Animal Farming – About Pigs
Pigs are intelligent, social animals. They thrive on physical contact and exploration of their environment. Pigs are capable of navigating mazes, playing video games, adjusting the temperature of their room depending on whether they are hot or cold, and self-recognition. They are one of the few species know to recognize themselves in a mirror and, even more astounding, use that mirror to find reflected objects, like food.
Birth on the Farm
More than 100 million piglets are born on farms across the United States. Days after birth, piglets undergo painful physical mutilations. All piglets are tail-docked to prevent abnormal behavior found on industrial farms. When animals are placed in unnatural situations, they exhibit strange behaviors called stereotypies. One stereotypic behavior is tail-biting in piglets. So instead of giving them more space, farmers lop off body parts.
After tail docking, all piglets will have their ears notched – cut out – with scissors for identification purposes. Some will have ear tags inserted into their ears. Their needle-teeth, which carry nerves and a blood supply, are cut off as well.
If the piglet is male, he will be castrated. This involves cutting open the scrotal sac and slicing off the testicles.
All of these procedures are done without pain relief or anesthesia.
The wild ancestors and cousins of domestic pigs live in large, extended families. Piglets are naturally weaned between 3-4 months after birth. Females will generally remain within the group (called a sounder) while males may be kicked out to start their own group.
But on farms, piglets are unnaturally weaned at an early age. At only 3-weeks-of age piglets are taken from their mothers. This is very stressful for both mother and offspring. The sow (female pig) will exhibit stress behaviors, from vocalization to attempted escapes.
The piglets are then moved into nurseries where they are introduced to new piglets. Introducing new animals to each other, especially at such a young age, results in extensive aggression and stress. Animals attack one another and because there is no natural social system in place, bullied piglets can and are killed.
Piglets will go off feed, pace, bite each other, self-mutilate and call to their lost mothers. This is considered the most stressful time for a piglet on a farm…and she’s only three weeks old!
Domestic pigs have been bred to grow at an astounding pace. Wild pigs grow much slower, reaching full size in five years. Domestic farm pigs have been bred to reach “market weight” in six-months and full adult size in two years. While a large wild boar may reach 400 lbs, adult farm pigs often exceed 800 lbs in size.
Growing so quickly results in health problems, notably joint problems. Animals develop arthritis early and may even break legs and backs from the extra weight.
While it is illegal to give pigs growth hormones, most pigs are fed a commercial diet with added antibiotics. These growth-promotants are given at a level that won’t cure or treat infections but will increase growth and reduce the likelihood of infection in overcrowded barns. The use of antibiotics in livestock feed has contributed to the dramatic increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Many antibiotics given to farmed animals are approved or in the same family as antibiotics given to humans.
Sows who are pregnant and those who have given birth are housed in crates so small they cannot turn around. Most of the 12-15 million sows in the United States are housed in gestation crates for 3-5 years until they too are sent to slaughter.
A gestation crate measure 2 feet wide and 7 feet long, barely large enough to contain the sow and small enough to prohibit normal range of motion. She can stand up, uncomfortably lie down and sit. For an animal who spends a large percentage of her day foraging for food and interacting with other pigs, this confinement system is psychologically and physically traumatic.
Sows in gestation crates exhibit abnormal behavior associated with psychological trauma. They chew on bars, bob their heads, self-mutilate, and randomly gnaw on their water spouts. When that fails, many exhibit learned helplessness, in which they simply give up.
Health problems abound in cage systems. Because they lie on the very same floor in which they defecate and urinate (most should go through slatted flooring but residue remains), they are sitting in infected material. Urinary tract infections are common. These are very painful and are rarely, if ever, treated on farms.
Because they are impregnated frequently, prolapses are common. These too are left to fester, leaving the sow in immense pain. Her only respite is if she is slaughtered.
Abscesses and hernias are also common, the result of constant rubbing and inappropriate housing. Sometimes a superficial, topical ointment is placed on the wounds but pigs are rarely given pain medication or antibiotics to treat infections.
Respiratory problems about as sows are housed in large, enclosed sheds with thousands of other pigs. There can be up to 10,000 sows in one building. Even when ventilation works properly the air is polluted with ammonia from urine and dust particles.
It would be unconscionable to place a dog in a crate so small he could not turn around and leave him there for 5 years. Yet pigs, who are more intelligent and sensitive than dogs, are placed in such confinement with little thought given to their welfare.
Some states and countries in the European Union have banned or are phasing out the use of gestation crates.
All pigs, regardless of whether ranged free or lived in cages, are slaughtered at a young age, far before their natural lifespan.
Pigs are sensitive animals, especially when it comes to hot and cold. Yet they are transported long distances in trucks without ventilation or temperature control, rain or shine. It is not uncommon for many pigs to die, suffer heat stroke, or freeze to death en route to the slaughterhouse.
Upon arrival, pigs are herded, often with electric prods and physical abuse to chutes and eventually the kill floor. It is difficult to stun a pig, because of the large amount of fat and thick skull. Most slaughterhouses attempt to electrocute the pigs but because inspections are lax, many processing plants reduce the electricity necessary to kill the pig. The animal is instead rendered immobile but fully conscious before their throats are cut and they are “disassembled.”
What You Can Do
The best way to help pigs is to not eat them. Humans do not need the flesh of pigs to survive. A vegan diet helps the animals, planet and yourself. It is the most compassionate and sustainable diet on earth.