US producers wary of losing sow stalls

A group of US farmers have remained unconvinced by the EU’s stance on sow stalls following their return from a trip to Europe to examine the consequences of new animal welfare laws.

More than 15 Illinois farmers visited England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark at the end of June, and met with farmers and industry professionals to discuss recent animal-care laws governing dairy, pig, sheep, poultry and cattle farms in Europe.

Tamara Nelsen of the Illinois Farm Bureau, which organised the trip, said it was valuable because it allowed them to see the results of these new regulations and gave farmers an insight on how to prepare for, and in some cases oppose, similar changes that could occur in the farming industry in Illinois and nationally.

“We wanted to see how these European farmers have adapted and changed as a result of these new regulations,” she told The Times newspaper, of Ottawa, Illinois, explaining that one of the changes in Europe was a recent law that required sows be kept in group housing as opposed to traditional stalls.

“I, like many of the farmers on the trip, prefer the stalls because they’re better for the animals,” she said. “Their pigs are dirtier than ours, and sometimes, they don’t live as long.

“Those farmers told us the changes cost money, their production is not back up to what it was prior to the changes, and their sows aren’t having as many healthy piglets, but they’re trying to make it work.”

Pig farmer Pam Janssen, who has about 200 sows on her farm, said she prefers to house her sows in individual stalls.

“Being able to individualise each animal, in my experience, is better on a hog farm,” she said. “There’s fighting in the group housing, but when they’re treated like individuals, you can feed them the correct amount and take better care of them.”

Tamara Nelsen said they learned animal rights advocates were responsible for pushing the changes in Europe, but most of the farmers on the trip saw individual housing as the better option for their animals.

“When the consumer looks in, they see the sows in stalls, and their initial thought is that it’s terrible,” she said. “But we see the things, like fighting, that go on in group housing, so we’re more approving of a crate system. Those things aren’t as apparent to consumers who are only catching a glimpse.”

Pam Janssen added it was important for farmers to inform the public and legislators about the negatives of these systems so that a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t enacted hastily in Illinois.

“We have a lot of work ahead as producers and livestock farmers,” she said. “We need to be out there giving advice and educating people about the benefits of how we are doing it now.”

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