But did you know pigs don’t sweat? Although a pig's body has other ways of relieving itself from the heat, pork producers work hard to ensure their animals are comfortable during these hot summer months.
Todd and Denise Wiley have been raising pigs for 30 years and take great pride in how they care for their pigs. “The reality is, Mother Nature is very brutal, and we can deal with those conditions and provide the best environment for the pigs we can,” says Todd.
The Wileys, who live and farm near Walker in Benton County, care for their pigs in their farrow-to-finish operation in climate-controlled barns — all equipped with alarms that notify them and their employees of any issues. Denise says their buildings also feature sprinklers that spray the pigs with water, helping to cool them down.
The Wileys also control airflow with curtains on the side of their buildings and fans help to push air through the barns. “Chores are done every day,” says Denise. “We’re walking through the barns, making sure the airflow is correct. They have the feed and water they need and are as comfortable as they can be.”
Climate is just one of the many challenges facing the Wileys and U.S. pork producers.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court upheld a law passed by California voters in 2018: California Proposition 12, which prohibits the sale of meat and egg products from animals confined in a noncomplying manner.
“In my mind, a majority of voters in California didn’t understand what the rules were going to be when they voted for the initiative,” says Todd. “Only 14% of pork sent to California would qualify for consumption. Voters in favor of the law likely didn’t understand that the pork sent would come at a higher price.”
The Prop 12 decision frustrates producers because it requires 24 square feet of space per sow. Todd fears this may cause producers to begin co-mingling sows in groups, as it may not be economically viable to build individual pens of that size.
But co-mingling of sows could be dangerous to the animals and the people caring for them.
The Wileys house their sows in gestation stalls, allowing them to care for each animal as an individual. “It protects the sow from her neighbors that could harm her,” says Todd. “It protects our employees because of limited exposure to animals that weigh 450 to 500 pounds. It’s for the benefit of the animal and the safety of our staff and family.”
If the Wileys choose to become compliant with Prop 12 and maintain their current inventory of sows, Todd says they’ll need to add 14,000 square feet of space — which he estimates could be over $1 million to build. “This is where the added cost comes to the consumer in California,” he says. “We cannot absorb that added expense without being compensated.”
Another compliance concern is the certification required.
The certification process would require an on-farm visit, which could hinder the health of their herd. “We have very stringent biosecurity protocols to help ensure the health of our herd, and this causes great concern for us, as well as unknown risk,” says Denise.
Worried about where the consequences of Prop 12 could lead, the Wileys have made some changes to their operation. For the past 25 years, they’d been sending piglets born at the farrowing site to another trusted party to be cared for. They now must absorb that process into their operation.
“We’re fearful of what’s going to happen economically. I can’t respond in two weeks; I must respond months in advance. If we weather that demand storm, which I believe we will, I have to expect what this will do to us,” says Todd. “We talk a lot about sustainability in agriculture and pork production, and one part of sustainability is being able to feed my family.”
Serving the Pork Industry
Denise is an interim member of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) Board of Directors and participates in the Iowa Pork Leadership Academy. Todd is no stranger to the IPPA, as he is a past board member, and together the couple has served on several IPPA committees. They’re also active on their local pork board.
The Wileys advocate for the pork industry, welcoming visitors to their farm.
“Many people have been misinformed. We like to show them what we do,” says Todd. “Nobody cares more about animals than livestock producers do. Before I go to bed, or if I wake up in the middle of the night, I will not sleep until I make sure everything is okay.”