Pigs are incredibly playful, social, intelligent and curious animals. Despite popular belief, they are also naturally very clean animals; they will not defecate or urinate where they sleep and they only roll in wet mud in order to cool down when the weather is hot, as well as to get rid of any pests they may have picked up. Within intensive farming systems, they are kept in barren, dirty and crowded environments; conditions which cause the pigs severe frustration, stress and suffering.
The majority of sows in the EU and throughout the USA are confined during their pregnancies in narrow stalls, too small to even turn around in, with concrete or slatted floors. In some cases, they are also tethered to the floor by a heavy chain attached to a strap around their neck or body. As of January 1999, tethering and sow stalls have been banned in the UK. In the EU, tethering will be banned from 2005; sow stalls will not be banned until 2013. The sows endure a great deal of distress as a result of tethering and stalls and commonly suffer from lameness, sores and other leg, hip and back problems due to constant struggling and rubbing against the bars of the stall. They also often exhibit a number of stereotypic behaviours, such as gnawing and biting on the bars of the stalls.
In the UK, due in part to the ban of tethering and sow stalls, there has been an increase in outdoor, free-range pig farming, where the sows are not confined during pregnancy or when giving birth. Most pigs however, are intensively farmed indoors in barren and overcrowded pens. Approximately a week before giving birth, the sows are moved into farrowing crates, which are barren structures, offering little or no stimulation, made from metal and concrete and only marginally larger than the sows themselves. The crates are designed to protect the piglets from being crushed by their mothers, however, the sows are unable to turn around or build nests, which is a natural behaviour ‘soon-to-be-mother’ sows need to express. The crates also inhibit contact which is so vital between a mother and her infants; the piglets are forced to suckle their mother through the gaps between the crates bars.
Tail docking, as well as tooth clipping (cutting teeth down to gum level), has been banned since the implementation of the Welfare of Livestock Regulations 1994. However, these regulations state that farmers may dock the pigs’ tails and clip their teeth if there is evidence that injury has been caused as a result of these measures not being taken. These procedures are done without anaesthetic. Other forms of mutilation have been known to take place as well. Some male piglets are castrated, without anaesthetic, so as to avoid the presence of a strong flavour in the meat of sexually mature male pigs; however, pigs are usually slaughtered before they ever reach sexual maturity. Foraging, rooting and exploring are all natural behaviours of pigs; they are frequently deprived of these behaviours through nose ringing; piercing their noses and inserting rings so that it becomes extremely painful to carry out any of these natural behaviours; nose ringing is banned in pigs farmed under organic livestock regulations.
At about six weeks of age, the piglets are transferred to rearing pens specifically for fattening prior to slaughter. The conditions are overcrowded and the floors are typical of the intensive farming industry; concrete or slatted with no bedding. Pigs are usually slaughtered for meat between 4 and 7 months.
You can help by not supporting the cruelty involved in intensive pig farming. The best way of doing this is by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Otherwise, you can cut down on eating meat and make sure it is organic (there are no regulations regarding “free range” meat for pigs); animals farmed under organic livestock standards are kept in more free roaming conditions and are fed a more natural diet, one which is free from routine or preventative medicines and other chemical treatments. Animals will only continue to be mistreated and slaughtered if people keep buying and eating meat.