The following story was written by a University of Missouri student as part of the 2010 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.
By Monica Everett
Todd Geisert knows the ins and outs of the hog business, and he knows his pigs.
"[Pig] characteristics are very much like humans’," he said. "The age that they’re at right now it’s more like third or fourth graders. At six months of age they act like junior high schoolers—they think they know everything. And the older sows I call my old ladies at the grocery store. It’s like they’re saying ‘get out of my way—I know what I’m doing.’"
Geisert is a fifth-generation hog farmer in Washington, Mo. Not much has changed on the farm since 1916 when his great-great-grandfather started raising hogs, but much has changed in the hog industry.
As a small, pasture-based operation, Geisert Farms is now a rarity. Today 94 percent of hogs are raised indoors, according to a 2006 University of Missouri study.
A common form of raising livestock indoors is through concentrated animal feeding operations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website defines CAFOs as large versions of animal feeding operations, "where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. CAFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area."
CAFOs are often called "factory farms" by critics, who say the farms have negative social and environmental effects, including improper waste treatment and lack of fair treatment for animals and workers.
George Jesse, University of Missouri animal sciences professor, said that confinement evolved as a factor of economic efficiency.
"If you have an individual trying to farrow sows and raise pigs, you can’t take care of as many pigs as you can inside," he said.
Despite the physical and economic hardships of raising pigs outside, the Geiserts’ commitment to pasture-based farming did not waiver when the industry transitioned from outdoors to confinement.
"If you go into a pig confinement operation you smell like pig s*** all day," said Geisert.