So fresh and so clean, clean…

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning? Do you snag a cup of coffee? Talk about last night’s television programs with your coworkers? Quietly check your email and hope no one talks to you before 10 a.m.? Not if you are a pig farmer.

If you are working on a modern pig farm the first thing you do is take a shower. You heard that right – you take a shower AFTER you get to work. Curious about why?

Shower clean side

This is the “clean side” of a shower room at a farm in northwestern Oklahoma. The uniforms stay on the clean side while farmers’ “street clothes” stay on the “dirty side.”

The showers are simply one of several steps of a biosecurity plan. Biosecurity is the term used to describe all of the processes in place to keep the pigs inside the barn as safe and healthy as possible – away from the germs and diseases outside the barn.

When coming to the barn you step into the dirty side – and if you are simply making a delivery you drop it through a window where it will be cleaned and disinfected. If you are coming to visit the animals or work – such as a farmer or a veterinarian – you will then step into a shower room.

Everything you have on when you enter the “dirty side” of the shower room comes off and goes onto a shelf or into a cubbie hole. You then jump into a shower and get scrubby with the bubbles all over – hair, glasses, jewelry included.

When you finish getting clean you step out of the shower into the “clean side” of the shower room where there are uniforms – usually scrubs or coveralls – waiting as well as all the undies and socks you might need.

This ensures that no matter what you may have touched – you are as clean and germ-free as one can be when you enter the barn and are around the pigs.

On the reverse – as the farmer leaves the barn they also take another shower. This is another step in the biosecurity plan to keep any germs which could be inside the barn from spreading to any other barns. Are you willing to take two showers a day for your job?

There is more to biosecurity than showers though. Before you even get to the barn you will almost always see a sign hanging on a fence letting you know that no unauthorized vehicles are allowed past this certain point. This isn’t because the farmers inside are hiding something – but so that no disease or germs are brought near the barn where farmers will be walking.

Moving pigs onto truck

Above you see farmers loading weaned pigs, those who are old enough and strong enough to be on their own, onto a truck to be taken to another farm where they will grow to market size.

When vehicles must come to the farm – such as feed deliveries and trucks which deliver pigs – those trucks are cleaned between loads and the drivers stay outside the barn while the farmers stay inside.

Of course the trucks are often scrubbed down with disinfecting soap and water but sometimes they are driven into a garage-like building called a truck baker. The doors close after the trailer is dropped in the building and sealed. The temperature is increased in the “baker” until it is high enough to kill bacteria.

As pigs move in and out of barns everything is soaped up and cleaned between groups of pigs. Just because bacteria may be carried without a problem by one group of pigs – it doesn’t mean the next group will be affected (or not be affected) by the bacteria in the same way.

Rising stalls

The above photo shows a farmer pre-rinsing the farrowing stalls – or stalls where sows give birth and spend the first days with their piglets to keep both sow and piglets safe. Every stall is cleaned between uses to keep all germs from spreading among different groups of pigs.

After sows and the piglets separate into their appropriate groups – all of the pens are power washed. The next group of pigs to come to the farrowing stalls will have the cleanest pens possible.

soapy stalls

The above photo shows some soaped up mats and pens being cleaned.

All of the above steps are taken to keep all of the animals in the best possible health. When the animals are healthy they will get sick less often and the less antibiotics are needed. These are all important factors to Oklahoma’s farmers.

What else do you want to know about biosecurity practices? What other questions do you have? Let’s talk pig farms folks! 

A place to call your own

Individual stalls

This photo is of sows in individual stalls in a farm in western Oklahoma. It is one way farmers choose to keep their pigs healthy and safe.

Farmers in Oklahoma are dedicated to a set of ethical principles and among those principles you will find a dedication to animal care. Modern research into farm design, animal handling practices and veterinary medicine have helped to increase the health and comfort of pigs in in barns.

Animal welfare is of the highest importance to the farmers in Oklahoma who believe it is the best state in the country in which to raise baby pigs.

A number of farmers in Oklahoma see individual gestation stall housing as one way to keep pigs safe and healthy. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians and the American Veterinary Medical Association both agree that all types of sow housing have advantages and disadvantages and what is most important is the level of individual care given to the pigs.

The level of individual care each pig is able to receive is at its highest level with this type of housing. With only one pig in each stall the pigs aren’t able to fight or steal food from each other.

Farmers in an individual stall housing style barn can walk thorough and see each pig, how they are looking, what they have eaten and what kind of mood they are in immediately. The farmer knows from day to day which animals are acting like their normal selves.

checking feeders

In this photo one farmer is checking gestating sows and the feeders to make sure everything is in proper working order.

