An west-central Manitoba hog producer is said to have turned down assistance from the provincial agriculture ministry in the lead-up to the eventual euthanizing of 1,300 young hogs.
"We had discussed options with this producer about other steps he could have taken," Dr. Wayne Lees, Manitoba’s chief veterinarian, said of the situation at the farm near Austin, about 45 km west of Portage la Prairie. "We offered assistance."
But that offer of assistance was refused, and after receiving conflicting reports on barn conditions, officials with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives visited the site. They gained access to the property only after threatening police intervention.
"We were then faced with a disturbing situation with what we saw in that barn," said Lees.
The sows had been removed from the barn before many of the piglets had been weaned, leaving them without a source of food.
The barn was being depopulated after its operators, brothers Bernie and Menno Bergen, were ordered to vacate the property, owned by HP Farm Equipment Ltd. A representative for the company said the Bergens were in arrears for six years worth of rent.
Although some have criticized MAFRI officials for using a 22-calibre rifle to euthanize the pigs, Lees said a dire situation involving so many animals left officials with few options.
"Shooting is deemed an acceptable method euthanasia," he said. "If an animal is shot, it’s instantaneous. Nobody likes to do this, but from the animal’s point of view it’s instant unconsciousness and instant death."
To euthanize the hogs, Lees said, staff herded them into a pen with as little disruption as possible, where they were shot at range that kept in mind the safety of those present. He was not present at the time.
The chief veterinarian said the suggestion the pigs could have been killed using lethal injections is an unreasonable one.
"I don’t know how you would pick up 1,300 pigs and give them an intravenous injection… in a method that wouldn’t cause a lot of distress," said Lees. "Chasing them around, trying to hit a vein — doing that once is very difficult, doing it 1,300 times is impossible."
Research into more effective mass euthanizing methods is underway at the University of Manitoba, but is only in the early stages, said Lees.
No charges have been laid in relation to the incident, but the operation is under investigation for the inhumane treatment of animals under the Animal Care Act.
Barn manager Tony Heppner has spoken out against the euthanizing, calling the actions of MAFRI official "cruel." However, Lees describes Heppner as a "person of interest" in the investigation.
Although they are disturbing, Lees stressed situations where mass euthanizings occur are rare.
"Most hog producers are extremely concerned about the welfare of their animals and don’t get themselves into these types of difficult situations," said Lees.
If a producer is facing financial difficulty, or needs to rapidly depopulate, MAFRI can assist by developing an alternative market, finding another farmer to take the animals or helping with humane disposal.
"We have options we can peruse, but it’s up to the producer to say, ‘I need assistance,’" said Lees.
— Shannon VanRaes is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator in Winnipeg. A version of this article appears in the Oct. 4, 2012 issue of the Co-operator.
Man. workers’ shooting of pigs in ‘distress’ questioned, Sept. 7, 2012
Hundreds of weanling hogs euthanized at W. Man. farm, Aug. 28, 2012