Farmers demonstrate responsibility and concern for the pigs they care for every day. Farming is a 365-day job, and the responsibility of animal care is shared by each individual involved in farming — from owners to managers, to animal caretakers, to the drivers who transport pigs. Each is accountable for demonstrating a commitment to responsible pig farming.

Veterinary care for pigs

Today’s farmers, in collaboration with veterinarians and other agricultural experts, are more knowledgeable and better equipped than ever before to effectively care for the health and well-being of their pigs. The role veterinarians play in the day-to-day operations of a modern pig farm is vital, and their responsibilities have evolved beyond mainly treating sick animals and diagnosing disease and treatment. Today, with more sophistication in farming and growth in the size of the average pig farm, the level of knowledge and expertise required from a veterinarian has grown significantly. This has resulted in greater need for veterinary services. The level of services provided can range, depending on the day, from consulting on specific issues of concern to actively managing on-site pig health. In addition, their expertise is sought in the planning and construction of a new farm or barn. Veterinarians can be employed by larger farming businesses, hired as individual consultants or contracted through the services of a specialty practice. Successful farms maximize the expertise of veterinarians to ensure pig health and well-being that ultimately contributes to a safe food supply.

On-farm visits

As trained and knowledgeable as farmers are to monitor and detect issues with animal health and well-being, veterinarians are the ultimate on-farm experts in overseeing all aspects of pig health. Veterinarians are also crucial to farm validation through PQA Plus and site planning. While performing farm visits, veterinarians perform tasks such as:

  • Taking inventories of medicine
  • Calculating withdrawal dates for antibiotics to comply with USDA standards
  • Taking weather and feed into consideration
  • Gathering samples for lab work
  • Dealing with disease outbreaks

Monitoring breeding health and reviewing records made by farmers about their herd’s health

Veterinarians and farmers working together

Like being a pig farmer, being a swine veterinarian isn’t easy. It requires a love of agriculture and a strong commitment to caring for animals. Farmers understand that raising healthy, comfortable animals is the best way to supply consumers with a wholesome and abundant food supply. Veterinarians help them accomplish this.

As farming has changed to become safer and more efficient, veterinarians have incorporated new technologies and methods into their practices. Below are just some of the examples of the ways swine veterinarians help pig farmers give their herds the best quality of life possible.

  • Ensure that new moms and newborn pigs eat enough to recover from delivery
  • Oversee implementation of ventilation systems to ensure optimum pig comfort
  • Use and control medicines to treat sick animals
  • Individually assess each sow to make feed recommendations
  • Communicate with farmers to address any problems their herd might be having
  • Test for viruses and administer vaccinations
  • Oversee herd health management plans

Ethics in animal husbandry

As written by Paul B. Thompson, Professor, W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics, Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI

Animal husbandry is traditionally understood as a blend of the producer’s self-interest and duties of humane treatment of the animals on which we depend. A livestock operation cannot prosper without healthy and reproductively fit animals. While profits provide an economic incentive for husbandry, livestock producers have never evaluated animal welfare solely in terms of dollars and cents. Taking proper care of animals has always been understood as an ethical responsibility, as well as a necessary business practice.

The ethical responsibilities of animal husbandry have usually been thought of in terms of duties that individual people – farmers and farmhands – must perform on behalf of the animals in their care. Any practice that results in ill health or poor treatment of a farm animal has been though of as a fault for which the individual should be held accountable. Although it is still true that the husbandry imposes ethical duties on those who practice it, animal agriculture has changed dramatically in scope and complexity over the last few decades. New technologies pose challenges to the way that we understand how animals fare in a given production system. New methods may seem to enhance one dimension of animal health and well-being, while seemingly causing a decline in another. New scales of production can provide opportunities for improvements in overall herd health, reproductive success and profitability, while reducing the amount of care and attention that can be given to an individual animal.

We live in a time when the public’s demand for ethical treatment of farm animals is starting to register in the form of price premiums and special contracting requirements, as well as pressure for government action. There is a danger that the emerging system serves neither animal nor human interests well. Scientifically-validated and ethically-grounded industry standards can provide an alternative to rules and regulations imposed from without, but only if three key conditions can be met:

  1. It must be clear that the ethical goals and principles place appropriate weight on the welfare and interests of farm animals themselves, at the same time that they recognize the role of animal agriculture in satisfying vital human needs.
  2. Consumers must have confidence that standards are taken seriously and that livestock producers faithfully follow recommended practices.
  3. Producers themselves must believe that standards are fairly established and administered.

How to report a pig care concern

Willful acts of abuse or neglect are unacceptable. If a willful act of abuse is observed, immediately intervene to stop the situation if reasonably and safely possible. The incident should be reported to the site representative, farm owner or management. Every site should have a reporting mechanism in place for caretakers to report abuse and neglect. All reports should be thoroughly investigated. The National Pork Board strongly encourages anyone with knowledge of possible animal abuse or neglect to report these actions immediately to the proper responsible persons.

The National Pork Board endorses adherence to the See it? Stop it! initiative and its principles. See it? Stop it! enforces the perspective that willful acts of abuse are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The initiative empowers anyone working on a farm or in a farm setting where animals are being raised or transported, to immediately report any instances of animal abuse or neglect.

Balanced nutrition for pigs

Sound feeding practices that provide for adequate nutrient needs are integral to the health and well-being of pigs in all stages of production. It is important that pigs are feed a nutritionally balanced diet that is age-appropriate, Pigs require a more concentrated diet; therefore, they are fed a less-fibrous feed than cattle, sheep or horses. As pigs grow, their nutritional requirements change and the diet should meet the nutritional needs of pigs in various phases of growth and stages of production. Feeding pigs for optimal growth and production provides for their nutritional welfare. To provide a complete diet, the following nutrients and nutrient groups must be included:

  • energy
  • protein and amino acids
  • essential fatty acids
  • minerals
  • vitamins
  • water

Today, a grain-based, nutritionally balanced diet is fed to pigs raised for food. In the Midwest, corn and soybean meal are the primary feedstuffs but the diet also may include wheat or barley. Additionally, adding vitamins and minerals balance the dietary requirements for each stage of growth and production. While corn and soybean meal are the primary feedstuffs in swine diets, pig farmers may substitute alternative feed ingredients to help reduce feed cost when corn and soybean meal prices are high. Many pig farmers also raise corn and soybeans and they use this grain, in part, as food for their pigs.

Pig feed is made in a variety of ways. Many farmers have on-farm feed mills and mix their own feed from individual ingredients grown on their farm.  Others use the services of a centralized feed mill that may supply pig feed to multiple farms. Finally, some farms purchase complete rations from feed manufacturers. These complete feeds require no further processing or mixing.