Kate Morgan  -  High welfare systems - Can they meet world food demand?

I am 29 years old and live in the small town of Driffield in East Yorkshire. I am a Director of our family pig farm which has 1700 breeding sows and takes the progeny to slaughter, selling to Sainsbury’s via Cranswick. The whole family is involved in the business, my Mother and Father and also my two older sisters.

 I studied at Newcastle University and graduated in 2003 with a 2:1 joint hons in Agri Business Management. After University I worked in marketing but this was not for me! So I decided to do a ski season and then continued to spend a year travelling round the World. I have many hobbies, ranging from Eventing my two horses to playing hockey and running.


Humanely reared, what does this mean?!

Posted by Kate Morgan on March 21, 2013

Appears in Business, Energy, Livestock, Organic, Pigs, Technology

Dad flew home and I was alone in Rio for just one day, we had heard of a few muggings but to be fair I felt safe and so had a lovely day on the beach, my last day in the sun for well, with England's weather it could be the last for a long time!

I left rio late at night heading for Chicago via Atlanta. The flight was long but not so bad as far as flights go and I arrived in Chicago at lunchtime on paddys day. What a day to arrive, Chicago goes wild on paddys day, everyone was dressed up, the river had been changed to bright green and the beer was even green!! I could not help but celebrate with the rest of the city, I had a great afternoon and night, people had come from all over America to be in Chicago for today and I can see why, everyone was on great form and a great time was had by all!!

Monday morning and Matt Simmons, a scholar from Oz finally arrived, it was great to see him again and we grabbed a car and headed over to Ames, in Iowa. After being in Brazil where the scenery was so beautiful I had trouble coming up with a way to describe the drive, I ended up just saying dull!! Flat, straight and everything was either covered in snow or looked very dead, not quite Brazil!! God it's bloody cold here!!! Even colder than England!!!

We meet James McKean in our hotel, James is the Associate Director of the Iowa Pork Industry centre and has help set up a number of my meeting whilst in America. We had a drink with him and he let us know the days he had sorted out for us and I informed him of the other meetings I had arranged, it all seemed to be working out which in every country it shocks me that I have actually managed to organise a good agenda!

Our first meeting was about 2 hours away in a small place called Whittermore with a guy called Chuck, he is rearing pigs for a large company called Nimans Ranch. They produce pigs in a 'welfare compassionate' way, they rear pigs without using any antibiotics, apparently the US consumer is concerned about the level of drugs in the meat, because you do not have to record medicine use in America the consumer or a small percentage of consumers worry hence the reason why there is a market for No Antibiotics! Im not totally sure how Nimans Ranch market themselves but I have a meeting with them next Monday so it will be interesting to find this out as Chuck tells me they are marketing themselves as high welfare, I personally can't see how this can be high welfare, if a pig gets sick Chuck says he thinks twice before treating it as he instantly losses money on that pig, how can this be correct?! This is only my opinion I must stress! The sheds are not miles from any other pigs and so they are bound to get infections etc from local pigs! I really need to understand the reasoning behind this before I can fully reflex on it! Chuck also has commodity pigs and is very open with us in the fact that the pigs that go to Niman Ranch are at a loss and they are deciding in June if to pull the plug on the whole system. They operate in the GAP assurance system which has different tiers within it and currently I have to be honest I'm finding it hard to understand it! Im struggling to write much of what I was told on Monday as I don't feel confident in what I heard and saw and I don't want to write something I will later regret but I have to say the day has added a whole new angle to my study and to be quite honest the word welfare seems harder and harder to define. All I can say is that I'm looking forward to talking with Niman Ranch and I hope I can then inform you that I was wrong but from what I saw I'm just going to hang fire on it at the moment.

Our next day takes us to a farmer who sells to Eden Farms, another company who is selling No Antibiotic pigs! Luckily they have a bit of a different system and they have two outlets, one for the pigs that go through life with no challenges and the other for pigs who have had to be treated but not for the last 100 days of their lives, this does seem a better system and they are not using welfare as a selling point they just know that there is a market for a No Antibiotic pig and so they are supplying into it! They are supplying a 300lb (136kg), the fatter the better pig! They are a pure Berkshire pig which produce just 13-14 pigs/sow/year! Crazy! They wean them anywhere between 14 days and 27 days!! It really has been an eye opener!! When asked about their COP they did not know however they were very fast to tell me they were not making money! Sounds like the average farmer!! The pigs are all vegetarian. This farm was a family run business by 3 brothers, Randy, Tom and Mark, all three of them were great characters and gave us a insight into what American thought about government and the general state of the country, again a real eye opener but to be fair a lot of it made sense!

A phase that keeps getting mentioned is the 'humanely raised' when I have asked people to define this I have not received one answer they just say they use this but it has no definition, and all I can think is what would happen in the UK if we used a word that had a lot of meaning yet could not define it! It's deceiving the public and I think this happens a lot over here, it's like getting horsemeat rather than beef!!

I'm jumping about a lot in this blog, sorry but I really am a little confused! The farmer can basically do what they want over here, they have no legislation unless the company you are selling to have their own standards otherwise you would not even have to have a vet on your farm at all! Crazy, what would the true potential be in America if they had rules, I can't help but think it would be better but maybe I'm stupid, the information we get from our vets is invaluable and helps us to push our production, surely this is the case!?

One thing i did like were the hoop buildings a very simple and I think could be quite productive, cheap and low labour. Certainly one to consider, keeping them warm would worry me a bit but seem as it was -8 today they may be ok in England although pigs looked a bit cold but I would block the wind if this was the case.

We next went to see Nick Jones, the general manager of Eden Farms. I have to say he cleared a few things up for me and stated that they only tried to do AB free in isolated areas otherwise it would be more like 100 day AB free which made much more sense to me and to be fair the majority of our pigs would not be treated after 100 days but we don't need to make a big deal of it as recording drug use etc is strongly policed in England! He states that the Berkshire pig is his selling point and sells to Resturant's all over America and also abroad. The farmers are only getting about 15 cent premium on every lb, and to me and my simple maths I just can't see how this pays, the pigs take 7 months to get to slaughter and are only doing 13/pig/sow/year, no wonder they are loosing money, I still feel I'm missing out on something?! Im beginning to think I'm stupid!! Or maybe just clarifying that I am!! When we talked about retail price the loin would sell for double a commodity price, the farmers must be getting screwed even though Eden Farm is not a profitable company someone else if its not them are getting the money!

This AB free sector has only become present in the last 5 years and is very small however a few people have told me its a growing market, I'm just not sure at what cost!!

The more I write the more I confuse myself and probably you so I'm going to take a break and I hope it's not bored you, I am hopeful I will be able to put everything straight over the next few days so keep reading!!