A common misconception when it comes to agriculture is Old MacDonald’s big red barn, complete with one horse, one cow, one pig and a rooster. However, the majority of agricultural livestock operations today specialize in raising many animals from one or two different species, such cattle for beef, pigs for pork, chickens for meat or eggs, or dairy cows for milk products. In Canada, less than 3% of people are farmers, and so this type of large-scale intensive agriculture is required to provide enough food for the rest of our population.
But that leaves the question, how do you fit them all in that red barn? We asked an expert at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Yolande Seddon: ‘Where do pigs live?’ Seddon is a researcher with a focus of understanding the behaviour and welfare of farm swine (pigs!), so farmers can understand the specific needs of pigs and raise them in a manner that protects their welfare. Animal welfare is the humane treatment of animals.
The majority of pigs in Canada are raised in long, climate-controlled barns with adjustable lighting, fresh food and water dispensers. Swine housing allows farmers to closely monitor their pigs’ health and nutritional needs and make sure the pigs are comfortable and thriving.
Pig pens are made up of high quality, comfortable materials that are thoughtfully arranged into separate areas for feeding, drinking, sleeping and manure. The floor can be slotted to allow the waste to fall through and separated from the animals so they remain clean. Other barns use straw bedding to absorb waste and allow the animals to root around and express natural behaviours. If there’s no straw, then the farmers add toys and other materials for the pigs to play with and keep them busy.
It’s true that some smaller farmers still raise pigs in pens or pastures outside. These pigs are provided shelter and are able to root in the dirt for grubs. But raising pigs outdoors is not easy because pigs are sensitive to cold weather and temperature changes. They are also vulnerable to predators and diseases that can be transmitted by wildlife.
Balancing animal welfare and the cost of production is important to keep farms in operation. Some pig barns include an outdoor fenced area along the barn that the pigs can venture out into but still have the protection from the elements and predators. These barns still allow farmers to closely monitor their animals while providing the pigs more room to express natural behaviour.
Pig barns are protected by biosecurity protocols that are designed to keep diseases from spreading between barns and from humans to pigs which means they aren’t open to outside visitors. In fact, on many large pig farms, workers are required to shower before they enter the barn to keep the pigs safe from any pathogens that might spread disease.
If you’d like to learn more about how pigs are raised, check out the other videos in our series.
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