The Evolution of Technology in Agriculture

We have come a long way since having horses as our main source of power to haul objects. The invention of the internal combustion engine during the Industrial Revolution really set not only the agricultural industry, but the world, in motion-literally. This has allowed us to invent something as simple as the tractor, that can perform numerous jobs with different attachments, as well as something as complicated as the combine, which is built to complete one overall job but does multiple tasks simultaneously.

Due to the drastic rise in population, the need for food is constantly increasing. Agriculture has to be one of the most advanced industries in the world to be able to keep up with the demand. One way the industry has been able to keep up with the demand is through genetics. Every year we are creating new hybrids that keep producing higher and higher yields.

The biggest advancement of my lifetime is the evolution of farm data. This includes yield mapping, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), monitoring systems etc. In the early 1990’s, products were being introduced that could monitor real time factors like what the crop was yielding, moisture content and much more. It accomplished this just by putting sensors on the auger, which had never been done before.

Then in the early 2000’s, farmers were able to transfer all of their data to their home computers to have on file for future reference. This was a huge advancement, because in years to come, it made decision making for farmers a lot easier. Farmers could be at home and easily pull up the software to see what a certain crop yielded at a certain location. In the mid to late 2000’s, using drones and various crop sensors to map fields become a very popular scouting option. This was much more efficient, and usually cheaper, than paying someone to spend all day in one field.

Around 2014, along with the rest of the world, agriculture went totally wireless. No USB’s and no plugging into computers. Newer software has done a very nice job using a “cloud” system where you simply have to log into your account on different devices, whether your phone, tablet, or monitoring system, to access all of your data. This is somewhat of a culture shock, especially to older farmers, but the developers make it simple enough for anyone to quickly learn.

 

 

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Here is a picture showing a brief timeline of important dates in agriculture, and depicting a very confused farmer not knowing what to do with all the data at his finger tips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My name is Kevin Blindt, and I am a junior here at Western Illinois University. I am a member of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and ag business club. I am on track to graduate in May of 2019 with a degree in agriculture business and a minor in precision agriculture. I am from a small rural town called Vermont, IL, which is about 25 minutes southeast of Macomb. Thanks for reading! (Picture is from gamya.com)

 

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GPS: Guiding You Towards Accuracy and Precision

Global positioning systems have taken the agricultural industry by storm. This satellite device has been helping producers meet maximum accuracy when working in the field. GPS technologies enable data collection with accurate information, leading to efficient analysis of large, geographical areas. GPS applications are being used for planning, field mapping, soil sampling, guidance, crop scouting, rate applications, and yield mapping. In years past, it has been difficult for farmers to obtain precise accuracy. This limited effective strategies that could have enhanced production. Today, precise applications of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are dispersed more accurately throughout the field, thus reducing expenses, and producing higher yields. Precision agriculture is changing the way producers and agribusinesses view specific treatments to increase agricultural production. Precision agriculture is more accurate, cost effective, and user friendly. New innovations rely on the integration of computers, data collection sensors, and GPS time and position reference systems.

What more can we expect from global positioning systems in the agriculture industry? Through the use of GPS and remote sensing, inform-

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Photo from GPS.gov

ation is collected to analyze and implement improvements for both land and water structures. For additional benefits, producers combine better utilization of fertilizers and other soil amendments, determining the economic threshold for treating pest and weed infestations. GPS equipment manufacturers have developed several tools to help producers and agribusinesses become more productive and efficient in precision agriculture. GPS receivers collect information for mapping field boundaries, roads, irrigation systems, and problem areas in crops such as weeds or disease. The accuracy of GPS allows farmers to create maps with precise acreage for field areas and accurately navigate to specific locations in the field, year after year, to collect soil samples or monitor crop conditions.

Crop advisors use data collection devices with GPS for accurate positioning to map pest, insect, and weed infestations in the field. The same field data can also be used by crop dusters. Crop dusters equipped with GPS are able to fly accurate swaths over fields, applying chemicals only where needed, minimizing drift, and reducing the amount of chemicals needed. In the future, we can only expect further improvements as GPS continues to modernize. To remain accurate and cost efficient, global positioning systems with become further advanced, precise, and continue to enhance production agriculture.

