Bigger pig pens create challenges for farmers

March 9, 2014 • Business

In this March 3, 2014 photo sows at Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks, Ind., lay in nesting boxes, left, inside a larger group pen, while another eats inside an electronic feeding stall, right. Animal rights activists have been pushing hog farmers to move pregnant pigs into group pens from individual gestation stalls often too narrow for the animals to turn around. (AP Photo/M.L.Johnson)

FAIR OAKS, Ind. (AP) — Pigs cluster around a food stall like Black Friday shoppers waiting for the store to open. One pushes impatiently against the locked door with her snout, waiting for the sow inside to finish eating so she can take her turn.

After about 10 minutes, the sated sow sidles out the front gate and rejoins about 80 other pregnant pigs in a large pen surrounding the food stall. The hungry pig enters the stall through the now-open back door, and food flows in from a computer-controlled dispenser.

The big pens and electronic feeding systems at Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana could be the future of the pork industry as consumers pressure farmers to move pregnant pigs out of individual stalls too narrow for the animals to turn around. The switch from gestation stalls is not as simple as many consumers believe, however. It’s expensive, there are debates over pen designs and it takes time to train pigs to use feeders and other equipment. In short, farmers are spending millions of dollars with no certainty yet that the changes are best for the animals.

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