Pig farming has had an incredibly targeted focus over the past ten years. But do you really know what happens to pigs in factory farms?
There have been numerous campaigns and high-profile celebrity support, especially from high-profile chefs, who have tirelessly created a movement to reduce the use and consumption of factory-farmed pork in favour of outdoor-reared and high-quality pork products.
Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall, who found fame from River Cottage, has campaigned for, among other things, the increased consumption of outdoor reared pork from pigs that have had the chance to behave in the social and snuffly way pigs are designed to do.
As opposed to using cheap pork that comes from factory-farmed sows.
Because the difference, in every way, shape, and form, is astounding.
In the UK, approximately 40% of pork is currently derived from pigs that have been reared outdoors, and this figure has risen significantly in previous years.
However, the remaining 60% of pork that is available for consumption in this country is reared (and we use this term loosely here) in factory-farmed or intensively farmed conditions, either within this country or from imported sources in places like Denmark, where farrowing cages may still be used for their pigs.
The question is, what actually happens when pigs are intensively farmed to create cheap meat?
Use of Farrowing Crates
Currently, an estimated quarter of a million pigs are subject to farrowing crates in the UK alone.
Pig farrowing is an intensive farming process where metal crates (farrowing crates as pictured below) are used to place pregnant sows within their pens before giving birth.
Farrowing sows will prevent the pigs’ movements, such as moving backwards and forwards and turning around, and they often allow around a meter for movement.
Can you just imagine only being able to move within the space you can draw around you with your arms?!
Why are Farrowing Crates Bad?
Apart from the heavy restrictions on space and movement, which is done essentially to prevent the sow from squashing her piglets, farrowing crates will:
- Prevent the sow from creating natural nests
- Reduce the ability for the sow to behave instinctively with her young
- Heavily restrict movements
- Increase the frustration and stress in the sow
- Increase the prevalence of becoming lame or suffering from poor health
- Increase the prevalence of the sow attacking their young.
- Decreases their lifespan
So, as you can see, farrowing crates appear to have no advantages to the pig at all. The benefits very much fall in the hands of the organisations that are intensively farming the pigs, along the lines of productivity and profit, which equals a high yield and a high turnover.
Is This Treatment Legal?
A mentioned previously, with the campaigning for the use of farrowing crates in intensive farming to be outlawed worldwide, the use of farrowing crates is still legal within the UK.
It is estimated that around 58% of sows located in the UK are kept in farrowing crates during the very late stages of gestation.
RSPCA Assured farms in the UK strictly prohibits the use of farrowing crates on their premises.
Are Farrowing Crates Used Everywhere?
No! Some countries around the world have banned this practice.
The routine use and practice of using farrowing crates have been banned in Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway so far.
Austria has been reported to be moving towards “temporary crating” of pigs by 2033, and one of the most significant users of farrowing crates, Denmark, has vowed to have a figure of 10% free farrowing housing for pigs, a target they wanted to attain by 2020, but no actual figure has been reported.
However, farrowing crates are still a widely used method for intensive pig farming in many countries worldwide.
What Are The Ideal Conditions For Pigs?
Pigs are generally social creatures by nature, and they love to be in large communities and family units.
They love to be outside! They love to roam and investigate, and they can be incredibly playful creatures. When it comes to their personality, you will find that pigs enjoy human interaction and often flock to the people that feed them for a snuffle and a chat.
Pigs are happiest when they can roam free without restriction, and reputable pig farms will hold a much lower stock of pigs than intensive farms.
Pigs love wallowing in wet and muddy puddles (if you are a parent of younger children, I know you heard that reference too!), and they also enjoy constructing nests from available bedding.
Any environment that allows them to wallow and build their comfy beds is a place they will love!
When pigs have the freedom to do the things they are instinctively designed to do, they feel much less stressed and live happier lives than their crated counterparts.
Although there may be some initial segregation of a nursing sow and her piglets in a free-range environment, this is often done to protect the mother and babies from the harm of other potentially territorial or jealous pigs, as well as to give her the time and privacy to get to know her young and nurse them as she sees fit.
The Bottom Line
Factory farming pigs use the process of placing sows in farrowing crates during the late stages of gestation, during the birth of her piglets, and in the early weeks of feeding (although they are removed from their mother much earlier in intensive farming situations than they would be in a free-range environment).
Using farrowing crates reduces the sow’s movement, seemingly to avoid her from crushing her piglets during feeding or rest, and does not allow the sow any freedom of movement.
The only advantage of this process is for the organisation performing the practices in the form of turnover and profit.
Although the yield of pork might be high due to the intensive farming techniques, it often provokes stressed and disorientated pigs that are more susceptible to falling lame, suffering disease, or sustaining an injury; not to mention a significant compromise on their mental health by not being able to perform all of the natural elements of their being they are made to do.
The road ahead is long for eradicating these intensive farming processes. Still, it is moving very much in the right direction as consumers become increasingly aware of animal welfare and sustainability.