An air of mystery hangs over a small southern Manitoba community following the deaths of hundreds of pigs and a fire which later destroyed their barn.
Provincial authorities are investigating a case of animal neglect in which approximately 2,200 feeder hogs were found starving in a barn near Notre Dame de Lourdes. About 400 pigs were either dead or had to be put down. The surviving animals were transferred to another farm and cared for
Five days later, the empty barn caught fire in the middle of the night and burned down. The Manitoba fire commissioner’s office is treating the cause of the blaze as suspicious. An investigation is underway.
Karl Kynoch, Manitoba Pork Council chairman, said authorities were alerted to the animal welfare case June 18.
The barn owned by a local producer housed pigs belonging to a nearby Hutterite colony. Kynoch said the Hutterites noticed there were no feed deliveries going to the barn. They inquired about it but the owner denied them access. They went down themselves and looked inside.
“When they entered the barn, they realized that there was an animal welfare issue. As soon as they saw that, they called the RCMP, they called Manitoba Pork and we called the provincial veterinarian to make him aware of the situation,” Kynoch said.
Dr. Dale Douma of the provincial veterinarian’s office said he attended the scene and found the feeding, watering and ventilation systems not working. Animals were starving and some were already dead. Others had to be euthanized on-site.
Douma would not comment on reports that some pigs were cannibalizing carcasses.
The surviving pigs were transported to a nearby facility the same day, where they are being fed and watered.
Douma could not say how long the pigs were without feed or why the systems in the barn were not functioning. A decision about whether to lay charges will be made after an investigation is complete.
The chief veterinarian has the authority to lay charges under the provincial Animal Care Act in cases of inhumane treatment. Last year, 317 humane cases were filed. Thirty-eight per cent of them involved dogs, 23 per cent horses and 15 per cent cattle. Failure to provide adequate food and water was the top concern.
Hog-industry opponents were quick to seize on the incident as a case of animal abuse stemming from intensive livestock production.
“There are just too many cases recently to try and convince anyone that abuse and neglect in the farming industry is an anomaly perpetrated by a few bad apples,” wrote one viewer in a comment posted on the CBC website.
But Kynoch said the province’s animal welfare measures worked just as they should.
He said authorities moved swiftly and efficiently once they became aware of the situation. Pigs that could be transported were taken within 12 hours to another barn where they are recovering. Those that could not be moved were humanely euthanized. Charges may be laid if the authorities decide to do so.
Kynoch said the industry will consider if additional measures are needed to ensure this sort of thing never happens again.
“Our industry goes a long way to meet the highest level of animal welfare standards and when something like this happens, it is very disturbing to our industry.”
As to why the pigs were left untended, Kynoch said he couldn’t say.
“That is probably one thing that a lot of us will never know or understand. It’s an area that we can’t speculate on.” [email protected]