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.
The reality for pigs
There are nearly 2.3 million pigs living in Australia, and only 2,261 farms; thus, the great majority of pigs in Australia spend their lives in intensive living conditions, never seeing the outdoors until they are loaded into vehicles and transported to the slaughterhouse. [i] Animals Australia estimates that 95% of the country’s pigs are born onto factory farms. Prolonged confinement produces stress and boredom related behaviours in these highly intelligent animals, such as self-mutilation, the compulsive gnawing of cage bars, swaying, or repeatedly pressing against water bottles. [ii] Veterinary scientists believe that pigs are literally driven insane by their experiences, which are so unnatural to their characters and instincts.
It is worth noting that in 1960, there were around 50,000 pig farms in Australia and the average herd size was less than twenty; by 2010, there were just over 2000 farms, and the average herd size had jumped to approximately 170,000. [iii]
Sows and piglets
Two-thirds of the 260,000 female breeding pigs in Australia are kept in sow stalls (also known as ‘gestation crates’) until just before giving birth, at which point they are moved to farrowing crates. [iv] Sow stalls are now illegal in the UK and Europe, but are still used widely elsewhere, including the US, Canada, and Australia.
Sow stalls are narrow metal cages with bare concrete floors, and they are extremely restrictive. The sow is unable to turn around and she can only lie down, stand up, or sit.
After 16 weeks of this confinement and just before she gives birth, the mother pig is moved to an even smaller farrowing crate to nurse her young. Her natural instinct to provide a soft bed of grass and straw for her young is thwarted, and pregnant pigs are often seen making down-forward-and-up movements in a desperate attempt to build a nest on a bare concrete floor. Once having given birth she is unable to interact with her piglets, who are forced 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. [v]
Though the stated purpose of the farrowing crate is to keep the mother pig from rolling over onto her young and inadvertently crushing them, industry data from Australian Pork Limited shows that approximately 13.1% of piglets die before they are weaned. [vi]
Early weaning and separation
In nature, pigs are doting mothers and weaning is a gradual process that takes 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] Just a few days after her piglets are taken from her, the cycle starts over: she is moved to a ‘mating stall’ for impregnation and the process begins again. [viii]
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. A pig’s normal lifespan is approximately 15 years, but after three years, a farmed pig is deemed ‘spent’ and is killed to produce low quality products like pork pies and sausages.
Pigs are transported long distances often with poor ventilation and temperature control before they reach the slaughterhouse. Pigs cannot sweat and are therefore particularly susceptible to high environment temperatures and humidity, so this stressful journey often causes them to suffer from heatstroke.
Current Australian legislation allows for pigs to be transported up to 72 hours, providing that they are given water and food every 24 hours. [ix] 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|
Most pigs in Australia are killed via a process called ‘Controlled Atmosphere Stunning’, or C02 stunning, wherein they are herded into a gondola which lowers into a chamber that slowly fills with carbon dioxide, causing them to suffocate. Though this is meant to be a more humane method of slaughter, video footage has shown that pigs panic and show signs of severe distress, thrashing, squealing, and convulsing for thirty seconds before losing consciousness. [x] In this undercover video, impatient workers are seen using electrical prods to direct frightened pigs into the gondolas; one worker repeatedly jabs one pig in the face before inserting a burning prod into her ear and holding it there for 12 seconds while she screams in pain.
Manipulation and mutilation
The following procedures are commonly carried out on pigs within the meat industry in Australia:
- Artificial insemination
The insemination process involves confining a sow in a pen and stimulating her by ‘exposure’ to a boar. The boar is then removed and a worker inserts a catheter into the sow’s vagina and cervix to deposit semen. Her movement is restricted during this time and the process lasts five to seven minutes. [xi]
- Tail docking and Teeth Clipping/Grinding
Many piglets in Australia have their tails docked. These piglets are held by their back leg or around the hips while electrical side-cutters are used to remove the ends of their tails. This process is carried out without anaesthetic or any painkillers at all. [xii]
In nature, piglets sometimes bite at their mothers’ nipples while nursing, and she teaches them that such treatment is unwelcome by pushing them or moving away herself. In gestation crates, however, she is so immobilized that she is unable to do this. The industry solution has been to cut the ends of piglets’ teeth off. Again, no painkillers are used. [xiii]
Watch this recent footage of the procedures taking place on British farms:
The pig industry claims that such procedures are necessary not only to prevent injury to their mothers but to stop them from biting each other’s tails once they are moved to growing pens. 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 with a sharp scalpel in order to make them easier to handle and to encourage weight gain. This can be done with without pain relief on piglets up to seven days old. [xiv]
All Australian pigs must be marked with their herd identification. The standard method by which to do this is ‘ear-notching’, a painful procedure that involves the use of heated pliers to cut out a piece of the pig’s ear. This is typically done within the first few days of birth, but no painkillers are required unless the pig is more than 2 weeks old. [xv] Another method in use is tattooing the piglet’s ear; again, no painkillers are provided. [xvi]
Boars are kept on the farm to provide semen, but they can be dangerous to humans and sows, in part because of their large tusks. The pork industry’s solution to this is to cut the tusks down to the gumline with a wire saw. The boars must be restrained in order for this to be done, and those who struggle too much are sometimes injected with tranquilizers. As with other mutilations, painkillers are not mandatory. [xvii]
Intelligence and character
[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even moreso than dogs and certainly three-year-olds.
Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School
Experiments conducted by animal behaviour experts at the University of Cambridge [xviii] have revealed pigs’ ability for complex cognitive progressing. Researchers found that pigs are incredibly self-aware and are one of the few non-human animals able to recognise themselves in a mirror.
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. [xix]
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.
Pigs are highly social animals, thriving on physical contact, play and will 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. [xx]
According to the most recent annual reports there were around 4.7 million pigs slaughtered each year in Australia. [xxi]
Undercover footage at pig farm in South Australia:
Undercover footage at Wally’s Piggery in Australia’s Capital Territory:
[i] Australian Pork Limited, Australian Pig Annual 2011-2012, [PDF], Available at: http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Australian-Pig-Annual-2011-12-LR.pdf, pg. 11 [Accessed 29 October 2014]
[ii] Marc Kaufman, 18 June 2001. ‘In Pig Farming, Growing Concern’. The Washington Post.
[iii] Australian Pork Limited, Australian Pig Annual 2011-2012, [PDF], Available at: http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Australian-Pig-Annual-2011-12-LR.pdf, pg 12 [Accessed 29 October 2014]
[iv] RSPCA, 2011. ‘Lifecycle: Pigs’. Available at: http://www.shophumane.org.au/farming-facts/pigs-lifecycle/pigs/ [Accessed 28 October 2014]
[v] Australian Pork, 2014. ‘Housing’. Available at: http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/housing/ [Accessed 30 October 2014]
[vi] Pastured Free Range Farmers. ‘Sow Stalls & Farrowing Crates’, Available at: http://www.australianpigfarmers.com.au/sowstalls_and_farrowing_crates [Accessed 30 October 2014]
[vii] Weary, D. M., and Fraser, D., 1995. Calling by domestic piglets: reliable signals of need? Animal Behaviour. 50 (4), 1047-1055.
[viii] Australian Pork, 2014. ‘Housing’. Available at: http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/housing/ [Accessed 30 October 2014]
[ix] Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, 21 September 2012. ‘Land Transport of Livestock Ed. 1, Version 1.1.’ Available at: http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Land-transport-of-livestock-Standards-and-Guidelines-Version-1.-1-21-September-2012.pdf [Accessed 30 October 2014]
[x] Cheer, Louise, 8 October 2014.’Beaten with metal rods, kept in cramped cages and gassed before being slaughtered: Undercover film reveals horrific conditions Australian pigs are forced to endure’. Daily Mail Australia. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2784970/Beaten-metal-rods-kept-cramped-cages-gassed-slaughtered-Undercover-film-reveals-horrific-conditions-Australian-pigs-forced-endure.html [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xi] NSW Department of Primary Industries. ‘Standard Operating Procedures-Pigs: artificial insemination’. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/general/livestock/sop/pigs/artificial-insemination [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xii] NSW Department of Primary Industries. ‘Standard Operating Procedures-Pigs: Tail docking piglets’. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/general/livestock/sop/pigs/tail-docking-piglets [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xiii] NSW Department of Primary Industries. ‘Standard Operating Procedures-Pigs: Teeth clipping’. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/general/livestock/sop/pigs/teeth-clipping [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xiv] Primary Industries Standing Committee, 2008. ‘Model Code of the Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (Third Edition)’ Available at: http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=5698
[xv] NSW Department of Primary Industries. ‘Standard Operating Procedures-Pigs: Ear notching piglets’. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/general/livestock/sop/pigs/ear-notching-piglet [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xvi] NSW Department of Primary Industries. ‘Standard Operating Procedures-Pigs: Tattooing’. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/general/livestock/sop/pigs/tattooing [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xvii] NSW Department of Primary Industries. ‘Standard Operating Procedures-Pigs: Detusking boars’. Available at: http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/general/livestock/sop/pigs/detusking-boars [Accessed 3 November 2014]
[xviii] Broom, D. M., 2009. ‘Pigs learn what a mirror image represents and use it to obtain information’. Animal Behaviour, 78(5) pp.1037-1041.
[xix] RSPCA, 2013. The welfare of pigs. [pdf] Available at: The Welfare of Pigs.pdf [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[xx] Watson, L., 2004. The whole hog: exploring the extraordinary potential of pigs. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.
[xxi] Australian Pork Limited, Australian Pig Annual 2011-2012, [PDF], Available at: http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Australian-Pig-Annual-2011-12-LR.pdf pg. 26 [Accessed 29 October 2014]