Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Truth About Hog Confinements

Once again, a farmer trying to save his farm in our county is trying to improve his financial bottom line by diversification into livestock. To do so, he has to file a plan under the Department of Natural Resources who them rate him on a point scale that the farmer passed with flying colors. In recent years however, it seems as if the public seems to have a say on what this farmer does with his own private property when he has already proven that pollution will not be an issue. The county board of supervisors held an open meeting to allow the public to comment on the issue and as usual, 95% of them have no earthly idea what actually happens on a confinement and feeding operation or CAFO, which they call it in a snide tone of voice.

A local hog farmer set things straight over a year ago in a letter to the editor and our local rag fortunately had the guts to reprint it again. It is one of the best letters on the subject I have found and I wish to reprint it here. Enjoy and learn something.

From Fords to Hogs, 30 Years Changes Most Things
By Doug Johnson, Fairfield livestock farmer and member of Jefferson County Pork Producers and the Iowa Cattleman's Association.

Thirty years ago (1975), a new top-of-the-line Ford car cost $6,000. Now (2005), a new top-of-the-line Ford car costs $30,000. Thirty years ago, almost everyone who farmed raised hogs. Farrow (when pigs are born) to finish (sold). Thirty years ago, pigs were farrowed outside in the summer. The pigs were raised in the wind, rain, sun and predators. Newborn pigs could die from too much sun (sunburn), from rain by drowning and getting a cold from the wind while they were wet and predators that would kill and eat the pigs. Winter pigs were farrowed inside in unheated lamps. The pigs would be born and work their way to the sow's (mother pig) belly for food and warmth. If the pig went the wrong way, it could get chilled, then be sick or freeze to death. The pigs also could be crushed by the sow. In 1975, when pigs were farrowed, they were left with the sow until they were 50 pounds. One to two times while the pigs were with the sow, they would get scours (a form of diarrhea that could be fatal). When the pigs got scours, they required much medication.

Today's hog business, sows are farrowed and the S.E.W. (segregated early weaning) pigs are weaned at 10 days of age to protect the babies from bad germs natural to the sow. The pigs are moved to an off-site nursery for special care and nutrition: this step eliminates the scours. When the pigs weigh 50 pounds they are moved to a finishing building and raised to market weight. The farrowing, nursery and the finishing building are computer climate controlled. To the pigs, a desired temperature of 65 to 80 degrees for comfort depending on their size. When the buildings are empty of hogs, the buildings are pressure washed and disinfected. By raising hogs this way, much less medication is used per pig than in the old days. Better for the pigs and better for the consumer.

All animals create manure. Thirty years ago manure was mostly solid. It was loaded and hauled to the nearest field and spread just to get rid of some of the manure. Usually spread in the same field year after year just because it was close. Today, most manure is used as a liquid fertilizer. The manure is injected into the soil to prevent run-off pollution, help control odor and to capture the full fertilizer value. Today's large confinement buildings need a manure management plan. The plan is on file with the Department of Natural Resources. The plan states as to which fields receive manure fertilization and how much can be applied. For a 1,200 head finishing building, the manure could be applied to 160 to 240 acres, depending on the nutrient needs of the soil. The value of manure can be $30 to $60 per acre. This means no commercial fertilizer is needed for one to two years of crops (corn and soybeans).

The livestock industry creates many jobs not only in production, but in processing and retail. Livestock also generates many byproducts used in other industries. In 2004, 52 percent of an 11.8 billion bushel corn crop was used by U.S. livestock. Hogs consumed 11 percent of the corn crop. In 2004, 54 percent of a 3.1 billion bushel soybean crop was utilized by U.S. livestock. Hogs consumed 13 percent of the U.S. soybean crop. Day in and day out, the investment and expansion in the U.S. livestock production is without financial support of the government. No loan deficiency payments (LDP), counter cyclical payments of conservation reserve payments (CRP) or any other government payments. Agriculture's savior: Ethanol! Ethanol plants being considered, being build for production will use 3.9 billion bushels of corn. That is well short of the 6.1 billion bushels of corn the livestock industry purchases yearly.

Bet you forgot about the Ford car of 1975 for $6,000 and the Ford car of 2005 for $30,000. Thirty years ago, farmers farrowed and then finished the pigs. They could make $20 per head profit for 300 head or $12,000. Today, some farmers only do only farrowing and some other do finishing. A farmer that finished hogs can make $5 to $10 per head of an average of $7.50 profit per head. To have the same money today as 30 years ago, a farmer would have to finish 4,000 hogs per year.

Iowa is an agricultural state! We have large and small farm equipment on roads, grain dryers howling day and night and livestock odors. All animals create odors - dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs and even humans. Pork industry people are experimenting with ways to control odors. Some day someone will come up with a product that you feed to animals and the manure doesn't smell. I just wish I had a chemical background to invent such a product, then I wouldn't have to raise livestock for a living

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