Chasing the Impossible: What Animal Welfare Goals Will We Achieve Next?

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to attend the final Advancing Animal Welfare Together Symposium that was hosted by the late Dr. Angela Baysinger. During one of the sessions, we were asked to think about challenges that at one point the swine industry felt were impossible to overcome, but that we later accomplished.

My list included things like pseudorabies eradication, major reductions in antibiotic use, and group housing of pregnant sows. In each of those cases, our industry moved from seeing those as an impossibility to successfully achieving those goals. These examples remind us that our industry can overcome significant challenges when we have the right motivation and collaboration.

The next challenge was to think about things specific to animal welfare that we currently think of as impossible. At the top of my mind were things like pain control at processing and environmental enrichment. Providing meaningful pain control at processing is a challenging subject because of the lack of labeled products and increased labor needs in an already labor-challenged market. Sow enrichment feels impossible when we look at the biosecurity challenges of attempting to enter large amounts of material into filtered, bio-secure facilities. Right now, both of these things feel like impossible challenges to overcome.

But it wasn’t that many years ago that the swine industry felt Prop 12 was impossible. Mixing sows immediately post weaning was not something many of us wanted to do. Making major changes to either our inventory or our facilities to accommodate additional square footage was daunting. Despite these major challenges, our industry recognized the need to provide pork for the state of California and began taking on and overcoming them one by one.

What seemed impossible several years ago is being done with success today.

When it comes to Prop 12, I will be the first to admit there are still challenges to overcome. We have work to do regarding sow fighting and lameness on our Prop 12 farms. However, in the same way our industry was able to come together to eliminate pseudorabies, I am confident we will overcome the remaining Prop 12 challenges as well.

With these successes in our minds, we were asked to pull out our lists of impossible tasks again. Do these tasks still seem impossible after looking at the difficulties we have already overcome? Angela’s challenge to never underestimate what we can accomplish will stick with me forever. I look forward to seeing our industry accomplish things that we once thought impossible.


Article by Cara Haden, DVM

Dr. Cara Haden grew up in Holland, MI on her family’s farrow-to-finish swine farm. In 2014 she obtained her DVM from Iowa State University and joined the team at PIPESTONE. Presently she works as an Associate Swine Veterinarian and the Director of Animal Welfare. In addition, Dr. Haden is active on social media (Cara Haden Pig Vet TikTok and Facebook) sharing her love of pig farming with the world.