Hello, IDSC_1063 am Cody Wilkens. I am a senior at Western Illinois University and will be graduating this May with a bachelors degree in Agricultural Business and a minor in Agronomy. I am from a small town, Lewistown, MO, thirty miles west of Quincy, IL. All my life I have been exposed to agriculture. My grandpa operates a small farm just outside of Nauvoo, IL. I have spent most of my summers helping with cattle, hogs, and harvesting during the fall. I enjoy what agriculture has to offer, such as hard work, dedication, and responsibility. I am excited to see which new technological advancements agriculture has to offer and the ability it has to increase production.

Going Beyond the Corduroy Jacket

When I graduated from high school in May of 2015, I thought my time with the FFA had come to an end, but I was wrong for thinking that. The memories, skills and knowledge I found through the FFA will stay with me for a lifetime as I’m sure some of you have as well. With that being said, I didn’t want that knowledge to just stay with me, I wanted to share my passion for FFA with future students in my community.

14051667_1386451461384852_1019229061319842898_nJust before I was to graduate from high school in May, I attended an informational meeting with our Ag advisor about forming an FFA alumni Association within our school. Our school had never had an alumni chapter so the process was new for everybody. With me still being in high school, I had a really good idea of what the program needed and how it could be accomplished. I gathered many of my family members, neighbors and friends to attend this meeting. There were only a few people in attendance that I didn’t personally know. From that first meeting, we were able to get a chapter started up and have been able to keep growing the number of members to over 35 people.

Three years have come and gone now, and there has been many Alumni meetings. In 2016, I was elected the Elmwood Alumni President. I have used my recent experience as an FFA member to help the current FFA members by helping to create a scholarship to be awarded to a senior pursuing a college education in an agricultural related field. We started off by doing a raffle at our towns festivals and we turned quite a bit of profit at each event. The items we raffled off were donated by other Elmwood alums that are members of the community. It took us about two years to be able to have enough money to give out a scholarship. It was a really good feeling of accomplishment when we gave it out.

21559001_1561339587259467_3004781581512646279_nIn Sept of 2017, our alumni chapter held a “Bossy Bingo” game in the town square in Elmwood during the Fall Festival. “Bossy Bingo” is a game where people can buy a square with a number on it that corresponds with a number in a box on the ground inside of a pen.  After picking a number people watch as a cow walks around and finally decides to poop somewhere. This can take minutes or hours, you truly are at the mercy 21462443_1834826669880660_6803925934216595742_n.jpgof the cow. Several alumni members, including myself, volunteered to help run the event and sell tickets. In our game, we sold out two boards so we had a cow and her calf in the pen. The first one to poo chose the winner of the first board and the second poo claimed the winner of the second board. Our game took just over 3 hours and we had both the cow and calf go in a span of 10 minutes.  This was a fairly easy event to do and we were able to do very well on profits because one of the winners donated his winnings back to the Alumni.

A few months later, we were able to help students pay for National FFA convention and help a student get a scholarship to the Woman’s Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. this coming summer. These were both opportunities that students would have had to pay for out of their pocket but we were able to pick up the expenses for so they could experience these opportunities.

In the future, we plan to keep growing the organization and continue to get our name out in the community by doing projects and giving out scholarships to qualifying seniors involved in FFA who are pursuing a future in agriculture. Our most exciting thing we are working to get planned is an Alumni Tractor Pull. This has been in the works for over a year now and it is finally working out where we have a date set and a pulling group set to come and run the pull for us.

“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.”

-E. M. Tiffany (FFA Creed)

The whole reason for starting an alumni chapter in our small town was to give more opportunities to the FFA member but also to help out the Ag program. I believe in the future of agriculture and I would like to see the Ag program grow and be able to thrive on its own, along with the help from the alumni chapter. To show continuous support the students in learning and find more opportunities than what was available to me when I was an FFA member.

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Hi, My name is Courtney Forney and I am a junior at Western Illinois University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science with a minor in Agronomy. I am a transfer student from Illinois Central College in East Peoria, IL. My hometown is Brimfield, IL. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog!

