It truly is shocking that in a country where animal cruelty is, across the board, completely frowned upon, that animal agriculture is allowed to inflict systematic cruelty on highly intelligent, sensitive and social animals like pigs.
Pigs are as playful as dogs and as intelligent as three-year-old children. Yet, to most of us, they are out of sight, and out of mind. When we reach for a packet of bacon, or a pork chop, most of us never consider the lives that pigs lead, in order to make it to our dining tables.
In Australia, around 5 million pigs are systematically raised and slaughtered every year. A pig’s natural life expectancy is around 20 years, but pigs in intensive farming are taken to slaughterhouses and killed at around 4 to 6 months of age. For most pigs, they never feel the earth beneath their feet or experience the sun on their backs.
This is the life of a pig imprisoned by the Australian agribusiness industry.
The life of a sow
Most commonly in animal agribusiness, artificial insemination of a sow usually occurs in a mating stall: a small prison where a female pig may remain confined for the first 5 days after "mating" before being returned to group housing. In less common outdoor systems, sows are brought into larger mating pens for natural mating or artificially inseminated after which they are then released back into a pen or paddock.
Once pregnant, sows can be kept in innocuously named ‘sow stalls’ for the full term of their pregnancy: approximately 114 days (3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days). A sow stall is a concrete and metal enclosure roughly the length and width of a fully grown sow and does not allow her to turn around or leave. Incredibly cruel, the Australian Pork Industry promised to 'pursue the voluntary phasing out of sow stalls by 2017'. They are not however, illegal or banned as they are in many other countries. In most states of Australia, there is legislation that allows the continued use of sow stalls indefinitely.
Even if a sow stall isn’t used, standard practice sees a sow imprisoned in a farrowing crate for approximately four weeks towards the end of her pregnancy. These crates are even smaller than a sow stall, roughly 2m by 1.5m in size, and consist of a metal-barred pen, a concrete floor, and a slat-covered trench for manure at the rear.
Farrowing crates are used due to the belief that the metal cage will stop the piglets being crushed by the mother pig, but crushing often occurs as the sow cannot turn around and will often accidentally sit on her babies. Mother pigs very often suffer from pressure sores due to the hard surfaces they lay on continuously. Farrowing crates have also been shown to increase stress and impair the sows’ ability to control her body temperature which increasing the risk of heat stress, as well as being associated with an increased number of stillbirths and negative maternal behaviours.
Very importantly pigs have very strong nesting instincts. In their natural habitat they will walk long distances to gather what they need to create their nests. In the sedentary, concrete environment of the farrowing crate that doesn’t allow them to walk or move freely does not have bedding or nesting material they become very frustrated. These clever, sensitive animals show signs of extreme boredom and depressions as they are kept in this position for weeks on end.
This cycle of impregnation and imprisonment is repeated as many times as the sow can endure or until she can no longer produce a financially viable number of piglets. Once this happens (normally at around 2 years old) she is sent to slaughter.
What about her babies?
Runt and sick piglets die in farrowing cages. Dead piglets are often seen laying in these pens, either left to die or killed by workers. Piglets less than 15kgs in weight and three weeks in age can be killed via blunt trauma to the head which the Code of Practice states can be carried out with a "hammer or other suitable solid heavy object".
For those the piglets that survive, they endure excruciating procedures without anaesthetic, such as:
- Tail docking: The removal of up to two thirds of a piglet’s tail with a hot blade or sharp pliers.
- Ear notching: For identification.
- Teeth cutting: Cutting a piglet's teeth with pliers or grinding them down to reduce damage to their mother’s nipples when feeding.
After being subjected to these horrific practices, piglets are then soon taken from their mothers and locked up in crowded enclosures with potentially hundreds of other pigs.
The Slaughter Process
At about six months, the piglets not tagged for semen collection or impregnation, will have reached slaughter weight at which point they are crammed on to slaughter trucks destined for the abattoir.
Standard practice in Australia is to gas pigs with carbon dioxide so they lose consciousness, before stabbing them in the neck. Recent studies however, have revealed a number of welfare issues with high concentration CO2 stunning. Firstly, pigs can react differently to the amount of CO2 they receive, and secondly the amount they are given can often vary. Pigs are not rendered unconscious straight away and high concentrations of CO2 gas can cause significant pain and distress to pigs when inhaled (due to acute respiratory distress, i.e difficulty breathing). Pigs often scream and thrash around during this process, causing even more harm and pain.
Pigs are not machines or products; they are clever, innocent individuals. Pigs want to experience love and happiness like us. They want to bond with their families just like us; yet, systematically, without mercy, they are subjugated to this torturous existence, just so we can have a meal, forgotten in moments.
We all say we’re against animal cruelty so let’s live our lives in alignment with our beliefs and leave pigs off the menu.
Written by: Sarah Stephenson