Posted 2/10/2019 16:15 (#7311445) Subject: Abstract: What if there were no Hog Confinements?
South Central Iowa
Kind of off the beaten path for us here, but I have different abstract questions about our industry at a macro level. How would it change the economics of food and society and would we be better off for it? A lot of people who know nothing about agriculture have lots of opinions about what we are or should be as we all know, so some of these abstract discussions relate to those ideas.
To start with one:
What if hog confinements were banned by a future law? Presume that owners of existing confinements were compensated for the devaluation of their property (no bankruptcies from this) and a transition was mandated to raise hogs in a more "natural" manner. This would not be "organic", you could still use antibiotics and feed them grain, but imagine that due to pressure about animal welfare, the hogs were required to be raised in a "free-range" environment with exceptions for final finishing.
Several Points of discussion or thought:
1) Labor: How would the labor requirements change? If sows spent their life, much like cows and ewes, in the open and pigs were farrowed and weaned entirely in rotation pastures versus a confined space, how many more people would be required to labor under this arrangement. We have a lot of people who work in the barns, would that satisfy a good portion of the labor requirements, like 30%-75%, or would we need 10x or more the number of people?
2) Acres: How many acres would it take if hogs were cultivated on grass and in timbers for the most part? We have 73 million hogs or so according to the USDA, and over 6 million are sows for breeding. So a large number of corn and soybean acres exist to feed those stock, how many more acres would it take if they feed mostly on grass with only grain supplement and a short duration finishing diet?
3) Economics: What do you suppose the effect on price would be in the long-term? This would be both the price of lean hogs and the price at the store. I say long-term to get us past and initial shock in price. Maybe presume that the transition is gradual over a 10+ year period. When supply met demand, how much more do you think this system would cost the consumer and how much more might we be rewarded for this activity?
4) Cultural & Societal: Would this type of activity be an improvement for rural society and America in general from a cultural and societal standpoint? This is really broad and abstract. Part of what I am saying, would we as farmers and rural people enjoy a better quality of life from this type of husbandry as opposed to the more industrial cafo system? Breaking the grip of vertical integration, would we be freer and better off as the owners of our stock rather than the caretakers of a barn? Would the quality of our product improve or get worse? Also, would our stature in society be looked on with higher regard than we currently are? I notice far less scorn being heaped on cattle than hogs and poultry from an animal welfare standpoint. Most of beef's criticism comes from supposed "health" issues, far less from welfare.
5) Historical: Hogs have largely been in confinements for all of my life. My grandfather had a couple of sows out in his back lot behind the house when I was very young; they scared me half to death when I played in the sand box and they rummaged along the other side of the fence just feet away, haha. Beyond that though, I am really unfamiliar with any concept of raising hogs outside of the confinement. I presume death loss was significantly higher and piglets in a litter were lower. I know there are some dry lots still in SE Iowa, but was that the only way that hogs were raised before the confinement, in a dry lot? Do hogs have to have artificial shelter or huts? Are any of you old enough to have been significantly involved in hog rearing before the confining process began; when all the hogs were "free-range" of sorts? If you were and want to share any thoughts, stories, experiences, or opinions on it, please do.
Look forward to reading thoughts, stories, and musings! Especially from people involved in the hog industry (or formerly) and if you feel your situation would be better or worse off if there were no confinements and vertical integration to the packer any longer.