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The Truth about Gestation Stalls

By August 08, 2012 , , , , , ,

My family as well as my husband's family have been farming for well over a hundred years. We have lived through the Dust Bowl, the Depression, multiple world wars, the drought of 1988 and the pork market crash of 1998 (and now we will survive the most devastating drought of them all - 2012).

We have farmed through the best of times and the worst of times.

When many neighboring farmers changed career paths and moved to town due to difficult economic times, we stayed in, even when we were barely getting by.

Despite the fact, that my husband and I could've taken on careers that would've allowed a more luxurious, carefree lifestyle including nights and weekends off, paid vacation and benefits galore, we instead opted to continue the family tradition of farming and raising livestock.

My hubby works late nights almost daily, he works in blistering hot and freezing cold temperatures, getting away from the farm is always a challenge, he works with animals that injure him regularly ... he does it all because he loves to farm and he loves the animals. And most of all, it's a family tradition and we want to provide that same opportunity for the next generation like Miss RayRay.

But, we have evolved since our ancestors started farming in the late 1800s. And there is a reason.

I'm sure in your profession, whether it be nursing or teaching, there have been numerous improvements over the course of the last 100 years.

So it's only natural that farmers also evolve and incorporate the latest in technology to care for their livestock and grow their crops. And the best folks to determine that evolution are the ones in the field, the ones working in the barns with livestock, daily. Farmers, you know, the ones who provide blood, sweat and tears, daily, to make sure their animals are happy and healthy and that we have enough good, wholesome crops to feed a demanding hungry world.

Lately, I have witnessed a great attack on farmers and their use of gestation stalls. An attack I take pretty personally.

The question is ... do we have gestation stalls on our farm? Yes, we do.

One our pigs lounging in her individual stall

I'm sure many of you have seen videos and images of pigs housed in gestation crates. I have too, and it makes my stomach sick. Not only does it make my stomach hurt, but it makes my heart hurt, because I see things so much differently - we take great pride in how healthy our pigs are and how well cared for they are.


We are not some huge corporation, we are a family farm and we work daily to ensure our pigs have the best care, the best environment, and the best nutrition possible. What you don't see in some of those images are pigs housed in a group-pen or even outdoor group pen setting.

When we got started farming, we were still raising some pigs outdoors and some in deep-bedded group pens. So we have the personal experience to compare gestation stalls and group pens. And let me tell you, pigs are not the image of health and happiness in a group pen - they are beat up, scraped up, bloody and toothless.

Does this look like a healthy, happy pig? Poor baby is all beat up!

I'll be downright honest, some hogs are quite violent and will actually gang up and kill the weaker ones in a group setting. They bite tails, ears, vulvas (sorry if that's TMI, just being honest!), throw each other against a wall, butt the weak ones away from water and feed, constantly. And you do your best to group them by size, but it's not always even about size - some pigs are just mean!

You will NEVER have that scenario in a gestation stall, never ever. Every pig on our farm gets individual health care, individualized feed rations and their own personal water nipple and no boss sow is ever going to push anyone around (except my husband!) and injure another pig. I'd invite you to visit a pork farm and see for yourself!


We have evolved in the pork industry to house our pigs in gestation stalls and farrowing stalls for a reason and specifically for the health and safety of the pig. We are utilizing the best in technology including climate controlled barns so our pigs don't get cold or overheat (remember pigs can't sweat), state-of-the art flooring to allow for the cleanest bed for our pigs to sleep and rest on, ventilation systems, cooling cells, automated feeders and the gestation stalls give our pigs every opportunity in the world to eat and drink as much as they want in peace without getting beat and abused by their fellow pig neighbors.

Baby piggies born in a farrowing stall (different from a gestation stall). Aren't they cute?!
Click here  for the full story on how our piggies are raised, housed and cared for, daily.

It's frustrating when people who have no idea what our ancestors went through to give us this opportunity to farm, folks who have never picked up a shovel to clean a cattle pen, or woke up at 3 a.m. to care for hogs when the power goes out, to tell us how to farm and how to care for our animals. If someone sitting in an ivory tower wants to tell me the best way to care for our pigs, then I'd suggest they get a job at a pig farm and see for themselves exactly why we do what we do and exactly what it takes to care for hogs.

