22 TulsaPets • May / June 2023 Finding a Better Way Pig Conference Pinpoints Cruel Practices, Offers Solutions by Heide Brandes O n the screen, the images are hard to watch. Pigs, all lined up in tiny narrow metal cages, gnaw inces- santly at the bars as they display agitation and fear. The next photo shows a sow gazing through the bars with defeat in her eyes. She no longer gnaws and fights against the confinement she suddenly found herself in months before — the despair has set in, and it is obvious that she has simply given up. In Oklahoma, more than 220 million head of livestock live in cruel and extreme confinement, and 100 percent of those animals are female. In the last 30 years, the pigs that produce almost all pork in the United States remain their entire lives in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), resulting in a high level of pain- ful orthopedic problems. More than four million pigs raised in Oklahoma each year are confined to such small spaces that they cannot turn around or stretch throughout their adolescent and adult lives. It doesn’t have to be that way, say animal advocates. At the Oklahoma Conference for the Humane Treatment of Pigs, held on National Pig Day, March 1, 2023, ad- vocates and animal-welfare experts joined the Kirkpatrick Foundation to discuss the abhorrent treatment of swine and ways to make the industry more humane. Educating and Offering Solutions The Oklahoma Conference on the Hu- mane Treatment of Pigs was designed to educate the public and concerned citizens about the harmful practices of extreme confinement systems while offering solu- tions that work for the animals and for agriculture. “Oklahoma is lagging in its approach to the basic well-being of pigs as part of the food system,” said Louisa McCune, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foun- dation. “Research and personal experiences have shown pigs to be social, intelligent creatures, capable of playing video games, building complex nests, and singing to their young. We can and must do better when it comes to the humane treatment of these animals.” The industrial use of crates in CAFOs was adopted when many family farms were taken over by large corporate farms, she added. “Justified by the need to monitor each pig and decrease any aggressive be- haviors, gestation crates became the answer of the pig industry to raise the most pigs with the most efficient use of resources and space. It’s also the most cruel treatment of any species in Oklahoma — and at the greatest scale.” The conference featured numerous guest speakers, including Mark Essig, author of the book Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig. Other speakers included Lesa Staubus, DVM, senior program officer at the Kirkpatrick Foun- dation, who specializes in farm-animal welfare issues. “Improving the housing systems for animals in concentrated animal-feeding operations is the most immediate issue for farm animals in Oklahoma,” she said. “Intensive confinement of any species leads to welfare concerns.” What Can Be Done? John Kirkpatrick, an Oklahoma animal advocate, established the Kirkpatrick Foundation in 1955. The foundation has a vision for animal funding or animal pro- gramming to make Oklahoma the safest and most humane place to be an animal by 2032. The pig industry uses gestation crates to raise the most pigs with the most efficient use of resources and space. The use of gestation crates is also the most cruel treatment of any species in Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of the Kirkpatrick Foundation.