Doc Callahan, retired professor, part-time farmer, and full-time pontificator, receives countless inquiries a week, and after hours of deep thought, he provides the road apples of knowledge that help fertilize the mind. This week, Doc answers important questions about hog production.
Plans to build a hog confinement system for 10,000 pigs near Des Moines were scrapped because of protests from area residents, but here in Story County, three huge hog hotels are going up. My cousin says these buildings are the best way to raise hogs, but I say CAFOs are No-No’s. Who’s right? Ron
Opinions vary, often depending on which way the wind blows. Some research indicates that confinement facilities offer a safe, protected environment so farmers can control disease and produce the most pork for the lowest cost. Others say the hog hotels are not ethical, and they pose threats because of possible manure run-off and other environmental factors. You can find many pros and cons online, in newspaper editorial sections, and at community meetings. I suggest you look at various viewpoints including social, economic, and scientific insights. Rational thinking aside, it often comes down to location, location, location. You might want to look up the acronym NIMBY. Doc
When a warm, humid breeze is flowing from the south, my neighbor’s hog CAFO sends its calling card, and we can’t hang out laundry, open house windows, or barbecue outside on the patio. Their operation is built according to legal codes, so is there anything I can do to let them know about my frustration? Chris
The newer hog systems seem to control the smell better, but the Holy Grail of odorless pigs has not yet been achieved. Most pork producers live on the land with their pigs, and they conscientiously try to avoid being toxic neighbors. Maybe you could politely ask your neighbors how they handle the smell. If the actual owners do not live on the farm, I suggest you let them know what they are missing by sending them my patented CAFO Scratch-and-Sniff Kit. The instructions ask them to voluntarily unwrap one of the scratch-and-sniff cards whenever they have guests over for backyard barbecues. A few swipes on the card with a grill brush, and they can experience the fragrance of a fully stocked nearby confinement building. Disclaimer: our research shows that the chances of such absentee owners using the boards are similar to the chances that pigs might fly. Doc
I heartily support farmers and ranchers, especially the many hardworking families that produce the affordable, safe food we consumers need. But I saw the Chipotle “Back to the Start” video during the Grammy Awards, and I’m feeling kinda willy-nilly about CAFOs, especially hog confinement farms. Would free range farming be better? Alice
I also noticed Coldplay’s lyrics, Willie’s voice, and the animated pigs that frolicked when released. I even gave up pork for two days until a tenderloin at the local diner broke my resolve. Free range versus confinement is certainly a tough call, but one thing seems clear: Anyone who eats meat should be thoughtful about production techniques. While some say free range pigs are happier and healthier in a “natural” setting, others point out that pigs on the loose fight, contract diseases, and gain weight more slowly. With our growing need for food, maybe we can blend the most efficient and humane techniques in all areas of pig production—a mixture of science, common sense, and compassion. Visit a farm if you ever get the chance, but for now, I’ll list a few sites below that might be helpful. Doc
- Some think only hobbits, elves, and rugby players came from New Zealand, but this Kiwi farmer’s website is a thoughtful, reader-friendly location providing insights about hog production issues. I highly recommend it.
- This National Hog Farmer site offers various links and articles about CAFOs.
- The Niman Ranch professes to “raise livestock traditionally, humanely, and sustainably.”
- The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance “Food Dialogues” site offers many short videos from people working the land.
- CAST’s well-received Commentary, The Direct Relationship between Animal Health and Food Safety Outcomes, looks at the way production practices could affect food safety. (by dan gogerty, photo from ARS)