 

Aerial Application: Life On the Load Pad

In the past three summers, I have probably spent more time at an airport on a loading pad than the typical college student would in the months of June, July, and August. As a summertime employee for Palmer Flying Service, which is an aerial application company based out of Manito, Illinois, there isn’t much time to do anything besides, well, go to work. In the busy time of the year when co-ops and growers are wanting fungicide and insecticide applied right then and there, the average work day consistently starts out around four-thirty or five O’ clock in the morning, and it’s possible that it may not end until ten or eleven O’ clock in the late evening hours. Fourteen to eighteen-hour days are expected once the end of June hits, and we will work these long days for seven days a week for the whole month of July into August as long as weather and crops are permitting.

Airplane Funnel

The reason this is an extremely busy time of the summer for us is because it’s a prime time for fungicide/insecticide application. When heat and moisture are becoming very prevalent, so are the diseases and insects that may start to infect or feed on a corn or soybean plant. A key part of my position at the airport is mixing proper ratios of insecticides, fungicides, and water that will be put into the airplane each time the pilot takes a load out to a set of fields. In a days’ time in good weather conditions, which are cooler temperatures and low wind speeds, our three pilots can spray around 8,000 acres a day. This is remarkable in comparison to a ground-rig sprayer. Especially when crops are too tall, or fields are too wet for the ground rigs to get in. The crop-duster has a better contact rate of pesticide and causes no damage to the crops along with no compaction in the soil.

Besides mixing chemical, there is what seems to be about a million other duties for an employee of the flying service and airport. A few of them being, washing planes almost every evening when the pilots are done spraying for the day so bugs and chemical aren’t getting built up on the plane to the point they won’t come off, fueling up planes and cleaning windshields in between each load the pilots take, making sure there are no leaking nozzles on the sprayer booms or leaks in the hopper or pump, unloading semi’s and chemical trucks that bring chemical and fuel throughout the week, making sure all water tanks remain full so there are no water shortages throughout the day when loading planes, and this list could go on and on.

Doing all of these jobs is not a one-person job either. In a days’ time it takes an incredible amount of team work and an extreme amount of consistent communication between all of employees and the pilots to make a day run smooth and fluent. The airport and flying service is owned by world renowned pilot, auctioneer, cattle farmer, iron worker, and all-around connoisseur of hard work Kevin Palmer and managed by his daughter Suzi. The experience, knowledge, and extreme work ethic between these two is what makes Palmer Flying Service a highly respected and top-notch aerial application company in Illinois.

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Despite missing quality summertime activities and enduring extremely long hours and very stressful weeks of working on the load pad; the past three work-filled summers have been an incredible experience. I have gained an immense amount of knowledge, and a special respect for hard work and hardworking people. The intense work environment and variety of responsibilities I was instilled with at the airport have prepared me for about any future occupation I may choose to do and I’m grateful to have been employed in such a unique environment such as the airport.

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My name is Noah Sarff, I am from Manito, Illinois and I am a senior at Western Illinois University. I am a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, and I will be graduating in December with a bachelors degree in Ag Science and a minor in Ag Economics. I will no longer work at Palmer Flying Service being I have accepted a Sales Internship through AgriGold for the Summer of 2018. I look forward to the many opportunities that my education will provide.

(All pictures in this blog are my own)

What farmers would like consumers to know about agriculture

Coming from a small town in Central Illinois, I have grown up around agriculture all my life and have a good understanding of how food, fiber and fuel is produced for our consumption. I was aware that some people did not understand what the farmers’ role is and how they produce food for our consumption. However, I did not fully understand how uninformed consumers were about the agriculture industry until I went to college.

I currently attend Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, where I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Business with minors in Agronomy and Animal Science. I also work on campus as a Resident Assistant (RA) and as a student worker in the Agriculture/ Engineering & Technology advising office. Through both of  my positions on campus, I have met many people from many walks of life and I find myself constantly hearing some funny and appalling claims about the agriculture industry.

