DES MOINES, Iowa — As the coronavirus pandemic continues to force the closure of meatpacking plants across the country, hog farmers have had to respond quickly to a rapidly growing backlog of animals in their barns by killing and disposing of pigs.
Many large-scale hog farmers have little choice once barns reach full capacity. Officials estimate about 700,000 pigs across the nation can’t be processed each week and will be euthanized if plants don't resume operations.
The New York Times reports that pig farming has become so precise in recent years that there's little room in deviation of schedule. Pigs are raised quickly, and those farmed for meat grow to 300 pounds in about six months. But pigs that grow too large aren't viable for meat production, because their carcasses can injure meat production workers on factory lines.
When meat packing plants began restricting production and later closing because of the coronavirus, the demand for live pigs dried up, leaving farmers with hundreds of fully grown pigs to care for — and with sows giving birth to piglets every day, there is little time to solve the problem of limited space.
Some farmers have begun changing their pigs diet to delay their growth and save space. But eventually, farmers are forced to make difficult decisions regarding their herds.
To help farmers, the USDA has set up a center that can supply the tools needed to euthanize hogs. That includes captive bolt guns and cartridges that can be shot into the heads of larger animals as well as chutes, trailers and personal protective equipment. The New York Times reports that some pig farmers have begun killing their pigs with poison gas.
“This will drive people out of farming. There will be suicides in rural America,” said Greg Boerboom, a pig farmer in Marshall, Minn., according to The New York Times.