Monday, January 3, 2011

I can't treat a dog like that!

My daughter got a dog this summer. That is nothing terribly important in itself. A farm girl graduates from college, moves into a house with a big fenced-in back yard in the country on a state highway, and gets a dog. No news in this story yet.

The dog is a very friendly, playful, blue tic pointer kind of mix that loves to ride in cars/trucks. The downside has been that the dog can jump out of the fenced in backyard. So Dad (that is me) built a pen with higher fences and the dog jumped out of that. So, to keep the dog and the driving public on the state highway safe we were forced to tie the dog to a chain while my daughter was at work. We didn't like it. The dog didn't like it. And apparently, the dog warden didn't like it.

You see the dog pulled his tie-out stake out of the ground, so we had to tie him to the only thing handy that he couldn't pull, a tree. It all worked pretty well while we searched for an affordable pen solution for the jumpy dog, until it rained. That is when the dog warden leapt into action. Apparently, a tree, even a big tree, isn't proper shelter for a dog in a 1/4" rain shower in the late summer. To be fair to the warden, he just gave my daughter a warning, telling her the dog needed a dog house but the point was made. In the eyes of the State of Ohio a dog can not be left outside in the rain. That would be cruel. So the dog now has a house that it won't go in, sitting next to a large tree that can't be moved. We have since fashioned a pen in the garage that has worked very nicely to keep the dog out of the rain, sun, fresh air, local traffic, and the view of he warden. Everyone is happy, accept maybe the dog.

None of this story has any value until you combine it with this piece of information from the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board recommended standards for swine (901:12-8-02 C) which says that all a pig needs for proper outdoor housing is: a tree, a wallow, and some bedding. You don't see the irony yet?

Animal rights activist argue (and consumer surveys agree) that farm animals should be cared for the same as pets. So why is it wrong to have a dog outside in the fresh air and sunshine and rain, but perfectly fine to turn a pig out with just a tree, a mud hole, and some bedding? Or to say it another way, "If the humane thing to do is bring my dog inside where he can't run and jump and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and rain. Then why shouldn't I be required to bring my pigs inside. Even though bringing them in denies them the ability to do what pigs do, lie in the mud, enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and rain?"

As a pig farmer I have done just what the animal rights activists seem to be saying, " I treat my pigs very much like pets." They are inside where they are safe and cared for and not exposed to the harshness of the outdoors. There are certain tradeoffs made to do this but the net result is a very well cared for pig.

The tradeoff that seems to bother people is that, inside, the pig may be housed in an individual pen that prevents it from turning around. The justification for this goes back to the nature of the pig. Just as dogs will establish a "pack" when first mixed together, pigs will fight to establish a social order. These fights can get quite rough and dangerous to the animals and there caretakers. So the solution that developed was to confine the animals individually and stop the possiblity of a fight. This would be the equivilent of not housing two dogs in the same room if you know they will fight. It actually is common sense.

Likewise, the pig is prevented from turning around for the very practical reason that it prevents the pig from filling its eating area with manure. Isn't it reasonable to expect that an animal have a clean place to eat from? I don't feed my dog in a filthy dish. Do you? So the whole arrangement is arrived at by reasonable people making trade offs for the best interest of the pig and the caretakers. I admit it is offensive to our sense of how things ought to be at first but when understood it becomes a necessary trade off. We are not offended by restricting our pets natural abilities for their own good or our convenience. Should farm animals be treated any worse?

It is something to think about.


  1. An excellent point. You say all of this so well. So much of it is ingrained common sense to a farmer, that it is hard to explain in words. You do a very good job of putting it into words.

  2. Thank you for the insightful post! I'm a dairy producer in Ohio so I know farmers take excellent care of their livestock. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I write a blog called "The Dairy Mom" @ Hope you'll check it out sometime.

  3. It is all very logical except for one major point you left out, which is the unendingness of it. The dog gets a break from being penned. The pig doesn't. I suppose the question then becomes, is it possible to give the pig a break from a life that consists of well maintained but total confinement in such a way that it doesn't cause harm to the pig? Would giving the pig a break from confinement cause it to be discontented during confinement? Are pigs existential enough that it wouldn't matter either way? Too bad we can only speculate these answers based on observed pig behavior, rather than asking the pigs...