The Oklahoma Pork Council believes that decisions about how to raise pigs and how to house those pigs are best made by the people who are on the farm taking care of the animals each day, backed by science and overseen by a veterinarian. okPORK also supports all types of pig farming – as long as the ethical principles the pork industry stands behind is adhered to.

What questions do you have? What other parts of the farm are you curious about? What would you like to talk about next? Oklahoma pig farmers are ready to share their story with you and looking forward to you peeking behind the barn doors! 

Scratching in individual penA farmer stops to scratch behind the ears of one of the gestating sows. Individual attention is easy to give when the sow is in a stall and is also safe for the farmer as well.

You’ve heard of pigs in a blanket, what about pigs in a pile?

penned sows

The above photo shows sows in a group housing situation. 

Legislators talk about it. Farmers talk about it. Activists talk about it. Moms in the city talk about it. Moms in the country talk about it. Dads everywhere talk about it. There is so much to wade through – how do you know what to hear?

There I go, talking about it and not even naming it. You see, I am talking about sow housing systems.

In Oklahoma a significant number of sows live their days in group housing. Another option is individual housing. Both of these housing options are healthy, safe and humane options where sows can live. The next post will cover individual housing options and why farmers sometimes choose to raise sows in stalls.

The number of pigs living in group housing in Oklahoma change with time due to renovations of older facilities and improvements in feeding systems. Group housing is also known in the industry as group gestation or pen gestation, which refers to the time when the sows, or mother pigs, are pregnant. During this time the sows will be living in large pens with other pregnant sows.

These groups of sows usually get to know each other. After having babies, being bred and becoming pregnant again the same group will come back together to spend their gestation period.

Pen gestation is very different from farm to farm and one main difference among them are the feeding arrangements. In Oklahoma there are electronic sow feeders and free access stalls. Both allow for the pig to eat in privacy away from the other pigs. This helps even the least aggressive pig to get plenty to eat.

If a farm has an electronic sow feeder, each sow must each have an electronic chip in their ear. When the sow walks up to the feeder the chip is read, and if the sow hasn’t eaten yet the gate will open. The correct amount of food is dropped into a pan inside the feeder once the sow has entered. When the food is all gone the pig exits through a gate on the other end of the feeder from where it entered.

The information is recorded about which sows have eaten, how much they ate and when they ate into a computer database. Each day a farmer checks the database to make sure each pig has eaten. If one of the sows doesn’t eat all the day’s food, the farmer goes out to the pen to see why. If the problem is simply a sleeping pig, the pig is woken up and the farmer will steer the pig to the feeder. If one of the sows is sick or hurt, the farmer will then remove the sow from the pen into the “hospital” where individual pens will help with individual treatment.

mansion checking pigs to feed

in the above photo, a farmer is checking the electronic tag in the pig’s ear against his list of pigs who haven’t eaten. This helps to ensure each sow gets plenty to eat each day. 

You will often find a pigs sleeping in a pile when they live in group housing. Farmers jokingly call the pile of animals a pig pile.

pig pile

Sows in a pig pile. You can also see a water nipple in the foreground where the sows have access to as much water as needed any time of day or night.

Free access stalls are another system to care for sows in groups. In this style there is a large group area lined by individual pens. Any time the sow wishes to be alone and not share space with the other females, they are able to open the individual pens themselves. The sow can simply push open the back panel of the stall and enter and as she does so the stall will close behind. The moment the sow wishes to leave the stall the sow simply backs up and the back panel will open.

When it is feeding time, each pen in a group is delivered the same amount of food and the sows will pick an individual pen to let themselves into to eat.

Checking_the_pens_MBStoryThe above photo is of a farmer checking the functionality of a free access stall. He is standing in the group pen and sows would are able to open and close the pens any time they choose.

With both styles of pen housing you can see the positives. There is a social aspect to the housing and room to move around at will. Each sow is still fed individually and has access to plenty of food and water to help keep both her and her growing babies healthy.

There are a few negatives as well to the group sow housing. Pregnant pigs are often mean to each other. They can be very territorial and violent. It is something which must be closely monitored. In addition, each animal must be trained to use the feeding system in place before they can be expected to become part of a group.

It is the farmer who is in the barn every day. It is the farmer who knows which pigs get along and which are bossy. It is the farmer who knows which sows are picky eaters and which ones are the first in line to the feeders. This is why we believe farmers should have the right to choose how they raise their animals.

What questions do you have about group sow housing? Of which parts would you like to see more photos? What other topics would you like to read about.

Dottie with a baby pig in arms2

Let me know! This is meant to be a discussion – but I need to hear your voice!