Smarter than the cats and dogs with whom we share our homes, domestic pigs are capable of solving problems, learning words and phrases, playing computer games, and many other remarkable acts.
Experiments conducted by animal behaviour experts at the University of Cambridge [i] have revealed pigs’ ability for complex cognitive progressing.
Pigs are highly sensitive and intelligent animals who love to explore their environment, mainly through smell and sound. With a fantastic sense of smell (better than dogs) they have great foraging skills and in their natural settings will roam for long distances exploring their surroundings. [ii] Highly social animals, pigs thrive on physical contact, play with, and form affectionate bonds with one another. They love to sleep by one another and are very vocal, often greeting one another enthusiastically by grunting and rubbing snouts. [iii]
Contrary to the popular myth, pigs are very clean animals and will keep their living environment well organised and, if able to, keep separate areas for using the toilet, feeding and sleeping. Since they lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud helps them stay cool, and also acts as sunscreen for their delicate, pale skin. (We told you pigs were smart!)
The reality for pigs
In 2015, Viva! investigators filmed at a farm that boasts of Red Tractor accreditation and produces 20,000 pigs a year for supermarkets, such as Morrisons, and local businesses as East Riding Country Pork. What their cameras found will shock you.
Manipulation and mutilation
The following procedures are commonly carried out on pigs within the meat industry in the UK:
- Artificial insemination and electro–ejaculation
The insemination process involves confining a sow in a pen and stimulating her by ‘exposure’ to a boar. A catheter is then inserted into her vulva to deposit the collected semen. Her movement is restricted during this time and the process can last for up to five minutes. [iv]
- Tail docking and Teeth clipping/grinding
Around 80% of piglets in the UK have their tails docked. [v] These piglets are held by their back leg or around the hips while a heated blade or pliers are used to remove their tails. [vi] If conducted before seven days of age, this process can be carried out without anaesthetic.
Their four corner teeth are typically cut with clippers, or ground down with a grinder tool.
Watch this recent footage of the procedures taking place on British farms:
The pig industry claims that such procedures are necessary to prevent piglets from injuring each other. However, this behavioural issue is rarely seen in animals living in the wild and is a problem related to their stressful living conditions where overcrowding, lack of food, poor temperature control and boredom is rife.
Male piglets are often castrated in order to make them easier to handle and to encourage weight gain. This can be done without pain relief on piglets up to seven days old.
All UK pigs must be marked with their herd identification. This often involves painful procedures including tagging, cutting or tattooing their ears.
Sows and piglets
Over half of all female pigs are kept in farrowing crates prior to giving birth. These crates are very similar to the ‘gestation crate’, which are so patently cruel they have been banned in the European Union and several U.S. states.
These metal cages are extremely restrictive. The sow is unable to turn around and she can only lie down, stand up, or sit. Living in this captivity denies female pigs their natural instinct to build nests for their young and they are often seen making down-forward-and-up movements in a desperate attempt to build a nest.
The mother pig is also barely able to touch her young, as her piglets have to suckle through the bars of the crate. Sows are kept in this confinement for a further 28 days until the industry consider her piglets weaned.
Early weaning and separation
In nature, weaning is a gradual process which cannot be rushed, often taking three to four months. On farms, the early separation between mother and piglets causes distress to them both. It is quite common for them to cry out to one another when this happens and for some time after. [vii]
Like all female animals in the food industry, this cycle of pregnancy and separation is repeated until the sow’s reproductive system is exhausted and her body can no longer endure this strain. Deemed ‘spent’ by the farmers, she will be killed to produce low quality products like pork pies and sausages.
Pigs are transported long distances, frequently with poor ventilation and temperature control, before they reach the slaughterhouse. As pigs are sensitive to high temperatures and humidity, this stressful journey can often cause them to die from heatstroke.
Current UK legislation allows for pigs to be transported up to 24 hours followed by a day’s rest with food and water. Pigs can then be transported for a further 24 hours [viii]. This is a long and stressful time for pigs and assumes that welfare standards are actually followed. It is not uncommon for pigs to experience even longer periods of time in such conditions.
|Animal||Natural lifespan||Age at which they are typically killed|
|Pigs||15 years||3-6 months|
During the slaughter process, pigs are stunned then shackled and hoisted upside down by their back legs. Their throats are then slit.
A study of slaughterhouses in the UK, over a three year period, found that the stunning of pigs was often ineffective due to mistakes in the procedure. Over 20% of pigs during this research were found to have recovered and become conscious before their throats were cut. [ix]
There are around nine million pigs slaughtered each year in the UK.
A significant proportion of the world’s pig meat, including the UK’s, is produced and imported from intensive farms in Eastern Asia and Latin America where welfare legislations are poor to non-existent.
During 2013, around 480,000 tonnes of pig-based products were imported from elsewhere around the world.
Figures taken from BPEX: http://www.bpex.org.uk/
[i] Broom, D. M., 2009. ‘Pigs learn what a mirror image represents and use it to obtain information’. Animal Behaviour, 78(5) pp.1037-1041.
[ii] RSPCA, 2013. The welfare of pigs. [pdf] Available at: http://www.rspca.org.uk/servlet/BlobServer?blobtable=RSPCABlob&blobcol=urlblob&blobkey=id&blobwhere=1109267162618&blobheader=application/pdf [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[iii] Watson, L., 2004. The whole hog: exploring the extraordinary potential of pigs. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.
[iv] The Pig Site, Insemination Technique. [Online] Available at: http://www.thepigsite.com/focus/pic/3418/artificial-insemination-insemination-technique [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[v] RSPCA, 2009. The welfare of pigs.
[vi] BPEX, 2011. Work instruction 17: Tail docking. [pdf] Available at:http://www.bpex.org.uk/downloads/301880/300498/Work%20Instruction%2017.%20Tail%20docking.pdf [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[vii] Weary, D. M., and Fraser, D., 1995. Calling by domestic piglets: reliable signals of need? Animal Behaviour. 50 (4), 1047-1055.
[viii] Defra, 2011. Welfare of animals during transport: Advice for transporters of pigs. [pdf] Available at:http://adlib.everysite.co.uk/resources/000/263/151/PB12544d.pdf [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[ix] Anil, M.H., and McKinstry, J.L., 1993. Results of a survey of pig abattoirs in England & Wales. London: MAFF Meat Hygiene Division. Reciprocation