Intelligence and character
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 behavior experts at the University of Cambridge [i] have revealed pigs’ ability for complex cognitive progressing. Researchers found that pigs are incredibly self-aware and are able to recognize 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. [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. [iv]
There are around 135 million pigs slaughtered each year in the U.S., making it the second biggest producer of pig meat, after China. [vi, vii] Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer of pig meat, is now owned by a Chinese company. [viii]
Pig meat is the third most popular meat in the U.S., with an average consumption of 51 pounds per person. However, it is the most popular meat worldwide, and the U.S. exports about 23 percent of its pig meat to other countries, primarily Japan, Mexico, and China. [vii]
The reality for pigs
Most pigs in the U.S. spend their lives in intensively confined conditions, never seeing the outdoors until they are loaded into vehicles and transported to the slaughterhouse. This prolonged confinement causes pigs to engage in self-mutilation and repetitive behaviours. Veterinary scientists believe these intelligent animals are literally driven insane by their experiences, which are so unnatural to their characters and instincts.
In these environments – massive, enclosed barns – there can be tens of thousands of pigs. Health problems are common, particularly respiratory ailments, from dust and the ammonia that is produced by such large amounts of urine and manure. All too common are crippling hoof and leg injuries from rapid growth as well as standing on concrete and slatted flooring, uterine prolapses in breeding sows, and viral infections despite the unnecessary use of growth-promoting antibiotics.
Sows and piglets
12-15 million breeding sows produce about 100 million piglets each year. Mother pigs spend three to five years in a constant cycle of impregnation, pregnancy, and birth, having two and a half litters each year, until they are sent to slaughter – assuming they don’t die first from disease or untreated injuries.
Most of these sows will spend the majority of those years in a gestation crate, a two foot by six and a half foot metal pen, barely larger than her own body that makes it impossible for her to move, turn around, or even lie down comfortably.
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. Gestation crates are so patently cruel they have been banned in the European Union and several U.S. states, and due to consumer pressure, some food retailers and producers have promised to phase out gestation crates in the future.
However, many sows are then confined in a farrowing crate which permits her only slightly more movement. 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 two to three weeks 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. [v]
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.
After being taken from their mothers, piglets are trucked to “finishing” facilities where they will grow until they reach about 270 pounds.
Manipulation and mutilations
The following procedures are commonly carried out on pigs within the meat industry in the U.S., with no pain relief or anesthesia, often using very rudimentary tools:
- 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. [ix]
- Tail docking and Teeth Clipping/Grinding
Piglets are held by their back leg or around the hips while a heated blade or pliers are used to remove their tails. [x]
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 behavioral 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. In addition, the flesh of non-castrated male pigs develops a gamey odor and flavor, known as “boar taint,” that most U.S. consumers find unpleasant. Piglets are grabbed and held by their legs and held upside down. Their scrotum are sliced open with a scalpel, and their testes are torn out by hand. Workers on factory farms may castrate hundreds of male piglets a day, and because of the speed and carelessness with which this is done, piglets can be injured so severely that they must be killed. 50 million male piglets are castrated each year in the U.S. [xi]
- Branding, Ear Notching, and Tattooing
For identification purposes, pigs are subjected to painful procedures including tagging, cutting or tattooing.
Holes are punched into their sensitive ears, then plastic tags with numbers are attached. Triangular notches are cut out of ears. A tattoo mallet with numbers formed by long, thin spikes is dipped into ink, and then the pig is struck with the mallet to transfer the number.
Pigs are transported long distances often 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, compounded by the fact that water (and food) is withheld, and in cold weather they can become frozen to the truck side or floor. Around one million pigs die in transport in the U.S. each year, and as many as one in ten will arrive too injured or ill to stand and walk unaided. [xii]
Under USDA laws, pigs can be transported up to 28 hours without a break period for food and water. 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, usually through electrocution. This is frequently ineffective, and pigs are rendered immobile but are still conscious, sometimes after repeated blasts with a stun gun. Some slaughterhouses use controlled-atmosphere stunning, in which pigs are suffocated with carbon dioxide.
Next they are shackled and hoisted upside down by their back legs. Their throats are then slit and they are dunked in a scalding tank to soften their skin and remove their hair. Many pigs are still alive and thrashing when they reach the tank. Typically a slaughterhouse can kills about a thousand pigs per hour, and workers are under constant pressure to improve their line speeds.
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 percent of pigs during this research were found to have recovered and become conscious before their throats were cut. [xiii]
CO2 Stunning of Pigs, Called “More Humane,” Horrifies in New Footage
[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] [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[iii] Watson, L., 2004. The whole hog: exploring the extraordinary potential of pigs. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.
[v] Weary, D. M., and Fraser, D., 1995. Calling by domestic piglets: reliable signals of need? Animal Behaviour. 50 (4), 1047-1055.
[ix] The Pig Site, Insemination Technique. [Online] Available at: http://www.thepigsite.com/focus/pic/3418/artificial-insemination-insemination-technique [Accessed 9 September 2014].
[x] 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].
[xi] Joellen Perry and Mary Jacoby, “These Little Pigs Get Special Care From Norwegians,”The Wall Street Journal, 6 Aug. 2007.
[xii] John Goihl, “Transport Losses of Market Hogs Studied,” Feedstuffs, 28 Jan. 2008.
[xiii] Anil, M.H., and McKinstry, J.L., 1993. Results of a survey of pig abattoirs in England & Wales. London: MAFF Meat Hygiene Division. Reciprocation