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Sound and fury November 20, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
Tags: , , , ,

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) tend not to open their big meaty arms to journalists, and certainly not to those who take an interest in animal welfare. But Dan Koster, an Illinois pig farmer, was intrepid enough not only to invite me into his CAFO, but to let me publish his name. Confident that the way he raises pigs is healthy and ethical, he had no reservations about showing me around the three huge buildings on his property that house 7500 pigs destined to become pork for his main customers: Cargill, Swift, and Tyson.

Effective management is Dan’s hallmark. A panel of automated temperature and feed controls lines the hallway outside the newer buildings and links to Dan’s home office so he can keep tabs on the conditions inside. Fans along one narrow wall of the vast rectangular space pull air through the open windows on the opposite side, cooling the pigs off, and a sprinkler system adds extra insurance against overheating on the hottest summer days. The smell was surprisingly tolerable. Standing in a room with 5000 pigs around me, I could breathe easier than when I’d visited another farmer’s outdoor feedlot of just 75 pigs and was merely grateful that there was nothing in my stomach to come up.

The pigs themselves were quite clean, for the most part, as their manure drops through the slatted concrete floors of modern CAFO design. (The pigs in the oldest building were the exception. There, where the floors are partly solid, pigs were sliding around in their shit trying to get in and out of the area where they defecate. You might think that pigs wouldn’t mind that, since they tend to voluntarily slide around in mud when they live in a natural environment, but according to Dan pigs are quite fastidious about not pooping where they lie.)

I asked about lameness, a common issue in CAFOs because our ingenuity in genetic manipulation has not yet extended to creating animals whose joints tolerate concrete. However, Dan said very few of his pigs, perhaps a tenth of one percent, suffered from lameness, and from my observation that seemed a fair estimate. Not that I could see the actual legs of the pigs – they were packed too closely to discern much more than a sea of backs – but I could see the shuttling lines of bodies as the movement of one necessitated the movement of the next in the crowded space. Dan estimated the concentration of pigs as one per every 7.5 square feet, which gives them plenty of room to run around when they are just-weaned piglets, and room to do nothing but press against the next pig when they get close to their market weight of 260 pounds.

In sum, the smell pleasantly underwhelmed me. The sight was pretty much as expected. What shocked me was the sound. Opening the door into the confinement pen was like walking into the engine of a 747. That is, a squealing, panicked, urgent 747. So below, along with a few pictures (sorry for the spots, in the semi-darkness I didn’t realize my lens was dirty!) I’ve included a link to a 45-second audio clip of us entering the building. We opened the door about 15 seconds into the clip. If anyone has a description that can more adequately describe the sound, please comment; I’d be curious to hear it.

Sound clip



1. November 23 Morning Roundup « The Heavy Table - November 23, 2009

[…] reasons to dine out for Thanksgiving, Marjorie Johnson shows up at The Affair, From Animal To Meat visits a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, a mixed review for the always controversial Ted Cook’s, […]

2. Kurt Michael Friese - December 16, 2009

Your lens wasn’t dirty. Those spots are your flash illuminating the dust in the air.

Interesting article, thanks.


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