I’ll Never Use a Farrowing Crate for Raising Mangalitsa Pigs … and Here’s Why

  • New to raising Mangalitsa pigs? Or just curious about the process? You’re likely wondering whether a farrowing crate is a good idea. Well, spoiler alert: It’s not.

    Many people ask me questions about raising Mangalitsa pigs. One of the most common is whether I use a farrowing crate. The answer is a decided, no-holds-barred no.

    But why am I so against using crates for farrowing?

    First, a definition…

    The word “farrowing” relates to giving birth, so farrowing isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We farrow our pigs here at the farm, but we do it in groups, with several moms and litters living together.

    On the other hand, farrowing crates are minuscule metal cages in which pregnant sows live. They’re in there from the beginning of their pregnancy till their piglets are roughly 3-4 weeks old. The piglets nurse through the bars of the cage. The mother stands in place with only a few feet of forward and backward movement and no room to move side to side.

    If your first thought was that’s horrible and inhumane, you are correct. It absolutely is.

    So, when people ask if we use farrowing crates at Chickadee Hills Homestead, I always answer “no.” Then, I take the time to explain why I never have and never will use them with my Mangalitsa pigs.

    Raising Mangalitsa Pigs: Farrowing Crate or No?

    I’ve had quite a few people tell me that farrowing crates are crucial. Their reasoning might be that you don’t want sows to crush the piglets. Or, they say sows are aggressive while pregnant and nursing. Some think the bars of the cage help them lay down in their pregnant state. Proponents claim that a hard surface prevents piglets from burrowing underneath the mom and getting squashed. They even say heat lamps beside the crate are enough to keep the piglets warm.

    If you’ll forgive the expression, this is all hogwash. For one thing, animals know how to mother. Period.

    A sow knows how to avoid squashing her babies. She knows how to keep them warm and how to feed them without a cage or lamps to facilitate it. Mother sows often call their babies, warning them to get out of the way before they stand up or lie down.

    Other arguments hold that if you don’t keep mother sows cordoned off, away from other mothers, piglets, and boars, there’s going to be a fight. Piglets may steal milk from other mothers, depriving those babies of it, or boars may harm the animals. Piglets might get confused about who their mother is. I can confidently say that on my farm that’s not true. Each baby knows who its mother is, and the adults leave the piglets alone. Pigs seem to respect one another inherently.

    The Unnatural Environment of Farrowing Crates

    Crate apologists also claim they keep pigs clean and healthy. Pigs tend to muck around in the dirt, in their water, and in their own waste products. I’ve seen pigs urinate into water on the ground while they’re drinking it, even when I’m filling up a fresh basin of water nearby. I figure they have a reason for this, such as masking their scent to avoid predators. I know they know where the water is, so they have their reasons, and that’s their right.

    A corporation that insists on fresh water and doesn’t allow them to follow their instincts might think they’re “doing what’s best for the animal,” but they are not respecting the pig’s right to be a pig. It comes down to the fact that pigs need clean water, but they don’t need it to be factory clean. I’m not advocating dirty water. But you don’t need to keep a pig in a farrowing crate with a stainless steel bowl for them to have clean water.

    Also, pigs need iron. Little piglets can’t get enough iron from their mom’s milk, so they have to supplement. In the wild, they eat dirt. When the pig is standing on a concrete slab, however, they obviously aren’t eating dirt. Once again, they miss the opportunity to live in concordance with their nature, which is a crime. They’re less healthy. You can tell because the moms’ bodies get used up by the time they’re three or four years old. They just give up.

    So why on Earth do pork production companies do this? Put simply; the pork industry uses farrowing crates because they increase the bottom line of the operation. Let’s say your pig needs to have 2.5 litters per year, averaging nine piglets per litter. To meet sales targets, you have to standardize the process. Farrowing crates are space efficient and handled automatically by a variety of human and machine systems. This leads to cost-effectiveness. That’s how the thinking goes. There’s just the small problem… It’s completely against nature.

    Raise Your Voice Against Farrowing Crates

     This isn’t to say that all pigs have mothering abilities because some do not. Some aren’t careful about their babies, some don’t react to them, and some just don’t raise their piglets well. I don’t keep those mothers. But neither do I keep farrowing crates to control these mothers or try to force them to act against their nature. Pigs in situations like that are not only sad, they also:

    • Experience much higher levels of disease
    • Have critical mineral deficiencies
    • Are miserable
    • Can go insane
    • Become aggressive, listless or dangerous as a result of their condition, not as a precursor

    For these reasons, and for the fact that it’s a plain old barbaric practice, ethical pig farmers have come out strongly against gestation and farrowing crates.

    Sounds like a good reason to avoid factory-farmed pork to me. Plus, farrowing crates just aren’t necessary. I don’t suffer from squashed piglets here. I don’t see unhealthy pigs. I don’t see lack of litters or unnatural aggression or anything else. I see healthy animals living in accordance with nature, and that’s it.

    Want to learn more about our methods for raising Mangalitsa pigs here at Chickadee Hills Homestead? Have questions about farrowing crates and other Big Food devices? We invite you to get in touch with us today or check out our story and philosophy.

    At the end of the day, we believe in letting animals live the way nature intended. That’s exactly what we intend to do for as long as this farm exists.

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