Welfare issues for Pigs
In much of the world it is common for a pregnant sow to be kept in a sow stall (also called a gestation crate) for the whole of her 16-week gestation period. A sow stall is a metal crate or cage, usually with a bare slatted floor, which is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around and can only stand up and lie down with difficulty.
Pregnant sows kept indoors in sow stalls have no access to the outdoors and are deprived of normal movement and activity.
In natural conditions, sows live in small groups with their young. They spend much of their day foraging and rooting for food.
Potentially upsetting scenes of animal suffering.
Sow stalls are illegal in Sweden and the UK. From 2013, they are banned across the EU, except for the period from weaning of the previous litter until the end of the first 4 weeks of gestation. They are being phased out in certain states in the US and in New Zealand and there is a voluntary industry agreement to phase out their use in Australia. A number of food producing companies are starting to phase them out voluntarily on animal welfare grounds, due to consumer pressure.
A bare sow stall prevents nearly all natural activity and interaction with other pigs. Scientific research shows that gestation crates cause physical and psychological suffering to sows, including lameness due to weaker bones and muscles, abrasion injuries, cardiovascular problems, digestive problems and urinary tract problems.
Sow stalls also increase abnormal behaviour such as sham chewing and bar-biting, indicating severe frustration and stress, and sows in crates can exhibit behaviour likened to clinical depression.
Feed is often restricted during pregnancy, causing chronic hunger and increasing the level of frustration.
The farrowing crate
Shortly before she is due to give birth (farrow), a sow is typically moved to a farrowing crate.
This is similar to a sow stall except that there is additional space for the piglets. Bars, to prevent crushing, keep the sow out of the piglets' lying area.
Piglets are weaned at about 3 to 4 weeks and even earlier in some countries.
Within a couple of weeks, the sow is inseminated again (often artificially) and starts her next pregnancy. Commercial sows normally produce just over 2 litters a year with around 10-12 piglets per litter. She has a breeding lifetime of about 3 years before being replaced and sold for slaughter.
Farrowing crates also severely restrict the sow’s movement and frustrate her strong motivation to build a nest before giving birth. They prevent the sow from being able to get away from her piglets, for example if they bite her teats. It is common for piglets to have their teeth ground down or clipped, without anaesthetic, to minimise biting injuries.
Growing pigs are often kept in barren, crowded conditions on slatted concrete floors without straw for bedding or rooting. These pigs have no access to outdoors and will never experience fresh air or daylight. They are unable to behave naturally and are likely to be bored and frustrated. They tend to fight and to bite each other, sometimes causing severe injury.
In addition to tooth cutting, most piglets have their tails docked to discourage tail biting. This is painful and may cause long-term pain. Stress, illness and conflict often result when piglets are abruptly weaned and mixed with unfamiliar young pigs.
Most male piglets in Europe (but not in the UK and Ireland) are castrated. Public pressure has led to a voluntary declaration aimed at ending the surgical castration of pigs in Europe by 2018. As a first step, signatories will ensure that prolonged pain relief is used for surgical castration of pigs from 2012.
Transport and slaughter
Pigs travel badly and are easily stressed by transport and by pre-slaughter handling. They do not have sweat glands and are particularly susceptible to heat stress during transport. Internationally, significant numbers of pigs die each year in transport or in lairage at slaughterhouses as a result of stress.
There are higher welfare alternatives for pig farming.