Letter to the Editor: Because we care about our animals

Editor's note: Linden Olson is a pork producer from Worthington, Minn. He has served in many leadership positions within the pork industry and is respected for his honesty, objectivity and foresight. He recently sent the following letter to the editor and we feel it gives those outside the industry a better understanding of how food animals are produced and why.

As a lifelong resident of a livestock farm and a pork producer for over 60 years, I have been following with interest the letters about current welfare practices in pig-raising. Through the years, over 1,000 visitors came from all across the United States and several foreign countries to view our facilities and visit about our production practices. We never had a visitor come when it was 20 degrees below zero and a blizzard was raging; or when it was 95 degrees, the wind was calm and the heat index was over 100. 

What I have not heard in the ongoing welfare discussion is that livestock producers are responsible for the care of their animals 24/7/365.  The housing systems we built and the production practices we use were highly influenced by the experiences we had during the extremes in weather: the night it rained 6 inches and drown two-thirds of the baby pigs housed in an "ideal" outside pasture setting; the winter it did not get above 32 degrees for 63 days straight and snow and wind made it impossible to keep pigs warm and dry because they tracked  snow into their sleeping quarters faster than we could haul straw bedding for them; the two days in which a raging blizzard with a wind chill in excess of 60 below made it dangerous for both man and beast; and the days when the heat index soared to over 100. These are but a few of the days etched into my memory that influenced our decision to put our hogs under roof and our sows in individual stalls 24/7/365. 

Not only did indoor-housing make it easier on the pigs because the environment could be regulated during the extremes in weather – it was also easier on us and the other caretakers, because we no longer had to fight the cold, heat, wind, rain or snow. There were other benefits to the sows, in particular: No more broken legs from fighting or slipping on the ice; no more bitten and swollen vulvas from sows wanting to get their spot at a feed trough; no more sows that got too thin to be productive because as a slow or timid eater, they weren't getting their share of feed. The sows responded to this new environment by raising more pigs. Fewer sows were injured or died and fewer were too thin to reproduce. No, this type of housing does not fit the "ideal" image of raising pigs, but then we have very few "ideal" days of weather in a year. It is because we care for the welfare of our animals that we house them the way we do. The result of that care is they are more productive, and therefore more profitable, not the other way around.

Linden Olson

Worthington, Minn.