A farmers group warns cases like one where close to 1,300 piglets had to be euthanized in Manitoba could become more common due to what it calls a crisis in the hog industry.
The Manitoba government said in a news release on Tuesday that the piglets were found in western Manitoba after a call was received Friday about inappropriate treatment.
It said its chief veterinarian's office investigated and found the piglets "in severe distress" and that they were put down immediately "to avoid further pain and suffering."
Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said he fears similar stories could emerge in the coming weeks because troubles in the pork industry mean weanlings are now essentially worthless.
Chorney said farmers face a crisis of low prices for pork, combined with high prices for feed that are being driven by severe drought in the U.S.
"I phoned my neighbour who's been a lifetime hog producer and is a very astute business person," said Chorney, who noted the neighbour's farm has raised hogs for 75 years.
"He said, 'We're depopulating our barn and by November there will be no hogs left."'
Producers feeling pressured
The Manitoba government says it immediately launched an investigation when it found the piglets. The province isn't naming the farm or the community it was in, adding no other information will be released due to its investigation.
Gary Stordy, a spokesman for the Canadian Pork Council, said that while he doesn't know anything about the specifics of the Manitoba case, the conditions in the hog industry now are ripe for it.
Stordy explained that because the cost of feed has spiked so quickly, hog producers have been forced to sell animals because their credit is being pushed beyond their limits. That, in turn, drives down the prices for pork, and producers end up pressured from both directions.
Higher prices for ethanol, which is made from corn, are also a factor in high feed prices, according to the pork council.
It says a task group made up of producers and the federal government has been established to review the situation and identify measures to assist the hog sector.
Unlike in the U.S., an above-average harvest is forecast in Canada, and Chorney said hog producers are feeling like they're being forgotten in all the talk of a bumper crop.
"The last thing farmers want to see is their livestock suffer, but it takes a real toll on the farmers to try to deal with this and sometimes people do things that they would never normally see themselves do," Chorney said.
"I can't emphasize enough the dire situation these farmers are in," he continued. "The whole industry could be lost and it's a big driver of our province."
Stordy, meanwhile, said the pork council is encouraging farmers to seek help if they're no longer able to support their herds.
"They should reach out to their local SPCA or their local provincial hog board to review what can be done," Stordy said.
"Animal cruelty is an unfortunate situation and it's not acceptable. We have to minimize it."