An employee once explained to me that a pig has three different squeals. One particular squeal meant he was happy; another squeal meant someone was using his dinner plate; and yet a third meant he was in distress. He then explained the only one he needed to get involved in was the distress squeal. He was learning to recognize the different ways animals communicate.
Recently I read a small article in a local newspaper. Actually I missed it, but my wife clipped it out of the paper and laid it on my dinner plate. It said that McDonald’s was only going to buy pork from producers that house their animals in pens as opposed to gestation stalls. There is a movement among consumers and some special interest groups to outlaw gestation stalls. The objection, as I understand it, is that stalls are too confining. Consumers seem to relate animal treatment to their pet’s likes and dislikes.
Personally, I think it would be best to ask the pig, instead of creating a legislative mandate based on human perception. Well, you say, “Pigs can’t talk.” I disagree. They communicate to their caregivers in many ways. I described one way in an employee’s exchange with me. Another way they communicate is in performance. Happy healthy pigs perform much better than pigs that are uncomfortable or insecure in any way. Pigs’ performances are much better in gestation stalls than in group housing. They will have a higher farrowing rate, a higher number of pigs born live, and a more even piglet size. During the fragile gestation period, farrowing period and lactation period, any pig will tell you they would rather have their own private area.
I wish that McDonald’s and others would consult some pigs before they decided that stalls are bad for pigs. I have a couple pigs in mind that would love to set the record straight on pig preference of housing methods. They have been hazed and deprived of food by the group bully. I have some pigs that I have counseled because they miscarried or aborted due to injury and bullying. They would gladly express their views and preference in favor of individual living arrangements.
The pigs are no different than we humans. Just as we object to others determining what is best for us without consulting us or asking our opinion, so are pigs. They would like to be heard before people that don’t know a pig or anything about a pig decide what is best for them. And you thought pigs couldn’t talk! Let the pigs be heard!
Steve Cowser is a pork producer in the Bradford area.