Provincial officials are investigating a suspected case of animal abuse after 1,300 piglets found in a state of "severe distress" were euthanized at a hog production facility in west-central Manitoba late last week.
The provincial chief veterinarian’s office (CVO) responded to a call reporting the inappropriate treatment of hogs on the farm Aug. 24, a provincial spokeswoman said.
"The initial inspection found approximately 1,300 piglets in severe distress, and the piglets were humanely euthanized to avoid further pain and suffering," she said. "An investigation under the Animal Care Act was immediately initiated.
"Specifics about the investigation, including living conditions of the piglets, can’t be disclosed at this time since this matter is under investigation," she said.
An anonymous source said the facility under investigation is owned by Berg@34 Pork Ltd., which is associated with facilities in the Austin and MacGregor area, about 45 km west of Portage la Prairie.
A representative at the Manitoba division for rendering firm Rothsay told the Manitoba Co-operator that the company received a call from the farm Aug. 24, requesting a pickup for 450 twenty-pound weanlings and 1,100 ten- to fifteen-pound weanlings.
"It was a little bit suspicious to us," said the spokesperson, who said the caller would not disclose how the pigs died.
There was no truck available to do the pickup, and the farmer did not request a later pickup. "I’m assuming he may be composting them," the Rothsay official said.
RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Line Karpish confirmed police officers were involved with an intervention at the request of the CVO, but referred further questions to the province.
Calls to the phone number at the site, and to the listed owner, Menno Bergen, were not answered. The yard site east of Austin was deserted except for a dog. A collection bin located on site was filled with dead hogs.
Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council, said the organization became aware of a situation and referred it to the CVO.
"An issue was brought to our attention, and we have talked to the provincial veterinary officer," he said. "They are now dealing with the matter."
Commenting generally, Dickson said the RCMP and province may work together on issues of animal welfare where a complaint has been filed, depending on the nature of the complaint being made.
Dickson said in the event a hog producer is unable to provide for their animals, the usual procedure is to arrange for another farmer to take them in and feed them until they can be marketed.
"And that has happened a number of times this summer because prices on weanlings dropped to almost nothing in July and August," he said.
Cases of animal neglect are rare in Manitoba hog production, he said, and resorting to euthanasia during a market downturn is an extreme and unusual response.
"It’s very uncomfortable for us, because our producers are in the business of producing baby pigs in a healthy way," said Dickson. "These situations are very difficult for people to handle."
The provincial spokeswoman said under recent changes to the Animal Care Act designed to provide stronger protection for animals, penalties included banning those convicted under the act from owning or caring for animals in the future.
"The bottom line is, when people treat animals poorly, we need strong laws in place to ensure they’re held responsible for their actions," she said.
– Allan Dawson and Shannon VanRaes are reporters for the Manitoba Co-operator at Miami, Man. and Winnipeg respectively. A version of this article appears in the Aug. 30, 2012 edition of the Co-operator.