For example: cow tipping is not a thing kids in the country do when they are bored.

cow tipping

Below I have made a list of a few things I have taught people during my time in college and some basic food labels that are misunderstood.

 

What are GMOs?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.

A Genetically Modified Organism is:

“an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered
by means of genetic engineering.”

While this term carries a negative connotation by some consumers for a farmer it can be a very beneficial tool. GMOs allow us to produce more crops with less land, inputs and chemicals.

Misconception: GMO are not harmful or unhealthy. No scientific evidence has shown negative effects from eating GMOs. They contain the same if not more nutrients than conventional or organic products.

Non-GMO Project

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Non-GMO Project is not regulated by a government agency. It is a third party certification. That means it is not regulated or overseen by a government agency and they have their own set of rules to certify their products as “NON-GMO.”

 

What does “Organic” mean?

USDA Organic means that the crop  was produced by following a list of guidelines that is regulated by the USDA. For products to be certified as USDA organic 95% of the product can not contain GMOs. If the product is a meat item it can not be fed GMO grain.

Misconception: Organic can use chemicals, but they must be natural chemicals. That means the chemical can not synthetically made or made in a laboratory.

For example using manure from an animal instead of a man made spray.

For more information on the USDA Organic guidelines click here.

What does Natural mean?

Natural: USDA defines natural products as those being free of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives and minimally processed.  Products can be labeled as being made with all-natural ingredients provided a portion of the ingredients are natural, but not all ingredients have to be all-natural to earn that label.

This means that products can be labeled “made with all-natural ingredients” but they can contain artificial ingredients and chemical preservatives.

What does “Free Range” means?

The USDA states in order for an operation to be labeled Free Range:

“Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”

This simply means that the chicken can go to an outside area at anytime. They are not always outside roaming around like the commercials show.

Why do we farm?

What some people do not understand is farming is a gamble. We plant crops hoping the weather cooperates, no natural disasters hit, pray for rain and a good price at the market. We do not negotiate our prices; we take what we can get and make it work. Many small farms experience tough times and ultimately some sell out.

“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays freight both ways.” -John F. Kennedy

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Bottling feed a calf with my grandpa.

Our farm has been in our family for generations and farming is something you are born into. The passion, tradition and responsibility is instilled into you at a young age. I am a proud member of the agriculture industry and I love every part of agriculture. I was taught by my grandfather from a young age to love and care for all of God’s creatures and plants. It is our responsibility to watch over the land and take care of it. Our goal as farmers is to produce crops and livestock to the best of our abilities while taking care of the land as best we can. That is why my family farms.

Check out Beck’s Why I Farm campaign for testimonials from other farmer family.

We eat what we Grow

Everything we grow in our fields we eat fresh and preserve some to enjoy later. Farmers would not produce something that is unsafe because their kids and grand kids are consuming that very same product.

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I took this photo last summer. My nephew Wyatt loves his dad’s sweet corn.

About the Author

My name is Stephanie Miller and I am currently a Junior Agriculture Business major with minors in agronomy and Animal Science at Western Illinois University.  I am currently the President of Horticulture club, a member of Ag Council and I love my agriculture family! I am from Manito, IL and my family farms in Mason County. We raise Polled Hereford cattle, corn, soybeans, hay and specialty crops such as green beans and peas. My love for agriculture runs deep and I love sharing my passion.

headshot fall 2017

Online Showpig Sales VS. Live Auctions

Just like the trends in the livestock world that we select for and breed in today’s world, the way we market and sell showpigs has drastically changed over time as well. The live auction method is one of the oldest traditions and has been the most successful for livestock producers for many, many years. For the longest time, showpig breeders would hire an auctioneer to sell their pigs to 4-H or FFA families to exhibit at their youth show of intention, and also gilts and boars to other breeders, to be used at their respective farms. These sales would generally take place at their farms. Fast forward through time to around the late 90’s into the early 2000’s when a couple of gentlemen, who had a vision to market and sell show livestock online, made it a reality. They created their own websites that were designed to market and sell livestock through online sales.

