will ship Pastureland Farms pork anywhere in the country. Customers can contact Prairie Gourmet at (612) 596-2217 (from Minnesota call 1(800)527-0143) or write T he Prairie Gourmet, Artichoke Lake, Correll, Minnesota 56227.
More about the program and the family farmers involved will appear in a subsequent issue of the Quarterly.
AWI Quarterly, Vol. 38