An Austin-area hog producer turned down assistance from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) in the lead up to the eventual euthanization of 1,300 young hogs.
“We had discussed options with this producer about other steps he could have taken,” said Dr. Wayne Lees, Manitoba’s chief veterinarian. “We offered assistance.”
But that offer of assistance was refused, and after receiving conflicting reports on barn conditions, MAFRI officials 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.”
In order 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 euthanization 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 euthanization, 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 euthanizations 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 by humane disposal.
“We have options we can peruse, but it’s up to the producer to say, ‘I need assistance,’” said Lees.