My plea to you as a farmwife, mom and fellow consumer is not to be blinded by one-sided images from animal activists groups who do NOT have the best interest of the pig at heart - because let's face it they haven't worked a single day in a livestock barn - they don't know what it takes to farm and care for animals.

Talk to a farmer, they will tell it to you straight, every time. Visit a farm, see for yourself, I dare you!



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41 comments

  1. I have visited farms that have both used group pens and gestational stalls and I agree with you totally. The bullying in the group pens broke my heart for those animals. And the gestation stalls seemed so much more peaceful.

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  2. Awesome commentary on the TRUTH about raising hogs. GREAT JOB TELLING YOUR STORY!

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  3. Fantastic post. This is exactly what I've been trying to say as well, but it seems it mostly falls on deaf ears. Group housing is not more humane than gestation stalls, and people just don't get that! Drives me crazy that they'll believe the people who have never set foot on a farm but won't consider the opinions of the farmer. I wrote about this too a while back... http://unchartedrhoade.blogspot.com/2012/06/crate-debate.html

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    1. I've seen both. Gestation crates have to go. An animal with legs needs to walk. Hoop structures work well

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  4. I visited a pig farm on our last farm tour, and learned so much... I think your post is great, and needs to be circulated.

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  5. Damn Straight! This is an awesome post.... We raised hogs for over 40 years and always used farrowing crates for the protection of the sows, the piglets, and other pigs. There is no idyllic green pasture where hogs are free to frolic and be happy animals. They are animals and must be cared for!

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  6. You talk about almost every conceivable question on raising pigs, but you don't explain why the gestation stalls are so small...where the pregnant pigs don't have enough room to stand, turn around, or grow...some look like they're in a vise...you CANNOT claim this is humane.

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    1. Maggie, The pigs do have room to stand and grow. The stalls are not so small that they cannot do this. You are correct in that they cannot turn around. The issue is cleanliness. If the pigs turned around they could conceivably urinate and defacate in the areas that they receive feed. This would not be healthy for them.

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    2. Just thought I would add - it is also helpful in breeding. The boar can stay in front of them and the farmer can more successfully and quickly breed them. It also keep the food and water within their reach at all times. If you've ever dealt with a pig that was not feeling well, it is much easier to coax her to drink and eat if it is right in front of her face. You can run the water on her face and she will drink, this would not be possible if she was not close to the waterer.

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    3. I agree with this 100%. There is so much about farming that consumers don't understand & it's blogs and people like you that are helping to get the message across. You are an amazing writer!

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    4. If given enough space and a proper feeding system their is no issue with the pigs defecating in the areas they receive feed.

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  7. Thank you for sharing, Meggie! I will be linking up to this post on my blog this afternoon! Great info and more people should know about it :)

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  8. Meggie, I saw this go up today while looking at it on my phone and all I could think was YES and THANK YOU! This is a bold post because it is such a hot topic that people talk about in the news. I love how you address how your farm has survived and change. I don't want to go back to where we were 100 years ago in food production. I also have toured small to large hog farms. But 99% of Americans have not had that opportunity and you are doing a great job at sharing what truly happens on a hog farm and why. Keep sharing!

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  9. Nice job, friend. I shared the link on Facebook, and got lots of comments, plus a friend in Missouri who asked if he could share the link. Of course I told him yes! I can see this getting a lot of traffic!

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  10. It's precious to me that you get to continue the family tradition. I would have liked to stay on the farm.

    Thanks using state of the art technology. And sharing an explanation.

    I'm going to thaw out some bacon.

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  11. Thank you Meggie for the post. It is right on with what the truth is. Thank you for doing this!

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  12. Great post. As a dairy farmer, I like to try to learn about how other fellow livestock producers raise their animals. Thanks!!

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  13. Great post! I'm a rancher, so I learned a lot reading about how you manage your hogs. I may link up to this if you don't mind?

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  14. Well said and explained! Fantastic post that provides an honest look at what it takes to raise animals. You are absolutely right that the people trying to change your way of life have never raise a pig. Thank you!