The presence of the websites was unlike anything breeders at the time were used to. In the past, if a breeder was searching for that next boar to breed to or more gilts to be added to their breeding plans, they found their information through magazines, booked indexes, ads that were mailed to their farms, but mostly, they world travel from location to location to buy and sell their hogs. When the online websites began to gain popularity, breeders could now takes pictures and videos of their livestock and send them to be posted on the new online pages. The ones which we know now today as Willoughby Sales and Showpig.com. This new marketing opportunity for breeders was literally light years ahead of what they were used to. The time that breeders could now save themselves by looking up boars on boar stud websites and seeing the genetics that were being utilized was now all within a few clicks of a button.

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Showpig.com homepage showing a list of online auctions

Showpig breeders took this new opportunity to sell and distribute their hogs at a quicker and more efficient manner. Breeders could now post pictures of their pigs to be sold to buyers from all across the country, and the buyers now had the opportunity to bid and buy their favorite lots by sitting in the comfort of their living room. This had incredible perks for the buyers. Anyone who is in search of buying their pig could study the picture and description of the online sales, and for example, someone from California could now purchase their project from a breeder in the Midwest. This way of marketing and selling livestock cut travel time and expenses down tremendously for both breeders and buyers.

Along with showing livestock, unfortunately comes along with the scares of harmful viruses that swine is very susceptible to. The swine industry is commonly threatened by such viruses like PRRS virus, influenza, and PEDv. In 2013, PEDv (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus) was introduced to the U.S. and certainly took its toll on many farms across the Midwest. One of the most common way these viruses can be spread is though physical contact and foot traffic. With the presence of online sales now however, breeders could now limit their foot traffic though their facilities and have more of a handle of the harmful viruses.

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Example of online showpig picture from Adam Beck and Family Showpigs

With the positive opportunities for showpig marketing, the pressure on breeders now have never been higher. The buyer now has an expectation of what they are seeing through that photo or video, is honestly what they are getting. It is very important for breeders to spend substantial amount of time now to capture the “perfect” picture opportunity, to truly express that particular animal and it’s angles to where the buyer is seeing all of its aspects.

 

The question now is, do people even utilize the method of live auctions to sell and buy showpigs? The answer is they absolutely still do! The National Swine Registry and Certified Pedigreed Swine organizations host shows and type conferences year round across the country to give youth a great opportunity to exhibit their animals and breeders the chance to exhibit and then sell their seed stock to their fellow breeders. Today, many breeders still have their own annual production sale. Many breeders work along side one another with hosting consignment live auctions as well. One of the great aspects that comes along with a live auction is simply the atmosphere. The fact is people just love auctions! There is something about that adrenaline rush when you hear the auctioneer firing on all cylinders and it is a truly a real life emotional feel that you as a buyer go to an auction, gather a plan go through the exciting process of getting the animal bought and getting it home and starting the project.

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Live auction from the NSR Fall Classic in Duncan, Oklahoma

When I was younger and started out my showing career, some of my most dearest childhood memories were loading up in the truck with family and friends and going from farm to farm, auction to auction. It was during those times where I built lifelong relationships with breeders who were always more than willing to invest their time and knowledge in me. From selecting livestock, decision making skills, and the practices of proper animal husbandry. Going to farms and experiencing auctions can create some of the best memories with friends and family that are simply irreplaceable. I feel that going to auctions for a young person to purchase their animal gives them more of a hands-on experience, and certainly teaches responsibility while going through the stages of the auction experience.

When the time came around to choosing a topic to write about for my blog, this particular subject quickly came to mind for me. It is something that I have a true passion for, and a strong interest. Ever since I was young I have been intrigued by the auction method of both marketing and selling livestock. My blog was by no means meant to be a biased based platform in determining if one of the two methods is better than the other. Honestly, I truly believe they are both great! The reason why one method is not better than the other is simple. Breeders are not all alike in their methods of how they market and sell their animals, and not all buyers prefer to be alike as well. I am a firm believer in that the youth livestock industry is one of the greatest ways to raise our young people and the experiences and values that they receive through this program is unmatched by any other.

