I needed to let my brain have a break, the flurry of writing a couple weeks ago was waylaid by a few nights of seasonal celebrations and a party in honour of my brother Donald who successfully defended his M. Sc. in Swine Nutrition. In the new year Donald will become a member of the professional workforce as a Swine Nutritionist at Molesworth Farm Supply in…you guessed it Molesworth. Oh ya, there was that whole Christmas thing in there too.
Now back to business…
This is the last post that I am going to be writing about a specific production related issue that was highlighted in the undercover video shot by a Mercy for Animals Canada (MFAC) operative and aired by CTV’s W5 on December 8th.
Euthanasia is not an easy topic to address. Personally I think that the uncomfortable feelings for most people stem from the fact that we have become utterly terrified of death as a society. We are in an age that worships living while abhorring death. This fear of death has impacted our perception of how we should treat suffering living beings, pig, person or otherwise. Given the sensitive nature of the topic and the wide range of philosophical views that people may hold I wasn’t sure what direction to take with this blog. My wife, Jessica and I had a couple conversations about the best approach and out of these discussions we came up with the following statement together.
“In some instances when animals are extremely ill or injured and experiencing undue pain and suffering they are better off being euthanized. A common agreement and understanding of this statement must be developed in order to move forward.
If you disagree with this statement and believe that euthanasia is NEVER appropriate, then we have fundamentally different opinions. In fact, you might as well stop reading, as nothing I’m about to say will matter to you.
Now that we have established that euthanasia is sometimes appropriate there is one very important point I must make. For a farmer, euthanizing pigs is, by far, the worst part of the job. Yet still I believe it is the farmer’s responsibility to end instances of extreme animal suffering.”
I want to reiterate one incredibly important part of that statement…euthanizing pigs is by far the worst part of our job. I do not enjoy having to do it but I understand why euthanasia is important. When people started tweeting statements like the one below I knew that I had to address the topic.
@Kendra_PigLove This happens a lot more than you think..a lot of sick twisted hillbillies work at pig farms. They’re the ones to blame
(Twitter guide for non-twitter users: the statement was being made by the user @MandyUnivera and directed at @Kendra_PigLove. Kendra is an employee at an Ontario swine farm and was very active in trying to address the misinformation about our industry being spread on Twitter)
To me this is an interesting statement coming from someone who has most likely has never met a pig farmer. To my readers, I am yet to meet a pig farmer who meets her description…and I know a lot of pig farmers.
There were 2 methods shown in the MFAC video, blunt trauma, also referred to as ‘thumping’, and a captive bolt pistol. Both are commonly used methods and if done correctly, are humane in my opinion. The captive bolt method is more operator friendly because it is easy to perform in a correct manner however it cannot be performed on small piglets. Thumping is less precise and there are higher incidences of an improper procedure that results in suffering for the piglet. This has a large physiological toll on the farmer; we are wired to keep our animals alive so in the rare case we have to do it, we want it to be as painless as possible.
Thanks to the University of Guelph, farmers may soon have a tool that greatly improves the process for euthanizing small piglets. The Zephyr is a non-penetrating captive bolt pistol that creates the blunt force required for euthanasia and preliminary research has shown it to be 100% effective. The development of the Zephyr is just one more example of how farmers never stop trying to improve the welfare of their animals. Here are a couple links talking about this new technology:
Farm and Food Care (farmfoodcare.org) has an online resource for producers that give an overview of approved methods and if you want to learn more about this subject it is a good place to start, you can find it here.