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  15. I can vouch for (most of) this method as being humane. (My family had pigs for years and used gestation crates.) Gestation crates are safer for the piglets as well the humans caring for the sows AND it doesn't allow the sows to have a "pecking order" and get beat up. My family used gestation crates but only when we knew they were going to farrow (give birth) and they had nursing piglets. My family had boars and kept very close track of which sows got bred and which didn't. The sows that got bred were put in a group pen and once their expected due date was approaching they were removed from the group and put in crates. I had a vegan classmate once who I had explained to her that we put sows in crates to give birth and nurse so that the sows wouldn't lay on their babies and suffocate them. She immediately pounced at the statement that they would be suffocated, "WELL! How often did THAT happen?" I responded, "There have been several times when I'd be feeding the mothers (sows) and I'd hear this awful squealing. That squealing was because one of the sows had laid down on top of one of her babies. I'd have to run over and slap the sow to get her up so she didn't kill her piglet." That shut her up real quick! She didn't expect me to have such a realistic answer.

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    1. I have seen sows eating the piglets as soon as they were born when in a larger pen. They will lay on them and not bother to get up when the piglets squeal. We had a sow that wouldn't let the piglets nurse if you gave her enough room to get away from them. Needless to say the first litter was her last. Hogs are mean to each other and their own young - City people just don't get it but think they know everything.

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  16. Hey Meggie. Great perspective on the different ways animals are cared for. The people who work with them every day know how to best care for animals, so hopefully people will learn to chat with farmers - there are so many opportunities to do so in today's social world. I'd echo your sentiment about the nasty videos from the activists. Great job!

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  17. I echo all of the positive comments! Every chosen method of farming involves tradeoffs and I think you did a nice job highlighting the cons of outdoor and group housing and pros of gestation crates, as we often only hear that gestation crates are bad (with no reason).

    With many producers being asked (forced?) to phase into group housing systems (e.g., Smithfield), I wonder if there's enough research to provide farmers better management practices to reduce some of the cons of group housing. What do you think or know about?

    Consequently, what I think we'll see is a greater push toward more docile genetics. I remember when we (Meggie & I) were at Purdue, animal science was doing swine genetic research to create more docile pigs. I'll bet the same people pushing for group housing did not think of that impact and will be angry when they figure that out.

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  18. Great Job Meggie!! I am new to your blog, but will be back! This is all so true and you did a great job explaining gestation stalls. My family has been on the farm for five+ generations now and we have raised hogs for 40 years. We work very hard to make sure that our animals are very well taken care of, sometime better than we take care of ourselves.

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  19. Thanks for this post! My dad raises pigs and the farrowing house controversy is simply laughable to us! It would take maybe 5 minutes actually spent around a sow who has just given birth and her piglets to know that farrowing houses provide the absolute safest environment, not to mention that they are perfectly content!

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  21. I recently got a chance to visit the ruby ranch pig sanctuary, where the pigs have a chance to live happy piggy lives as they were meant to do. They are not aggressive to each other, as they have access to plenty of fresh air, sunshine and space to play. When denied the right to fulfill their basic instincts and needs, pigs may get aggressive. Gestation crates are not the answer - providing them with a more natural life is.
    Free range pigs do not have to have their tails cut off due to aggression! Some farmers do this with no anesthetic, and justify it as "we're keeping them from getting hurt." Logic?
    the truth is that providing the animals with natural lives makes a small profit, and profit is more important than their comfort and happiness.
    I actually saw a picture (on this site) of a pig, with barely enough room to move, labeled "happy, sleepy piggy." Heartbreaking.
    I honestly believe the factory farmers delude themselves into thinking they are "taking care" of the animals in order to be able to look at themselves in a mirror.
    read an article about how pigs behave in a natural environment and then compare that with your pigs. How can you not see the cruelty?
    Note: I am not a naive "city person." I was raised on a family farm.
    I'm sure this won't get posted.

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  22. From browsing your site I gather you are a religious person. Please answer my question as I am truly interested in your answer: Do you think this is how your God intended for these animals to live?

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  23. So are the pigs in the gestation crates permanently unable to move or walk or are they allowed to walk around while not nursing? Why aren't they given stalls with hay to line in instead of a steal crate?

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