Shaking My Head – A Grad Student’s Perspective on Gestation Stalls By: Brandi Buzzard, April 16 2012
Science doesn’t always prevail – this is a reality I have unfortunately had to come to terms with over the past three years in graduate school at Kansas State University. Incidents like the controversy over lean, finely textured beef, antibiotic use in livestock and the never ending hormone dispute quite often leave me holding my head in my hands. But perhaps the most frustrating and disheartening disregard for scientifically proven methods is the recent abandonment of gestation stalls in favor of more consumer friendly group sow housing.
Before I get burned at the stake, I want to say that I acknowledge and appreciate varied production methods. I know that there are serious downfalls to gestation stalls and that the industry needs to find a more suitable method for managing pregnant sows.
That being said, gestation stalls have been utilized for the past forty years for good reason. Extensive research provided evidence in the 1970’s that gestation stalls allow sows to be managed more efficiently, improve employee safety and allow sows to be given individual care. The use of stalls has allowed U.S. producers to meet a growing worldwide demand for pork; however, a new player has joined the roster on the production team, the average consumer. This new player wants pork produced without constraints and doesn’t have much regard for the increased production cost to the producer. Will this player step up and deliver when it’s time to shell out the green for a more expensive product? You tell me.
The United States pork industry is not the first to head down this well-traveled path. Gestation stalls are banned in Sweden and the UK, with the rest of the EU instituting a total ban in 2013 (after the fourth week of pregnancy) and are being voluntarily phased out by 2017 in Australia. I predict that with recent wave of companies such as Wendy’s, Subway, Smithfield Foods and McDonald’s ending their use of gestation stalls, the practice will be phased out completely in the US within 8-10 years. Unfortunately, once the stone starts rolling downhill, it’s hard to stop.
The most frustrating thing about this situation is that gestation stalls are being phased out not based on science but simply driven by emotional decisions. I believe that industry altering decisions should be based on science and if need be, supported by additional drivers such as emotions and aesthetics. Before we completely change the way hogs are raised, I think we need leave no stone unturned in order to find the best possible replacement.
Are gestation stalls the best system? In my opinion, no; but I also don’t believe group housing alone is the key either. I think free access stalls, which provide sows with options as to where they choose to spend their time between the stalls and a group area, need to be further investigated. Science and technology allow us to do some pretty amazing things in agriculture and we should utilize those vast resources before making an industry-wide change.
Learn more about Brandi:
Brandi Buzzard is a native of Colony, KS where she grew up rodeoing and showing livestock with her family. A passionate agriculture advocate, she authors a blog about current industry issues and contributes to the NCBA YPC and Food For Thought blogs. She attended Kansas State University where she earned her B.S. in Animal Sciences and Agriculture Economics and is continuing her education there while pursuing a M.S. in Animal Behavior, Well-Being and Health.
Brandi is active in a variety of agriculture organizations including the Kansas Livestock Association, the National Pork Board’s Operation Main Street, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Young Producer’s Council and Food For Thought. Outside of her professional interests she enjoys spending time with her husband and family, rodeoing, working on the farm and globetrotting.
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