Farrowing and finishing
hogs have been core activities on the Frantzen farm for over
55 years, spanning my and my father's farming careers.
In 1978, I changed the way hogs were housed and raised at
our farm. A room in our barn was remodeled to hold 14 steel
farrowing crates with slat floors. A small underground pit
was dug to catch the pig's waste. I distinctly remember how
those "modern improvements" changed the very nature
of our farm. Slat floors and the stagnant watery manure beneath
it created a repulsive odor. Any activity that stirred this
fecal soup greatly increased the smell. At that time, I thought
that this was just a part of being modern. Noxious odors were
not the only bad features of the slat floors and crates.
For the next 13 years, I would struggle with countless animal
health problems associated with slat floors.Sows in the crates
would slip on the (very
expensive) slat flooring, causing various injuries. Little
pigs suffered knee abrasions from sleeping on the hard floors.
Pneumonia and injury-related health problems were common.
The finishing pigs that were closely confined in a slat floored
pen, as recommended by modern textbooks on pork production,
did gain weight quickly, but they exhibited cannibalistic
behavior. Tail biting became a serious problem. In 1994, my
wife, Irene, and I spent two weeks touring Sweden with a small
group from Iowa and Minnesota. The trip was organized and
hosted by Marlene Halverson of the Animal Welfare Institute
and Mark Honeyman of Iowa State University. The farms we visited
were employing deep bedded facilities to provide low stress,
humane conditions for their livestock. I was awed by the healthy
and content disposition of the stock, and the farm families
Every time I observed my old, crowded, slat floor hog barn
and the stressed pigs living in it, I too became stressed.
Their social brutality (tail biting, bar chewing) was caused
by failing to meet their basic social instincts. On a hoopbuilding
tour, I was told that pigs have three desires: they want to
run around, build a nest, and chew on something. This behavior
is impossible in a metal pen on a slat floor. Early one September
morning, I opened the door of my grower barn to check on the
pigs. One of the pens was covered with fresh blood. Their
level of stress was so high they became violently aggressive
toward each other. I could take no more! I announced with
a bit of profanity that my slat floor days were going to end.
Deep-bedded hoophouse facilities appeared in the Midwest
in the mid 1990s. It was exciting to observe this development.
Not since being on the Swedish farms had I observed a humane
shelter! More exciting yet, was the promise of an economical
and ecologically sound building. In a hoophouse or structure,
straw-bedded pens replace metal crates and slatted floors.
The straw bedding mixes with the hog waste which is self composting,
creates very little odor and no ecological hazards.
Plans were set to build three hoophouses on the farm. By
September of 1997 one of the houses was ready for the pigs.
I was very anxious to use the new facilities. On moving day
we bedded the new hoophouse with fresh straw, and lots of
One hundred and sixty pigs from the old grower were released
into their new home. Boy, did those pigs have fun! In the
new hoopbuilding they have lots of room to run, straw to chew
and heaps of bedding to nest in. They ran around all day—and
even in to the night. The next morning when I went into check
on them, I will never forget what I found. As I walked up
to the door, it was quiet, very quiet. I peeked into the hoophouse
to see 160 pigs in one massive straw nest, snoring with great
content! I laughed until I cried. Their stress was gone and
so was mine.
Reprinted courtesy of Tom Frantzen, the Practical Farmers
of Iowa and the Animal Welfare Institute.
This hoophouse sow carries straw into her farrowing hutch,
building a nest for her piglets.
Sow and piglet snuggle in deep straw.
Hogs at the Frantzen farm in their straw-bedded hoophouse.
The pigs root through the straw bales, creating their own
A family farm sow and her piglets.
Family games: piglets climb over their mother's head.
Pigs are all-weather animals, and enjoy snow as well as sunshine.