Manitoba provincial workers took a full day to shoot 1,300 hogs in a barn that is now under investigation for inhumane treatment of its animals, according to a former employee who claims to have witnessed the event.
The weanlings were shot using 22-calibre rifles and some were shot "three or four times" before dying, said the man, who requested anonymity saying he fears being charged with interfering with the province's investigation.
He tried to film the shooting with his cell phone and was told to delete the video or face criminal charges, he said.
The man said he has worked in the hog industry for decades and has seen animals euthanized in the past, but never encountered anything like this.
The young pigs were herded a few at a time into a hastily constructed plastic pen and a rifleman fired from at least 20 feet away, the witness said. Dead pigs remained on the property for several days before being removed.
"I couldn't sleep for two days, I had that embedded in my brain," said the witness.
The operation was conducted under the direction of Manitoba's Chief Veterinary Office after it received a tip on Aug. 24 about inappropriate treatment of hogs at a barn near Austin, about 45 km west of Portage la Prairie. A statement from the province says officials at the scene determined the 1,300 pigs were in "severe distress."
A spokeswoman for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives would not comment on the witness's account other than to say the animals were "humanely euthanized." Requests for an interview with the province's chief veterinary officer were declined.
"When you shoot a weanling three or four times, don't you think it's suffering?" said the former employee of the barn. "It would have been better for them to have simply taken a hammer and whacked them in the head."
The man also contends the animals had not been maltreated prior to the province's intervention. "They were fine," he said. "Maybe conditions weren't perfect, but we did the best we could with what we had."
"Off the yard"
He said the piglets were being fed, but that sows had been shipped out the day prior to provincial officials descending on the barn. An effort was underway to move the young pigs to a new location. "They were being taken off the yard, that was the intent, they were supposed to be taken off the yard and go to another place."
The barn was operated by brothers Bernie and Menno Bergen, who had been ordered to vacate the property. A spokesman for the landowner, HP Farm Equipment Ltd., who refused to be named, said the Bergens had been in arrears for monies owed to the company for six years.
Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council said his organization heard about the situation and referred it to the CVO.
In an earlier interview, Dickson said he couldn't comment on this particular incident but noted high feed prices this summer have resulted in a situations in which troubled hog producers have asked another farmer to take them in and feed them until they could be marketed.
"And that has happened a number of times this summer because prices on weanlings dropped to almost nothing in July and August," Dickson said.
Dickson also stressed the incident is an animal welfare issue that should not be tied to the ongoing crisis.
-- Shannon VanRaes is a reporter for the Manitoba Co-operator in Winnipeg. A version of this article appears in the Sept. 6 issue of the Co-operator.