Last week, I introduced you to Wakefield Pork, Inc, in Gaylord, Minnesota and shared my experience of a recent visit there, including seeing piglets born! Today, I'll share more of my visit, so please read on.
The next stop on our tour of Wakefield Pork, Inc. was the gestation barn where the sows get impregnated. It's a massive temperature controlled barn of sows housed in individual gestation stalls. I asked our hosts why they used individual stalls. Manager, Todd Marotz responded, ” 'We always ask, what's the right thing for the animal?' And in this case, it's better for them to be housed individually than in groups.” He added, “These sows can fight, sometimes to the death, so it's safer for both the animals and the workers.” In fact, several of the employees that day shared similar stories about how when sows are given the choice to go in individual stalls or group pens, they almost always choose the stalls.
Sows in the gestation barn. (Photo, J Jorgensen)
Individual stalls also mean there is no competition for food, so animals stay safe. Workers benefit because they can more easily monitor the sows' health. Indeed, each sow is checked multiple times throughout the day, and employees chart all relevant information about the sow's health, care, and feeding schedule.
The impregnation process isn't what I was expecting: There is no physical contact between the sow and boar. Don't get me wrong. I wasn't expecting candles and slow music, but I also wasn't expecting what actually happens. (We didn't see it; it was described to us.) Four boars walk up and down the barn in front of 2500 sows to get them in heat by releasing pheromones. Then, an employee stops the boar in a front of a sow and impregnates her with the boar's semen. Once finished, they move the boar to the next sow, repeat the process, and so on. The gestation period lasts 114 days, or 3 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days. Marotz also added that at Wakefield Pork, Inc, “no sow is ever bred without being in heat.”
Now, if you'd like to see how the sows give birth and how piglets suckle, please see My Visit to a Pig Farm: Part I.