 

300.4850.015(1)My name is Blake Stephenson and I am a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in the Ag Science department with an emphasis on animal science. I received my auctioneer’s license from World Wide College of Auctioneering in June of 2017.  I am from Coatesville, Indiana and while at Western, I have remained very involved in the Hoof n Horn club. When I receive my Bachelor of Science Degree at WIU, I plan to have a career in an animal agriculture profession. I certainly hope you have enjoyed my blog, and I thank you for your time in viewing it!

 

 

Gestation in Swine: Crates or Pins?

Pigs are a unique livestock in comparison to others when it comes to gestation. Gestation for a sheep can vary from 144 days to 155. A cow is usually 275 days to 290, and a horse is on average 25 days short of a year. A pigs gestation is 114 to 116 days  with an average litter size of 12. If the pigs are not born within that small window, then something is seriously wrong. Knowing this information, it is obvious why farrowing is such an important aspect in producing swine. Farrowing is the process of a sow (a female pig) birthing piglets.

It is important to make sure that the sow is in a safe environment while impregnated. If the sow is ever in distress, malnourished, or not adjusted to the environment, then the farrowing process could be jeopardized. The first day I worked in a sow unit, I quickly realized arranging the animals was controlled chaos. Common practice is to move impregnated sows to gestation crates. The sows are arranged in rows that group the pigs that were bred on the same day together. This system is called a snake. The beginning of the snake contains females that have recently been bred and ends with sows days away from farrowing. Commercial sow units have been using this method for decades. It is an extremely efficient system that is time tested. The number one factor holding gestation crates back is public perception. The crate keeps the pig isolated so it stays healthy, but it does limit the pigs mobility. Many producers using with gestation crates fear that they may day be banned. Units are specially designed around the crates.

Large scale commercial operations anticipate the banning of gestation crates. Smithfield Foods has claimed that their entire swine operation will be crate free. Advancements in technology are now making managing gestating hogs from pins much easier. The pigs on a sow unit using pins are given ear tags that have chips that can read anytime a pig is feeding. When the pig sticks its head in the feeder, the chip is read and the exact amount of feed it needs is distributed. This integrated system is great for monitoring the health of every animal in a pin.  Producers are beginning to use this system because the public view this as a more humane approach. the sows are free to move around and interact with other pigs. A large disadvantage when holding livestock in pins, their is the increase in labor. Something as simple as giving a pig feed could be a hassle. If the pig does not eat because it is sick, the animal must be located and directed to the feeder. This may sound easy enough, but when an employee is working in a unit with 6,000 sows, it can be very time consuming. Having hogs not in crate rows impedes on a number of day to day task such as; breeding, handling, and disposing of fatalities.

Feed-system

The biggest issue in banning gestation crates is the impact it would have on the entire livestock industry. A majority of pork in America comes from a mother that was held in a gestation crate. If gestation crates were immediately banned, countless businesses would go under. A majority of which would be family farms. Switching a unit from a crates to pins is an extremely costly endeavors. Their are many producers that feel that crates are far more humane than critics claim. In most cases, the fatality rate of

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gestating sows in pins are higher than units using crates. Pigs are naturally social creatures. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a group of pigs to pick on the weaker of the heard. The crates are isolate the sows form any major physical interaction.

The ultimate reason for the divide in these two different styles is caused by the consumer. Perhaps the pigs are more happy when they have space to walk and interact with pigs. Animal welfare is a huge concern for all farmers with livestock. There are ethical questions that are tough to answer in this debate. Since a pig is an intelligent animal, does it know it is trapped in a steel crate or, is that the only life the life it knows? Should pigs be kept safe from each other, or should they be able to be in a pin with other swine? These are questions that will probably never have a perfect answer. Realistically, if one of the two styles were to go, it would be the use of crates. If crates were out right banned, then would have to be a gradual process. It would take operations years to change their sow units. I hope that gestation crates will be around for many more years but the industry is constantly evolving. Some times change is for the better.

Thank you for reading my post! My name is Grant Biddle and I am a junior here at Western Illinois University. I am majoring in Ag Science. All of my life I have been around swine working with my father and uncle at our family farm. I hope I informed anyone who is curious about swine production. I would be more than happy to answer any questions regarding the blog.