The Truth about Pig Farming
Did you know that pigs are some of the most intelligent domestic animals on Earth? These fascinating animals show high levels of cognition that humans simply cannot continue to ignore.
Rescued pig Molly, who jumped from a truck en route to slaughter.
Piglets as young as six weeks old are already capable of recognizing and differentiating between other pigs- and as they age, become capable of recognizing a number of human faces and voices as well. Pigs have indicated a strong potential for self awareness by repeatedly passing the “mirror test” in cognitive trials.
In one study, pigs proved to be fully capable of locating food only visible in a mirror’s reflection. Pigs consistently outperform dogs and even human toddlers in joystick “video games”, demonstrating a strong ability to use and manipulate tools.
Despite the strong evidence of high intelligence and deep emotional capacity in pigs, the vast majority of pigs live lives full of extreme suffering.
For pigs used and abused by the commercial food system, the suffering begins on their very first day of life with a set of painful mutilations. Piglets are born with a set of sharp “needle teeth” which can cause injury to a mother sow’s teats or to fellow littermates. Because most pigs are raised in intensive confinement, frustration and anxiety can lead to a higher frequency of bites and fighting. In nature, one pig would simply be able to back down from a conflict started by a stronger opponent- but in tight confinement, animals are forced to fight out their frustrations. To alleviate this problem, newborn piglets have their teeth clipped with no pain relief.
Can you imagine receiving dental work with no sedatives…and no choice in the matter?
In addition to painful teeth clipping, piglets also have their tails docked. This is another issue caused by intensive confinement. Crazed by poor living conditions, farmed pigs will lash out at one another, causing injury to tails which can lead to infection. As if both of these physical mutilations weren’t agonizing enough, male piglets are also castrated. Again, all of these procedures typically occur without anesthesia or pain relief.
Could you imagine the controversy if a veterinarian neutered puppies without sedation? This is as painful to piglets as it would be to any other mammal.
Piglets raised for slaughter go on to live dull, deprived, short lives. These curious and playful animals are packed into crowded and barren pens. Slatted floors allow for easy waste disposal, but can be uncomfortable on piglets’ hooves. This is where piglets will remain for 4-6 months, until they are taken to slaughter.
Raised in windowless commercial warehouses, the first day many pigs ever see the sun is the day they are loaded on the truck to slaughter.
While the majority of piglets go into flesh production, the strongest of females are used for breeding.
This is a hellish existence. Sows (or mother pigs) are kept in gestation crates during the entirety of their pregnancies. The purpose of these crates is to fit as many pregnant sows as possible into one small space while minimizing fighting, which could lead to miscarriage or damage to the profitable piglets.
Gestation crates are barely larger than a grown pig’s body.
The majority of sows are unable to turn around or comfortably lie down in the confinement of these crates.
Animal advocates have pointed out the closest experience we humans could compare to living in a gestation crate would be living in an airline seat- minus the cushioned seat, travel companions, and other luxuries.
Crate systems also allow easy access to a sow’s piglets when it is time for forced weaning. Many sows are known to be viciously protective of their piglets, but trapped in a restrictive crate, sows are helpless in guarding their young.
The commercial pig industry sees no issue in these crates and fights tooth-and-nail on their behalf when states introduce laws to ban or restrict them.
In 2012, Dave Warner, former Communications Director for the National Pork Producers Council smugly stated, “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…”
Intelligence is not the only factor in why intensive confinement is so cruel to these unique animals.
Pigs, like any other animal, need the ability to exercise natural behaviors to thrive emotionally. At Animal Place, pigs spend their days roaming numerous acres, wallowing in cool mud pits, rooting in the soft earth, napping in deeply bedded straw nests, and socializing with human and pig friends alike. This is how they choose to live their lives.
We believe that this should be the bare minimum.
In outdoor settings, pigs are clean animals who typically choose not to defecate or urinate in their eating or sleeping places. This is why people who keep pigs as indoor-outdoor companion animals find them incredibly easy to potty train. Sows confined to gestation crates have no choice. Waste that accumulates above the stall slats is inescapable. Animals who would choose to avoid their own waste are forced to eat and sleep amongst it every single day.
If your neighbor forced their dog to sleep in a waste-filled crate night after night, you’d call the authorities.
After an average of 3-5 litters, a sow’s body is exhausted, and her ability to reproduce declines.
At this time, she will be freed from her restrictive crate for the very first time; and forced straight onto the truck to slaughter. The weary sow will find herself on the same crowded, frightening transport trucks traveling to the same place that her countless piglets were lost to.
Of all the farmed animal species, pigs are arguably the most difficult to load onto trucks. Thus, they typically face the roughest of handling. Electric prods and paddles are used to force the uncooperative animals into the slaughter trucks. Pigs are especially prone to stress and overheating, so the long and frightening rides to slaughter are brutal for them.
The Humane Slaughter Act mandates that large mammals be stunned or shot with a captive bolt gun before having their throats slit. But fast-moving, assembly-line style kill floors allow a greater likelihood of human error. Improper stunning often leads to terrified pigs having their throats cut while fully conscious. USDA documentation shows countless examples of this occurring every year.
Just like the moment a pig enters the world, the moment a pig leaves the world is in fear, confusion, and often, pain. Nothing- from the very beginning, to the very end and all that falls between- is based in kindness, compassion or mercy.
Despite all of this, there is hope for pigs.
We firmly believe that when people know better, they ought to do better.
Animal Place strongly encourages our supporters to eliminate pig flesh products from their diet on behalf of the animals who suffer so greatly at the hands of the industry. With new vegan alternatives to sausages, hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon and more being released constantly, giving up pig products has never been easier.
Animal lovers, we ask you to challenge yourself to ditch products derived from pigs and all other animals. Give it a try; the animals will thank you!
A pile of rescued piglets at the sanctuary. Pure joy!
Written by Chelsea Pinkham